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Wed May 21, 2014, 05:30 PM

Writing Her In: Wikipedia As Feminist Activism

Most of the feminist activism I do—whether it’s writing or teaching or protesting—requires a long view. A really long view. Sometimes I feel as if my feminist colleagues and I are saying and doing the same things over and over again, with little to no results to show for any of our work. And when I see yet another sexist commercial such as DirecTV’s newest that features woman-as-marionette, I want to throw in the towel.
But not on a recent Saturday afternoon that I spent at an Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon. The results there were concrete and immediate. In less than two hours, I created Wikipedia pages for three feminist artists who should have had pages already but who, like so many women, had been overlooked.

It’s no secret that women have been rendered invisible in history, sports, laws, medical care, politics, corporate boardrooms, museums, religion and the military. One of my professors in graduate school, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, used to say that part of what makes patriarchy so powerful is its erasure of feminist history. Without knowing our history, she’d say, without knowing about the work of the women who came before us, we’re left reinventing the wheel.
The Internet is now where histories are stored and accessed, and it’s where subsequent generations will go when they want to know what’s real, what matters.

But guess what percentage of Wikipedia contributors are women?
13 percent.
Yes, you read that right.
The annual VIDA Count tracks gender disparity in major literary publications and book reviews. I’ve been following their pie charts for three years now, and I’ve seen little change from year to year (although the 2013 VIDA Count did note that the New York Review of Books and The Paris Review are making some headway). To correct the gender gap in these established publications, you need editors committed to publishing work by women and reviewers committed to reviewing books by women. But to correct the gender gap in Wikipedia, all you need is access to a computer.
The edit-a-thon I attended was organized by artist Ellen Lesperance, a faculty member at Pacific Northwest College of Art (where I also teach) and one of the artists represented in the Portland2014 biennial exhibition, which was curated by Los Angeles-based Amanda Hunt.
Lesperance had attended a previous edit-a-thon this past February 1, which was part of a larger Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon that happened around the world in 31 locations. According to The Wikimedia Foundation,

The purpose of this event was not only to spread interest in topics needing real visibility on the encyclopedia, but also to empower women to become more involved in the community by providing a supportive framework for their contributions.


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