Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Meet the Women Bringing the Kitchen to Wikipedia

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Meet the Women Bringing the Kitchen to Wikipedia

Article excerpt

There are some places where a spot of good old-fashioned sexism seems par for the course. I'm not surprised to discover that three-quarters of the members of the Most Noble Order of the Garter and 85 per cent of incumbent Anglican clergy have XY chromosomes, but in our enlightened digital age it does come as a bit of a shock to find out that over 9 o per cent of Wikipedia editors are male, too.

Male, white, and "of a particularly computer-nerd bent of mind", as the Wiki-Food and (mostly) Women Project puts it, which helps explain why only one in six of the biographies in this, the world's most democratic repository of knowledge, is female. New York magazine has called it one of the starkest gender gaps in contemporary culture. "The idea that Wikipedia is free and everyone can use it has not translated into who actually uses it," the project's director, Carolin Young, notes ruefully when I meet her at a group editing session at the British Library.

This "egregious gender imbalance" is especially notable in matters relating to food, because, as Polly Russell, the library's curator of food studies, explains, "we're such a new area of serious study". Most food throughout history I has been cooked by women, "but if you can't name them, they get forgotten".

One of the reasons why even contemporary females are woefully under-represented on Wikipedia is that most prominent women regard an encyclopaedia entry as an honour that has to be bestowed on them, whereas men are more likely to assume inclusion as their right. Bee Wilson, chair of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, which kick-started the project, cites the example of Philippa Glanville, a former chief curator of the metalwork, silver and jewellery department at the Victoria and Albert Museum and a world expert on historical dining practices, whose achievements were recognised by the Queen before the online encyclopaedia ("Presumably getting on Wikipedia should be easier than getting an OBE"). …

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