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The Blatherings Of A Blitherer

Men as Default, Women as Other: Thanks, Wikipedia


Years ago, when I was in college, my university required all students to take cultural sensitivity classes. Not specific check-your-privilege type stuff, but we were required to take X amount of credit hours in classes dedicated to literature of a marginalized group or groups. Virtually all the students, myself included, actively resented this. It felt like a ploy to require us to take, and pay for, extra credit hours. I sullenly took a class on Hispanic-American authors and was surprised at how awesome it was, exposed to a lot of really great literature. So obviously, it ultimately paid off. But why weren’t any of those short stories, novels, or poems taught in “regular” English classes? When I took an English class on American Short Stories, every single author was White and Male. I joked about how testosterone-filled the class was, me and another woman student joked about growing penises just from sitting in the class. Sure, we could have taken classes that covered women and only women, but we would have had to pay extra for that class/classes and at the time it might not have counted as a requirement for higher level general English classes, but toward womens studies classes (this may well have changed).

At that time, in the late 90s/early 00s, it was very firmly established that (white) men were authors and anyone who was a woman, was not white, was other. Not real. Not authentic. After all, if they were REAL authors, they’d be in with the STANDARD authors (who were white and male) and not shunted off to the side in specialty classes taken only by people studying minority authors or required to to satisfy cultural competency requirements.

It’s over ten years later, and Wikipedia currently has editors sorting American and Haitian novelists into “authors” and “women authors.” Male, you see, is the default. If you want to find women authors, you need to go to a special place to do so. They are other. They are marginalized. Amanda Filipacchi writes about it here, listing some of the notable women novelists now consigned to the margins.

Wikipedia’s page on American Novelists notes that due to the vast number of novelists grouping like novelists together is a good thing. But surely every single novelist could be included in one or more group. Right now there’s genre classifications, but you could also add gender; geographical region lived in and/or written about (CF Southern Gothic); arbitrary chunks of time (5 years, 10 years, 15 years); historical epochs (writing pre-WWI, writing WWI-WWII); etc. Or you could just be all WHELP LET’S SEGREGATE THE WOMEN.

It’s an ongoing point of view, the status quo. Men are default, are allowed to be human. Women are other, are special, are special interest.

As Abigail Grace Murdy notes:

Within the Wikipedia community, women make up only 15% of contributors and only 9% of editors, so this unfortunate reshuffling hardly comes as a surprise. Within the publishing community, it comes as more of the same sore thing. Women writers are consistently underrepresented, their work receiving much less attention than that of their male counterparts. In 2012 the New York Review of Books reviewed only 40 female authors, as opposed to 215 male authors.

The subcategory “American women novelists” simply reflects a widespread and belittling perception of women writers that already exists. But in reflecting that perception, Wikipedia perpetuates it, and the sexism marches on.

Remember in 2011 when gosh golly wow Wikipedia just couldn’t figure out why there weren’t more women contributing to/editing Wikipedia and ‘reached out to women’ by complaining how uninvolved they were?

According to the American Novelist talk page the majority of the editing was done by a lone person. As one contributor points out:

It’s worth noting that a single user, Johnpacklambert is responsible for the vast majority of these edits. He has made thousands of edits, removing African Americans from the category “American Television Actors”, and erroneously placing female authors of young adult fiction into the American Girl Authors category (intended for books in the American Girl series).

Discussion on the talk page ranges from vilifying Filipacchi for “being a drive by columnist” who “doesn’t understand how Wikipedia works” to people who recognize there’s a problem and want to solve it, to people who don’t see anything wrong at all with consigning women authors to the fringes, on totally separate pages, because gosh! They’re WOMEN authors! What do you want?

Coverage of the issue, obviously, uses the word “sexist” a lot and those involved are quick to say that woah, wait, they aren’t sexist! They don’t, like, beat women or refuse to hire them or think they should be chained barefoot to ovens all day or anything! They’re nice people! How DARE you call them sexist? And, you know, I don’t think there’s a secret cabal of wikipedia editors sitting in a dark room smoking cigars and plotting how to Keep Women Down. But this sort of thing is an accurate reflection of the constant slow grind of male supremacy, of patriarchal society. This is oppression. Men create things, women are a subcategory. Men are legitimate, women are other. Men are authors and novelists, women are a special interest group. A college level class on short stories features only male authors, erasing women’s experiences, women’s voices. On a larger note, THIS is why we have Black History Month and Women’s History Month in the USA, because the Black experience, the Woman’s experience, the Jewish Experience, the Hispanic Experience, the Asian Experience isn’t represented at all in history classes. It’s all white men doing white things. There’s a cable channel that has a whole series about “the Men Who Made America.” Men. Only men. Not a (white) man? Not important.

This is the status quo. This is the patriarchy. This is why women still fight for equality, still struggle. Because men are still the default, and women are still the other.

One Comment to

“Men as Default, Women as Other: Thanks, Wikipedia”

  1. On April 25th, 2013 at 2:33 pm brigidkeely Says:

    Remember yesterday’s flap about Wikipedia authors moving women novelists to gender-segregated pages? http://t.co/5j8UJIwSSQ I wrote about it