"American women novelists" segregated by Wikipedia

Wikipedia's overwhelmingly male user-editors began the bizarre forced gender migration on Tuesday

Published April 25, 2013 1:01PM (EDT)


Wikipedia editors have started quietly moving female authors out of the "American novelists" category and into a newly-created sub-category for "American women novelists," with the intention, it seems, of creating an"American novelists" page comprised entirely of men. There is currently no corollary sub-category for "American men novelists."

As American (woman) novelist Amanda Filipacchi explained in the New York Times on Wednesday, the process has so far affected women writers whose last names begin with A or B, but others have been moved as well:

 I looked up a few female novelists. You can see the categories they’re in at the bottom of their pages. It appears that many female novelists, like Harper Lee, Anne Rice, Amy Tan, Donna Tartt and some 300 others, have been relegated to the ranks of “American Women Novelists” only, and no longer appear in the category “American Novelists.” If you look back in the “history” of these women’s pages, you can see that they used to appear in the category “American Novelists,” but that they were recently bumped down. Male novelists on Wikipedia, however — no matter how small or obscure they are — all get to be in the category “American Novelists.” It seems as though no one noticed.

I did more investigating and found other familiar names that had been switched from the “American Novelists” to the “American Women Novelists” category: Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ayn Rand, Ann Beattie, Djuna Barnes, Emily Barton, Jennifer Belle, Aimee Bender, Amy Bloom, Judy Blume, Alice Adams, Louisa May Alcott, V. C. Andrews, Mary Higgins Clark — and, upsetting to me: myself.

Filipacchi isn't the only person to have noticed this strange gender migration. Vanity Fair contributing editor Elissa Schnappel observed that as a result of the move, when one searches "American novelists" the entry is comprised almost exclusively of men (3,387, to be exact), delivering a troubling commentary on the perceived value of women writers.

And as Abigail Grace Murdy noted on the Melville House blog, this is hardly a problem unique to Wikipedia:

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.

Because Wikipedia is user-edited, as more people learn about the strange sub-category, it appears they are taking it upon themselves to reverse it. Since news broke on Tuesday, Filipacchi reports that she has already seen some women's names returned to their rightful place on the main page, though there is still much work to be done.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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Misogyny Sexism Women Women Writers