UC Berkeley students enter Edit-A-Thon to increase representation of female artists on Wikipedia

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Fifty-one percent of visual artists are women, according to the National Museum of Women in the Arts. So why don’t we ever hear about them?

That was the bottom line at the Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon, taking place from March 6 through Sunday. The event is a worldwide effort to increase the number of articles on female artists on the world’s only crowd-sourced encyclopedia.

A handful of students and community members supported the cause at UC Berkeley’s first Edit-A-Thon outpost, nestled in the BCNM Commons next to Moffitt Library on Saturday.

“Wikipedia editorship has a pretty big gender imbalance,” said Anna Carey, the student creator of the satellite event, and a writer at The Daily Californian. She co-produced UC Berkeley’s Edit-A-Thon with visiting professor Jill Miller, a social practice artist.

“There’s a lot that has been written over the years [about] ‘why are there no great female artists,’” said Carey, an interdisciplinary studies major, with a focus in art and technology. “There are so many women in art now, they should be recognized and represented.”

Carey believes the imbalance is a result of fewer women being in tech, their lack of familiarity with web languages and even the “deep-rooted” issue of women not feeling like they can assert authority on certain subjects.

Created by a handful of artists following a Wikimedia Foundation study in 2011, which revealed that less than 10 percent of editors on the site are women, the Edit-A-Thon hopes to tip the balance of female-male representation on the website.

This year saw those numbers double, with more than 70 known satellites, including four in the Bay Area.

Event information was spread through — what else? — Wikipedia pages created by the organizers, perpetuating the site as a go-to for reliable information. Subpages were born for each satellite event.

During the event, new editors were walked through making an account and the basics of Wikipedia’s coding language. Learning the code was difficult for most, but while new editors navigated the steep learning curve, they faced other problems: their fellow Wikipedia editors.

Several complained that content they edited or created was immediately taken down, flagged as either having no references or for copyright infringement.

Unofficial policemen (read: policy-men) of Wikipedia take it upon themselves to school newbies in the rules and regulations of the site guidelines. This involves taking posts down within seconds, for which the reasons vary.

Miller got into a tense discussion with one Wiki editor, who deleted edits she made on a page about Diane Noomin, the American comic book artist. When Miller did not immediately cite a reference, the edits were quickly removed. Miller messaged the user over Wikipedia, and he asked Miller to avoid poorly referenced information, especially if controversial.

The line Miller added to the article concerned a character Noomin created which addressed “transgressive social issues such as feminism, women masturbating, positive body image and miscarriages.”

Miller wondered aloud that if miscarriages are controversial, then Art + Feminism is needed more than ever.

Carey added a photo to an article she was editing, and within a few hours the photo was pulled and flagged as “possible copyright infringement.”

“In order to run an encyclopedia with the visibility we do, there have to be certain rules,” said Jon Katz, a Wikimedia product manager who came to the event independently of the organization to collect intel on the website. Katz was referring to copyright policies, but also in a small part to all of Wikipedia’s policies, which guard against any legal backlash.

Wikimedia operates as Wikipedia’s technical and business side, but has no hand in site content, Katz said.

As of Monday evening, the outcomes of the event listed on Wikipedia claimed more than 200 participants at MOMA headquarters alone, with at least 36 new articles created and 79 edited.

Contact Elizabeth Moss at [email protected]

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