Sieging the Servers

Worldwide Feminist Wikipedia Edit-a-thon to Take Over the Web This Weekend

Feminists and allies will be occupying Wikipedia this weekend at worldwide “edit-a-thon.” Graphic Graeme Shorten Adams

On Feb. 1, Wikipedia is getting a makeover—or is it a reality check?

At 22 locations across the globe, from Wisconsin to Australia, individuals across the net will tackle the lack of feminist content as well as the lapses in art pages on Wikipedia, and Montreal will be one of these hotspots of Internet activism.

Eastern Bloc, an “exhibition and arts production centre dedicated to New Media,” along with Studio XX, .dpi and Skol will be hosting Montreal’s own Art + Feminism Edit-a-thon in solidarity with the other cities around the world also participating.

The event will be a gathering of editors who will update Wikipedia’s current art and feminist content, which, according to its organizers, is seriously lacking.

“You’ll have five pages of text on a Lord Of The Rings costume and then you won’t be able to find a famous artist’s page because it just isn’t there,” said Amber Berson, in charge of organizing Montreal’s Edit-a-thon, citing artist Adrian Piper as an example. Piper’s Wikipedia page was just recently built.

The initiative brings to mind one by Guerrilla Girls, an anonymous group of female artists who work to “expose sexism and racism in politics, the art world, film and the culture at large,” and wear gorilla masks to disguise themselves.

They formed in 1985 following the Museum of Modern Art’s 1984 exhibition “An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture,” which featured only 13 women of the 169 artists whose work was showcased.

This time, the issue is online and will be handled across the globe—not from behind gorilla masks, but behind computer screens.

“It’s definitely somewhat similar,” said Berson.

The organizers have posted a list of female artists to either create pages for or add more content to.

“It’s like a book report, but on art and it’s more about knowing where the sources are,” said Jacqueline Mabey, who shares the project as her brain child—conceived over dinner—with Siân Evans, Michael Mandiberg, Laurel Ptak, Richard Knipel and Dorothy Howard, who all work for various organizations and galleries in the United States and Canada that often combine art projects with feminism.

The project’s Wikipedia meet-up page lists a roster of sources to refer to when editing, but participants are encouraged to reference books as well. Good sources and citations are crucial in preventing content from being taken down, according to Mabey, who says feminist content is sometimes flagged or removed on the site.

“Absolutely anyone” can participate, but women are encouraged to be a part of the event as the Edit-a-thon not only takes on the shortage of female artists on the site, but is also a reaction to a 2010 study by Wikimedia that found that only 13 per cent of its editors—the people who create and correct the site’s self-regulated content, which is open for anyone to do—self-identify as female.

Berson says the number of female editors may be higher, but they might not all be identifying as such for various reasons.

“You have to come out with more of a strong voice when you self-identify as a woman, as an editor,” said Berson. “There’s a devaluation of the way women express themselves and their opinions.

“I would also say that the more that women hear Wikipedia, tech, whatever is a ‘man’s world,’ the more alienated they feel from it,” she added.

Aside from the gender gap in the tech world, another reason for the lack of self-identified female editors may be that “women have less leisure time,” often caught up in managing work and life at home, which may include children, Mabey said.

The lack of women in the Internet and tech world is well known. From gaming to Twitter, from the companies’ CEOs to the clients, Silicon Valley has often been called a “boys’ club.” Indeed, women make up only about a quarter of the industry’s workforce, according to nonprofit feminist media organization Bitch Media.

By addressing those issues concretely, the edit sprint encourages people to contribute to the online open encyclopedia they may only be used to consulting—something Berson herself said she was terrified of because of a coding class she took in university.

To make the process easier, more experienced editors will be on the spot to give tutorials and tips along the way. As well, experienced editors will be paired with experts in art and feminism. Child-care and snacks will also be available for free at the event so women can “come, stay, edit and have fun,” said Mabey.

Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon // Feb. 1 // Eastern Bloc (7240 Clark St.) // 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. // Free admission // More info