Only about one in eight Wikipedia contributors and editors are women, according to a study by the online encyclopedia's own nonprofit operator. An unfortunate example of sexism? More like an example of the easily conned male ego.
MIT instructor and alumni Philip Greenspun has floated a theory as to why women are underrepresented in high-end scientific professions: Science is generally a terrible career choice, but it contains a dysfunctional status hierarchy that tends to appeal the male egos.
A lot more men than women choose to do seemingly irrational things such as become petty criminals, fly homebuilt helicopters, play video games, and keep tropical fish as pets (98 percent of the attendees at the American Child Association convention that I last attended were male). Should we be surprised that it is mostly men who spend 10 years banging their heads against an equation-filled blackboard in hopes of landing a $35,000/year post-doc job? ...Young men strive to achieve high status among their peer group. [Yet] men tend to lack perspective and are unable to step back and ask the question "is this peer group worth impressing?"
Greenspun's female students, meanwhile, "are more discriminating about choosing those peers," and tended to wisely divert to more rewarding professions like medical school.
So it is with Wikipedia. Why invest your free time wrangling with a politicized Wikipedia bureaucracy of infighting editors and bitter story subjects, all for the honor of creating a free resource for other people and paying out of your own pocket to go to high-level meetings for the Wikimedia elite? If you're a man, for the honor of being near the "top" of something, no matter how fruitless. The prominent women associated with Wikipedia, meanwhile, tend to be famous for getting Jimmy Wales to do various things on their behalf. Smart.
(Pic: Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales receives a Quadriga Award in the "Mission of Enlightenment" category on October 3, 2008, the anniversary of German unification, in Berlin. Getty Images.)