Wikipedia in sexism row after labelling Harper Lee and others 'women novelists' while men are 'American novelists'

Feminist campaigners say they are 'disappointed' and 'shocked' at the online encyclopaedia's policy

Wikipedia has become embroiled in a sexism row after it emerged that its editors are giving less prominence to articles about women than to those about men.

Feminist campaigners said they were “disappointed” and “shocked” at the news that many female novelists born in the US were being placed in a subcategory on the online encyclopaedia named “American Women Novelists”, while their male counterparts were listed simply as “Novelists”.

“It is just horrendous,” said Caroline Criado-Perez of the feminist website The Women’s Room. “It perpetuates the idea that men are the default and don’t need to be marked in any way, whereas women are still seen as the outliers. If it is a prominent woman, it is a special case; it is a really Victorian attitude and shocking to see in 2013.”

She added: “It exemplifies how far we have to go for women just to be as accepted as men are; as the default.”

The “American Novelists” category on the site does contain some women’s names. However, the New York Times reported this week that many of those placed earlier in the alphabetical list had been moved into the subcategory for women.

The paper’s Amanda Filipacchi wrote in an opinion column: “The intention appears to be to create a list of ‘American Novelists’ on Wikipedia that is made up almost entirely of men. The category lists 3,837 authors, and the first few hundred of them are mainly men.”

She added: “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’.”

An internal note to editors of the “American Novelists” category on Wikipedia reads: “Pages in this category should be moved to subcategories where applicable. This category may require frequent maintenance to avoid becoming too large. It should directly contain very few, if any, articles and should mainly contain subcategories.”

A second note suggests that editors on the site are considering re-merging the two, with the issue currently being debated.

Professor Uta Frith of University College London led a session last year during which Wikipedia articles about under-appreciated women were extended and given a more appropriate weighting.

She said: “I certainly feel disappointed by this division into an unmarked form (novelists) and a marked form (female novelists). This kind of division has been studied by linguists a lot. I certainly would be most upset to see a distinction between scientists and female scientists.

“I don’t know for sure, but I am guessing that there was once an unmarked class ‘men’, meaning all mankind, and ‘women’, meaning a special subcategory, a special case of man,” she observed wryly.

A spokesman for the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, did not respond to requests for comment.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
music
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own