Wikipedia’s Sexism

New York Times Op-Ed · April 27, 2013

Early last week I noticed something strange on Wikipedia. It appeared that, gradually, over time, the volunteer editors who create the site had begun moving women, one by one, from the “American Novelists” category to the “American Women Novelists” subcategory. Female authors whose last names began with A or B had been most affected.

People who might have gone to Wikipedia to get ideas for whom to hire, or honor, or read, and looked at that list of “American Novelists” for inspiration, might not even have noticed that the first page of it included far more men than women. They might simply have used that list without thinking twice about it. It’s probably small, easily fixable things like this that make it harder and slower for women to gain equality in the literary world.

Many female novelists, like Harper Lee, Anne Rice, Amy Tan, Donna Tartt and some 300 others, had been relegated to the ranks of “American Women Novelists” only, and no longer appeared in the category “American Novelists.”

Male novelists on Wikipedia, however — no matter how obscure — all got to be in the category “American Novelists.” In an Op-Ed article I wrote, published on The New York Times’s Web site on Wednesday, I suggested it was too bad that there wasn’t a subcategory for “American Men Novelists.” And what do you know; shortly after, a new subcategory called exactly that appeared.

But there was more. Much more. As soon as the Op-Ed article appeared, unhappy Wikipedia editors pounced on my Wikipedia page and started making alterations to it, erasing as much as they possibly could without (I assume) technically breaking the rules. They removed the links to outside sources, like interviews of me and reviews of my novels. Not surprisingly, they also removed the link to the Op-Ed article. At the same time, they put up a banner at the top of my page saying the page needed “additional citations for verifications.” Too bad they’d just taken out the useful sources.

In 24 hours, there were 22 changes to my page. Before that, there had been 22 changes in four years. Thursday night, a kind soul went in there and put back the deleted sources. The Wiki editors instantly took them out again.

I knew my page might take a beating. But at least I’m back in the “American Novelists” category, along with many other women.

For the moment anyway.