Jan 2011: Wikipedia shows how history is written by men

History is written by the victors, to be sure, but it’s also written by men. You realize it as simply as when you try to think of any pre-19th century authors. But it’s rare when we get to see a living example of how men continue to be the arbiters of historical memory.

Consider Wikipedia, the modern history textbook and free online encyclopedia. Its authors are 85 percent male, according to a well-done article in The New York Times (a newspaper where, coincidentally, the gender breakdown on the op-ed page is also 85-15). Eighty-five percent of all “historians” on Wikipedia are male, and thus choosing what deserves to be made history and what deserves to be ignored according to their male preferences on what’s worthwhile and what’s not.

To be sure, Wikipedia is a voluntary endeavor. Anybody can submit entries or edit the site. Women, to some extent, have arguably nobody but themselves to blame for failing to edit Wikipedia. So why should we care if men are predominately writing Wikipedia? The problem is that it’s changing the course of history.

With so many subjects represented — most everything has an article on Wikipedia — the gender disparity often shows up in terms of emphasis. A topic generally restricted to teenage girls, like friendship bracelets, can seem short at four paragraphs when compared with lengthy articles on something boys might favor, like, toy soldiers or baseball cards, whose voluminous entry includes a detailed chronological history of the subject.

Even the most famous fashion designers — Manolo Blahnik or Jimmy Choo — get but a handful of paragraphs. And consider the disparity between two popular series on HBO: The entry on “Sex and the City” includes only a brief summary of every episode, sometimes two or three sentences; the one on “The Sopranos” includes lengthy, detailed articles on each episode.

So all you truth-loving people, all you feminists and historians, get on Wikipedia and change history! The Web site is seen as God-given, er, man-given truth more and more. Today, according to a Pew survey, 53 percent of adults who regularly use the Internet turn to Wikipedia as a source.

Side note: While doing a little research for this post, I came across a laughable 2006 article in Foreign Policy that argues patriarchy is actually the sole reason why any of us are alive. “Why then did humans not become extinct long ago? The short answer is patriarchy…. No advanced civilization has yet learned how to endure without it.”

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