Ms. Categorized: Gender, notability, and inequality on Wikipedia

Francesca Tripodi

New Media & Society


(Research Summary by Katherine Furl) 

Fewer than one in five English-language Wikipedia biographies on academics, inventors, and writers are about women. Wikipedia’s biographical gender gap persists partly because biographies written for women are disproportionately deleted. The process leading biographies to be considered for deletion in the first place, however, has received little attention. In “Ms. Categorized: Gender, notability, and inequality on Wikipedia,” CITAP Principal Investigator Francesca Tripodi observes Wikipedia edit-a-thons, interviews Wikipedia editors, and analyzes data from over 20,000 Wikipedia biographies nominated as “Articles for Deletion” (AfD) to understand how inequalities in whose biographies are flagged as potentially non-notable itself entrenches gender inequality—and perpetuates a culture where women’s accomplishments are systematically devalued and rendered invisible.    

Women’s underrepresentation on Wikipedia extends beyond featured biographies: women are far less likely to edit Wikipedia as well. Estimates suggest that much like the gender gap in biographies, only about one in five Wikipedia editors are women. The overrepresentation of men among Wikipedia’s editors can lead to gender biases extending throughout Wikipedia’s editorial practices. As Dr. Tripodi notes, “Despite the presumption of consensus among Wikipedians, ‘neutral’ roles and formalities on the site embody subjectivity and bias in their application and effect.” 

Observing “edit-a-thons" aimed at adding women’s biographies to Wikipedia, Dr. Tripodi found that even as edit-a-thons were ongoing, biographies were being flagged as not notable enough for inclusion on Wikipedia. To keep women's biographies from being deleted, editors must volunteer additional time to diligently debunk bad-faith nominations for removal. When editors voice their concerns about gender discrimination in these instances, they are often dismissed as taking deletion nominations too personally and as being too sensitive. These obstacles, Dr. Tripodi argues, constitute an additional burden of emotional labor—the often women editors invested in bridging Wikipedia’s biographical gender gap must be hypervigilant and hide their disappointment lest they be considered oversensitive and irrational.  

Gender inequalities in Wikipedia biography deletion nominations show similarly discriminatory patterns. Comparing the percentage of biographies written for women and men nominated for deletion, Dr. Tripodi found that not only were women’s biographies more likely to be nominated for removal, but that in several years, around one in four biographies on women were nominated for deletion—a higher percentage than the proportion of Wikipedia biographies written about women overall.  

Unequally nominating Wikipedia biographies for deletion based on gender re-entrenches gender inequality even when editors successfully defend women’s biographies and keep them on the site. The additional emotional labor needed to combat bad-faith nominations can have a chilling effect on women Wikipedia editors. Gender inequality in Wikipedia’s biographical representation and editorship are two sides of the same coin—and to address both, we must look beyond Wikipedia to a culture that regularly delegitimizes and erases women’s contributions.