The average Facebook user: Male or female? Not sure?
What about the YouTube troll posting grammatically incorrect homophobic slurs? The preteen playing games on Neopets.com? The author of Harry Potter romance stories on Fanfiction.net? The viewer of a porn site?
The gender line may blur, bend, or blip briefly out of existence, but it always seems to reappear–and the Internet, however progressive and democratic, is no exception.
On January 31st, a front-page story in The New York Times examined the gender disparity among Wikipedia.com contributors. Wikipedia welcomes amateur editors, yet only 13 percent of registered contributors are women. This statistic doesn’t reflect overall use of the site, which is split roughly 50-50 between the sexes. So women are reading Wikipedia; they’re just not participating. This gender gap manifests itself in two ways: a lack of articles relating to primarily female interests, like friendship bracelets, “Sex and the City,” and feminism, and a lack of female contribution to articles of general interest, resulting in a male-skewed view of what is “notable” in history and pop culture.
SPARK stresses the importance of recognizing women for their voices, not just their bodies. The Internet seems to give women the chance to do just that–create an identity defined by ideas, not sexuality or physical appearance. If women were really interested, wouldn’t they have already claimed their 50 percent of the Wiki sphere?
There are a few possible reasons for the lack of women contributors. Some argue that Wikipedia’s editing process is needlessly complicated, time-consuming, and technical. Wiki has its own system for editing articles, similar to HTML code, which may intimidate female users who don’t see themselves as tech-savvy. Others blame the group of veteran editors–mostly male–who police certain pages, promoting their point of view. Others believe that men simply have more free time than women to engage in edit wars with anonymous strangers.
Wikipedia’s talk pages, like many Internet forums, are replete with arrogant assertions, blared ignorance, and cutting personal attacks. In theory, anyone can edit, but whether one’s changes will stay on the site is a different matter. To contribute successfully, Wikipedia users must assert, defend, and promote their ideas. Do women lack the self-esteem or just don’t care enough to commit to such a battle?
Women are less likely to enter into a contentious or hostile public environment, preferring to use the Internet in ways that they can control, through social media (networks and blogs). Social networking sites like Facebook are female-dominated, though by a much slighter ratio: 1.35:1 female-to-male compared to the 1:7 ratio of Wiki contributors.
The Wikipedia disparity is important because the website supposedly model democracy. What does it mean when women are consistently lurkers, but not commentators? Consumers, but not creators? There’s a need for women to assert themselves in the public space, both online and in “real” life. The Internet is the future, and women should claim their equal share.