I edited this just a tiny bit, but it’s pretty much what I sent Wikimedia a few hours ago.
Greetings, and thanks so much for all the work you do!
In the dawning awareness of our places here in the early years of the
Anthropocene, and removed as we are from one of the most significant set
of events in our scientific history by the idle allures of Candy Crush,
the Kardashians and Trump’s latest atrocities, we forget the great
Galileo not only witnessed, understood and described truths of our
existences in relation to the planets and the sun, but was forced to
denounce these truths due to a powerful church’s greed, hubris and fear.
I see this happen time and again (in more subtle fashion), by the much
more quietly accomplished erasure of women and their contributions from
the historical records. In our current, more secular era, we even more
clearly know that we denounce truth when we fail to include all of it.
As you already are undoubtedly aware, in many ways implicit bias
against, and the subtle ignoring, muzzling, downplaying and silencing of
important contributions by (insert any under-represented group here) can
be even more dangerous than the outright censoring Galileo was subjected
to. After all, if censorship remains hard to detect, the misinformation it spreads can remain in place for much longer, and thus do more damage.
Based on my (admittedly not scientifically derived, but usually very
accurate) observations, the small cumulative edits on Wikipedia, as
“democratic” as they are supposed to be, tend to disproportionately lead
to the overall diminishment of women’s contributions and the
normalization and elevation of androcentric beliefs and mindsets…I
would bet really good money on the truth of this statement. And that’s
a big hairy problem.
I would also wager many, maybe most of the edits are made
innocently, but they still amount to a subversion of accuracy in the
information that Wikipedia offers.
An example: I was researching “developmental psychology” yesterday, and
unsurprisingly found the typical main players of Piaget and Erickson
expounded upon at length. Fine. But then the entry went on to
enumerate various subsections of psychological development. Under moral
development, the laughably subjective Kohlberg Theory was the only
(only!) theory mentioned (Also, as an aside I found absolutely no
mention of minority identity development in the entry -which is a
problem since the quality of being Other (or the lack of being Other) is
a huge part of everyone’s identity. It’s way past time we start
actively teaching this concept in undergrad psych classes-doing so would make it much easer for everyone to understand and get better at spotting implicit, culture wide biases. But I digress- a little).
Anyway, “Where is Gilligan’s retort and very accurate refutation of
Kohlberg’s hubristic bit of androcentric bias?” I asked myself in much
less poetic terms (I’ve been reading Maria Popova this morning and -as a
sincere form of flattery-am not fully consciously, but nonetheless still
am channelling a snarky version of her. Ideally, I think everyone should try to channel that woman -without the snark, she’s wonderful).
Gilligan’s very important criticism of Kohlberg’s theory was mentioned
as a very small footnote. And the entry for her own theory (not
mentioned in the main article on developmental psychology) was
confusing. Further, for the entries on the people themselves: Compared
to the almost reverential entry on Kohlberg, Gilligan’s entire Wikipedia
1) Basically started and ended with a criticism of her work,
2) Featured a noticeably longer bit about her personal life and marriage
3) Focused on the feminist reception her work got.
4) Focused primarily on her “feminist” critique, such that the
absolute truth of her refutation was not ever ever (ever) framed in
“humanistic” terms or in anything resembling what it truly was: simply
“an insightful critique which proposed a far more inclusive view of
human moral development”.
5) The entry contained many mentions of critiques about her feminist critique which
6) Serve to diminish the millions of thinking humans who see the truths of her words and
7) Incredibly used the “might makes right” idea that since her work had
been rebutted many times (much as as abolitionists and suffragettes
had been) it could be neatly and simply dismissed! (One can only wonder about the rather primitive moral stage that particular editor possesses) and finally
8) Lacked any acknowledgement at all that humans indeed might have relational imperatives encoded into their moral development -such as the ones Gilligan describes in her ethics of care theory- as humans.
The very much needed balance her work brought to an undeniably
androcentric world view of morality was and emphatically still is
important to developing a more complete and accurate understanding of
humanity’s psychological development in the area of morality. But in
Wikipedia, her entry has been whittled down to a small “feminist”
objection to some theory -which in contrast is presented as a monolithic
and definitive piece of “Real Science”. That the “Real Science” happens
to be irrefutably androcentric and, dare, I say, laughably subjective is
not a coincidence, and it is, a big hairy problem.
This is just one small example of a subtle, but pervasive pattern I see
throughout Wikipedia (and the world, of course). And it’s one I am sure
you are already aware of, and trying to combat.
Still, with all the hope and, yes, disgust I can muster, I implore
Wikimedia to please spend a good deal of resources and effort to conduct
their own analyses of how entries are modified with regard to the very
humanly important issue of gender bias on Wikipedia. Please, please,
please analyze Wikipedia for the kinds of information that gets
expounded upon, and what information gets subtly downplayed on a
cumulative basis by implicitly biased edits. It would
also be great to carefully analyze (and very loudly publish) the
differences in tone, length and types of information covered -based on
the gender of the person being profiled. Another idea would be to
partner with various universities to do their own studies on these types
Still channeling a somewhat snarky Maria Popova, I will close with this:
In this world no longer as tightly bound to the constipated views of
religious power mongers, but still completely held within the grips of
more general forms of “might makes right” mindsets, we need to stay
aware of these forces and actively work to stop them. Otherwise we
remain trapped within our tired old androcentric and Ptolemaic views of
“Science”, and because of that will inevitably fail to create the just
and peaceful world of our highest aspirations.
a fan, and sometimes a very small donor
(and no, I don’t edit for you. I am not a tech wiz, so I can’t figure
out how to work around my VPN issues. And also, my writing obviously
tends to stray very far away from neutral descriptions on a regular basis)