Heather Mac Donald’s 2011 piece on Wikipedia’s gender bias only makes Wikipedia as an afterthought.  But it should have been the heart of the article.  Highlights:

Most observers blame media gender imbalances on “gatekeeper biases,” but the actual bias goes the other way:

The idea that these gender imbalances represent gatekeeper bias was demonstrably false even before the Wiki reality check. Any female writer or speaker who is not painfully aware of the many instances in which she has been included in a forum because of her sex is self-deluded. Far from being indifferent—much less hostile—to female representation, every remotely mainstream organization today assiduously seeks to include as many females as possible in its ranks.

If gatekeeper bias explains gender imbalances, then getting rid of the gatekeeper should get rid of the bias.  In fact, it makes the imbalance bigger:

Famously, Wikipedia has no gatekeepers. Anyone can write or edit an entry, either anonymously or under his or her own name. All that is required is a zeal for knowledge and accuracy. (The desire to share knowledge and the drive to correct errors are the top motivations of contributors, the Wikimedia study found.) Wikipedia provides a naturally occurring control group to test the theory that females’ low participation rate in various public forums is the result of exclusion.

It turns out that without gatekeepers, women’s representation drops—which makes sense, given the constant quota-izing by gatekeepers on women’s behalf. The barely 13-percent-female participation to Wikipedia is less than the 15-percent-female participation in “public thought-leadership forums” which the OpEd Project has calculated (and which the Times cites), let alone the 27-percent-female participation rate VIDA calculated at TheNew Yorker.


Rather than using barrier-free Wikipedia as the benchmark for measuring discrimination in the by-invitation-only world, the Times uses the invitation-only-world as the benchmark for Wikipedia. Since we already know that the low female participation rate in gatekeepered forums is the result of bias, the low female participation rate in Wikipedia must also be the result of bias.

And here’s a succinct statement of what ought to be the default position:

The most straightforward explanation for the differing rates of participation in Wikipedia—and the one that conforms to everyday experience—is that, on average, males and females have different interests and preferred ways of spending their free time. These differences include, on average, the orientation toward highly “fact-based realms” as well as the drive to acquire and expand abstract knowledge… While there are some females who track baseball statistics with as much zeal as males, they are in the minority. Subjects of disproportionately female interest, such as celebrity fashion flubs, have not generated the same bank of shared knowledge as sports records. Wikipedia articles will, of course, reflect this disparity.

An inspiring ending I’ll share with my daughter when she’s older:

Wikipedia’s gender imbalance is a non-problem in search of a misguided solution. It would do a lot less damage to equality to acknowledge that men and women are not identical in their interests than to suggest that “freedom, openness, [and] egalitarian ideas” are inconsistent with female self-realization.