In a New York Times op-ed titled “Wikipedia’s Sexism toward Female Novelists,” writer Amanda Filipacchi notes she “JUST noticed something strange on Wikipedia.” No, it’s isn’t that the entry for No Country for Old Men is as long as some entries for certain countries. No, instead Filipacchi noticed that when searched Wikipedia for “American Novelists,” all female writers whose last names began with A or B were missing from the list. When she continued her investigation, Filipacchi found that such American treasures as Harper Lee, Anne Rice, and Amy Tan had recently been pushed into the subcategory of “American Women Novelists.” However, male novelists, “no matter how small or obscure,” were kept under “American Novelists.”
So why the forced gender segregation? According to a note at top of the page, Wikipedia’s list of American novelists was getting too long and it was therefore important that writers be put into subcategories whenever possible.
“It’s … things like this that make it harder and slower for women to gain equality in the literary world,” a frustrated Filipacchi writes.
Shortly after the op-ed was published, many of the “American Women Novelists” were restored to the “American Novelists” list, but in an op-ed published three days after the article charging Wikipedia with sexism, Filipacchi claimed editors responded by making certain alterations to her own Wikipedia page, such as removing links to outside sources and then putting up the banner marking the page as in need of “additional citations for verifications.”
Wikipedia’s backlash has seen its own backlash, and it appears as though Filipacchi’s page has been redeemed to a certain extent. As of April 29, the banner on Filipacchi’s page has been removed and some of the things she’d noticed had gone missing after the publication of her first article appear to be restored.
All’s well that ends well, right? Not quite. Obviously Wikipedia owes Filipacchi an apology for such a juvenile attack. However, does it owe an apology to those women novelists it pushed to the side?
Yes, I believe Wikipedia does owe an apology not only to women writers, but also its users. There is clearly no good reason to leave women off the general list. There seems plenty other, more relevant qualifications to require of the general list if Wikipedia wants it shortened. Why not do most famous authors and create separate categories such as “white authors” or “male authors” to take care of those that didn’t make it?
By leaving women off the list, Wikipedia has also let down its users. If someone searches for a list of “American novelists,” clearly they’re not looking for an abridged list. If the point of the page is to document American novelists, why not let it be long? If they wanted a solely list of women, they would have searched for women.
Wikipedia, by excluding women from this list, you not only hurt these women’s careers, but potentially obscured your users from some of the best books out there. I think you owe us an apology.