Outrage as female authors relegated to ‘American women novelists’ subcategory, clearing space for all-male main page
There are American novelists, and then there are American women novelists – at least according to Wikipedia, where outrage has been building over the quiet categorisation of major names such as Harper Lee and Donna Tartt according to their gender.
Wikipedia has a category for “American novelists”, but it runs to so many names that the site has said “pages in this category should be moved to subcategories where applicable”. Yesterday, the authors – and females – Amanda Filipacchi and Elissa Schappell noticed that editors had begun moving women “one by one, alphabetically, from the ‘American novelists’ category to the ‘American women novelists’ subcategory”, wrote Filipacchi in the New York Times. “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’.”
There are currently 3,904 entries in “American novelists” on Wikipedia, and Filipacchi said that “the first few hundred of them are mainly men”. Schappell added: “It would appear that in order to make room for male writers, women novelists (such as Amy Tan, Harper Lee, Donna Tartt and 300 others) have been moved off the ‘American novelists’ page and into the ‘American women novelists’ category. Not the back of the bus, or the kiddie table exactly – except of course when you Google ‘American novelists’ the list that appears is almost exclusively men.”
Their observations sparked a widespread condemnation of the policy on social media. “Women writers are consistently underrepresented, their work receiving much less attention than that of their male counterparts. In 2012 the New York Review of Books reviewed only 40 female authors, as opposed to 215 male authors,” wrote Abigail Grace Murdy on the publisher Melville House’s blog. “The subcategory ‘American women novelists’ “simply reflects a widespread and belittling perception of women writers that already exists. But in reflecting that perception, Wikipedia perpetuates it, and the sexism marches on.”
Wikipedia editors have now begun the task of adding the female writers back into the wider category, while debating the situation among themselves. “This is embarrassing us on a global basis. If you don’t segregate males and gender unknowns, then don’t segregate women (and that’s how it’s being perceived),” wrote one.
Another said: “Removing women from the list of novelists is like removing black or foreign-born novelists. Its effect is inherently biased. For those who want to find women novelists, a sublist is acceptable, but it cannot fairly involve removal from the main list. The effect is too discriminatory and drastic. The same applies to all women-nationality lists (not only novelists). I think this kind of category, based on the characteristics of the novelist, is very different from a subcategory based on the characteristics of the novels, eg, mystery novelists or science-fiction novelists.”
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