Women, Wikipedia, and Intentional Editing

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Art+Feminism Buttons, Emily Carr University of Art and Design Library, March 2016. Photo by Hillarywebb. CC-BY-SA 4.0

I’ve written previously about my use of Wikipedia as an outreach tool for the GLAM sector and the possibilities of connecting archives to users through Wikipedia.  I’ve also been thinking a lot about using Wikipedia as a form of awareness raising about Indigenous history, marginalized communities, and women. Many people have written about the systemic under representation of women and minorities on Wikipedia. Given that today is International Women’s Day I wanted to talk a bit about women, Wikipedia, and my personal approach to editing.

There are a handful of really great initiatives that encourage focused editing to increase female representation on Wikipedia.  For example, the WikiProject Women in Red initiative aims to turn red links (names/topics without Wiki pages) into blue links. The Women In Red initiative focuses on women’s biographies and works by women and hosts theme months where they focus on specific subsets such as women in science, Indigenous women, women in academia etc.  The project has some resources for new editors and an ongoing work list if you’re interested in contributing.

My other favourite women’s oriented Wikipedia project is the Art+Feminism initiative. Art+Feminism aims to encourage more women to be engaged in editing and to increase and improve content relating to feminism and the arts.  Art+Feminism has a ton of great resources (including a really well done video series) that can be used to introduce new editors to the basics of Wikipedia.  The project page also has a lot of advice on hosting an edit-a-thon and for community based organizers.  I used a lot of these resources when thinking about organizing the first edit-a-thon on campus in 2016.

Personally, I’ve being trying to be more thoughtful about what pages I create and contribute to.  Wikipedia can be a huge rabbit whole and for someone who has a desire to ‘fix all the things’ I can sometimes unintentionally spend hours editing. But my time is finite and I want my edits to be meaningful.  I’ve actively being trying to contribute to and create pages that relate to Indigenous communities and more specifically to Indigenous women.

Specifically, I’ve been working on cleaning up the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women page which still needs a substantial amount of work (Read: please contribute!).  Similarly, I’ve also being contributing to the Walking With Our Sisters page, and the Aboriginal Healing Foundation page. In terms of biography pages I’ve recently tried to focused my edits on the Indigenous women who have inspired me and who’s academic work has been essential to me rethinking my approaches to scholarship and relationship building.  These women matter. They are doing hugely important work that deserves to be acknowledge. Some of the pages I’ve worked on so far have included Christi BelcourtShirley Fletcher Horn, Gail Guthrie Valaskakis, Madeline Dion Stout, Eve Tuck and others.  I’ve also started to think about how I can contribute to pages related to queer*, trans, non-binary, and 2spirt folks as these are communities which are also vastly underrepresented on Wikipedia.

Names and Family History

Last week NPR and CBC played a number of a stories focusing on feminism, the life of working women, and women’s right.  Many of these stories were linked to the fact that Friday March 8th was International Women’s Day.  The abundance of discussion relating to feminism and women’s rights cause me to think about the history behind family names and the impact name taking another last name can have upon family and personal history.

A lot of family history is tangled up in a last name.  Family names can connect you to a genealogy, a cultural identity and to a general sense of family.  Granted the patrilineal nature of family names in Western culture connect individual to a specific type of family history, a history connected by the males of the family. 

Other than the personal impact of changing your name (eg. being identified as belonging to a different family group) name changes can also have a significant impact on historical records and digital footprints. In the case of historical records if  a complete set of birth records, marriage certificates and death records are not available it can be difficult to gain a complete picture of life prior to marriage.

Family names used pre-marriage have a tendency to drop off the face of the earth in certain types of records, photographs, legal documents following marriage, personal correspondence, etc.  Genealogy is typically far easier if you are attempting to follow a family line of males than females. In older records where married women were identified by their husband’s name (Mrs. Robert Scott instead of Sally Scott) finding out information about personal identity becomes even more challenged. 

What about in today’s abundance of digital records?  What happens to your digital footprint when you change your name?  I suppose it depends on the type of digital record.  It’s possible to change your facebook profile, twitter account, and google profile to reflect a name change.  You can easily include both last names in these instances.  However, digital records which you didn’t create typically can’t be altered.  For example that news article that mentions your work isn’t going to be altered to reflect your new name.  And what if your new last name is overly common? Would you be better off continuing your digital identity with your less common pre-name change last name?

I’m don’t have a definitive answer. A lot depends on personal preference and what’s important to you as an individual.  Changing your name can have impacts well beyond how your write your signature.  Adopting another person’s family name can impact your sense of family identity, digital identity, and family history.  On the other hand, a name is just one of many things that make up an individual’s identity.