UT School of Information to host feminist Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

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Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

When the activists behind the national Art+Feminism campaign browsed through art categories on Wikipedia, they found thousands of detailed pages dedicated to male artists. As they continued reading, they all shared the same thought: Where were the women? 

UT’s School of Information will host the 2015 Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon on Saturday. During the communal editing event, participants will spend an entire day updating articles that concern art and feminism on Wikipedia. 

Art+Feminism’s campaign seeks to improve the coverage of women in the arts in digital media, such as Wikipedia. 

According to Wikimedia surveys, about 9 percent of Wikipedia editors are female. Art+Feminism’s goal is to make this statistic more balanced.

Pearl Ko, information studies graduate student and co-director of Advocating for Women in Technology, said that she feels the lack of female voices in editing impacts the quality of  information available on Wikipedia.

“Because of the ubiquity of Wikipedia-supplied information, we must be mindful of which voices are expressed and which are not,” Ko said. “If Wikipedia is to remain a free-access encyclopedia, then we all should and have a right to contribute.”

Through public events, such as the Edit-a-thon, Ko said she wants to spur discussion on how the gender gap in Wikipedia’s articles influences common public perception of female artists and feminist topics. Rachel Simone Weil, art and art history lecturer, said she shares Ko’s concerns.

“Many of us might imagine that Wikipedia articles, especially those on popular topics, remain relatively unchanged and uncontested as they gravitate toward ‘the Truth,’” Weil said. “Yet a peek under the hood of the editing process reveals so much about how histories and truths are constructed, illuminating their inherent instability.”

UT alumna Amy Cavender, who helped plan Art+Feminism’s Edit-a-thon, said she believes the Internet belongs to everyone. 

“We should all chip in to make it bigger and better,” Cavender said. “It is my hope that specifically focusing on these areas will draw in people who might not normally feel like they ‘can’ or ‘should’ edit Wikipedia, or who may have a lot to say about subjects that fall under the broader topics but haven’t thought about Wikipedia as a viable forum to do so.”

Weil said she thinks there is a risk of some people misunderstanding the goal of the Edit-a-thon.

“The intent is not to disproportionately overstate the roles of women or downplay the achievements of men through a malicious rewriting of history,” Weil said. “Rather, this project seeks to revisit gaps in scholarship and canonical history — places in which the accounts of women’s contributions to society may, for one reason or another, simply not exist.”

Ko said she agrees with Weil’s assessment of Art+Feminism’s goals. She hopes that the upcoming event will give women more confidence to participate in editing.

“It’s really up to no one but ourselves to change what we see on Wikipedia, but admittedly it can be intimidating when you feel alone, inexperienced or unwelcome,” Ko said. “A vital first step is to encourage everyone to participate and make Wikipedia a welcoming space.”