Thursday, May 02, 2013

Wikipedia's woman-wrangle

Credit to Rutgers art history major Nicole of Bendomolina.
John Singer Sargent, "Apollo and the Muses," Boston MFA
The ongoing Wikipedia flap over the removal of women from "American novelists" and their placement in "American women novelists" continues. Here's a pretty good summation from The New York Review of Books. Out of curiosity I have peeked from time to time; yes, I was plunked into the women's sub-category.

Now I am back in "American novelists." Today there are twenty-one of us nestled under "Y." Nineteen are men; two are women. Ninety percent of Wikipedia contributors are men. Like VIDA statistics, these numbers are suggestive and need no comment.

The focus of all the articles I have seen on the general outcry (starting with an op-ed article by Amanda Filipaachi at The New York Times online site) is sexism, and there's no doubt that putting women in a sort of ghetto category is a slam against them. But I wonder if there is even more to it than unthinking sexism. Could this be a cracked, unintended consequence and legacy of university-based gender / multi-cultural politics--the sorting of literature and the humanities in general into gender, national, and ethnic categories that now govern many college programs? I wonder this in part because the man who started it all is currently a student in history at Wayne State.

Wikipedia mandates sorting and categories, but new categories ought to be judged by whether they are helpful or unhelpful. Of course it is not helpful for women to be shoved out of the category of "American novelists"; it simply suggests to readers that only men can be "real novelists," and that women writers do not matter. I expect Wikipedia will have to be content with the alphabet as a way to establish divisions among novelists and other kinds of writers. Any further sub-categories should depend on and refer back to what is called the parent category. (That's a bit of Wiki-geek-speak for you.)

Outside of Wikipedia, categories can be helpful when they attempt to redress invisibility--a lack of knowledge and lack of attention. I pause and feel thankful for the good work of poet, editor, and conference director Kim Bridgford and The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Projectan exhaustive database of women poets. Perhaps somebody needs to do the same thing for the novel. Couldn't one find a few equally well-known "Y" women to accompany the "Y" men on my Wikipedia page? And what about the remainder of the alphabet?

(Here's a little side tunnel off the main burrow. I just took a peek, and I am not in "American poets," where six men and one woman find themselves under the sign of "Y." Curious. I started publishing as a poet and have four books out with more to come, and am sorted as a novelist only. How do they decide? Is it a Potter sorting-hat moment, with madcap dithering between Ravenclaw and Gryffindor? Can't one be in two houses at once?)

What's the upshot of all this? If you are a woman with some spare time and an interest in the issues, you might think about joining the site. They feel the lack of women members, it appears. The current contributing members need to realize that in the case of Wikipedia, mere inclusion or exclusion amounts to a judgment. When Wikipedia is the first and often the last resort for many, especially college students accustomed to leaning on the site for information, it is essential that women be part of major (parent) categories such as "American novelists."

* * *
Marly, recent and elsewhere:

  • Thaliad's wild epic adventure in verse, profusely decorated by artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins of Wales (Montreal: Phoenicia Publishing, 2012) here and here 
  • The Foliate Head's collection of poems with art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, Stanza Press (UK) here
  • A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage (novel) from Mercer University Press (ForeWord 2013 finalist in the general fiction category; The Ferrol Sams Award, 2012) here
  • The Throne of Psyche, collection of formal poetry from Mercer, 2011, here
  • Samples from my 2011-12 books at Scribd.
  • See tabs above for information on individual books, including review clips.


  1. Sounds like we are still fighting the womens' equality movement. Who ever decided to be the judge(s) on wikipedia?

  2. If you look on their "talk" page related to the controversy, it's pretty clear that the change led to a tempest in a rather large teapot. And maybe it will help them recruit some women, who knows?

  3. It is wikipedia. Sign up and add yourself to the list of women poets.

  4. You know, my experience is that Wikipedia entries appear because somebody thinks you worth it. They either keep or drop it. I've known people who made their own, and then the entry was dropped. Then other people come along and add stuff and sometimes pictures. Then sometimes the writer comes along and says you've got it wrong. Then they argue about that and decide, and the writer ends up in the Talk record.

    I have discovered that I'm on other entries that I did not expect to be on--people tell me sometimes, or I catch one by accident--and am occasionally the subject of argument, as on the Cooperstown page. I was not a Cooperstown-worthy-writer (not having, in their view, written about the place) it seemed, which I found amusing, and corresponded with one of the commenters. That was interesting.

    Somebody from the Uk who I know recently added some anthogies and some more discursive things to my page, and evidently there was a tug-of-war over that.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.