On September 6th, Fox News published this lovely article. Essentially, 15 universities, including some of the Ivy League are offering credit to students for “injecting feminism” into Wikipedia articles (the course is called Storming Wikipedia). Fox sort of summarized the program in a way that would benefit their argument, so here’s the full list of goals for the project:
Adding feminist scholarship to already existing content on Wikipedia
Creating and expanding articles on women who played and are playing important roles in history and current events
Making Wikipedia readers and editors more aware of the systemic gender bias inherent in the encyclopedia’s structure
Encouraging feminists, academics, and activists to contribute to Wikipedia and help revolutionize its culture
Participating in Wikipedia’s processes (FemTech.net)
Fox (not at all surprisingly) was outraged that we are not only teaching students about liberal points of view, but we are also offering credit for students to think in those terms. Here, also not surprisingly, is where Fox News and I differ. This program is a grand idea and there are many reasons why:
Current Male Bias
The problem with most of what Fox has to say is that they are operating under the assumption that there is currently equal representation of all points of view throughout media and information outlets. False. As in most things in life, white, heterosexual, cis-gendered men are better represented than everyone else. The argument presented, that this project will shift articles to favor women, is one not uncommon to hear against the feminist movement as a whole. Anti-feminists are constantly arguing that feminism actually means misandry and then go on to ask what the feminist movement is doing for men. Due to the overwhelming evidence indicating that women are more disadvantaged than men, the focus of feminism is to help women. In this context, bringing the idea of feminism itself into consciousness is the goal for the Wikistorming project.
Women Can Do The Science and People Should Do The Nice
Contrary to popular belief, women did and continue to contribute to technology innovation (e.g. Grace Murray Hopper who invented the first compiler). Katherine Timpf (campusreform.org), interviewee for Fox News skips over this fact by stating,
“In 1857, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telegram — a woman would have done it first but she was stuck in the kitchen,” Timpf joked. But the goals of the program are serious, she noted. “They’re more concerned with making it politically correct than factually correct,” she told Fox News. “This is the opposite of what [students] should be taught.”
It’s a bit short sighted of Timpf to believe that feminists would have to make nonsense like this up (although it is much harder for women to succeed in technology fields for a variety of very real reasons) for the project to have any substance. Beyond that, the rhetoric of politically correct and factually correct being mutually exclusive is almost shameful.
Let’s break this down. First, many people (of privilege) like to reject political correctness because they think it makes them edgy and cool or because it is too much work to keep up with all the “PC” terms. This is an unfortunate view of the world in that it is utterly false. Being offensive with your language doesn’t make you edgy, it makes you insensitive. Being offensive with your language doesn’t make you cool, it makes you obnoxious. As far as “too much work” claims, this is the perfect embodiment of privilege. If you think using different words or phrases is too much work, go ahead and think about why people would prefer those words. And then think about why you should stop using this oppressive language. And then use PC language.
Now, the most important idea the Timpf isn’t grasping is that political correctness and factual correctness not only can coexist, but they actually complement each other. The argument Timpf is making is one that lots of people make. The reason is that almost everything we are taught is rigged against minority and otherized groups. We are taught that whatever the white men say is hard fact. Whereas Timpf doesn’t see political correctness as factual, I see political correctness as factual because I try to check my privilege and understand that there are experiences outside of my own that are just as valid.
“That’s the opposite of what [students] should be taught”.
Excuse me? That’s interesting because I would really like to have all of my peers educated in how to be decent to those different from you. Maybe it’s just me, but I tend to enjoy being nice to others.
Here’s another gem for Timpf, “Usually it’s a little more subtle than a course actually to inject liberal bias in what is supposed to be factual articles! It’s absurd”. A few points here. First, she is literally explaining to everyone that conservatives care not for women. Which was obvious, but they usually try to shield it even a little bit. This is a new and unfamiliar tactic, but I think it is ineffective just the same. Second, the hard fact that women are frequently erased in the technology field is not “liberal bias”, but rather a truth that is irrefutable. Injecting feminism into Wikipedia isn’t about indoctrinating our youth (and adults) with immoral and biased ideas, it’s about giving them truth that they don’t experience through other media. I find it especially well thought out that Fox News, one of the most biased mainstream “news” sources in the US is upset about bias. Fox really gives off the feeling of accurate and unbiased with the url “http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2013/09/06/wikistorming-colleges-offer-credit-to-corrupt-wikipedia/”.
So really, the problem here is not a new one by any means. Feminism is still being branded as an opinionated movement entirely devoid of factual basis. Not only is this entirely false, but it is also rather insulting to those of us who spend time researching the topic. What’s going on here is that the right wing is scared of the potential consequences it faces should the general population become salient of gendered discrimination. Namely, being dethroned from the royal patriarchy upon which it sits. As a general rule of thumb, things that upset radical conservatives tend to be awesome. So, as far as “Storming Wikipedia” goes, it’s a yes from me.