Thursday, January 05, 2006

m. speaks

hmm. another controversy it would seem, and much vehemence and anger.. and ironically, i seem to be the cause of it, not wikipedia! life is certainly unpredictable :) well, ive heard what youve all had to say.

there has been much talk about whether wikipedia is biased, whether the management is concerned about their being biased, and so forth. whether you choose to heed it or not, wikipedia says “we have a duty to write our articles from a frank and unbiased perspective” (will someone pass me a paper bag please? I think im going to be very sick!)

"Sexism is the foundation on which all tyranny is built. Every social form of hierarchy and abuse is modeled on male-over-female domination." - Andrea Dworkin

calling a woman a member of the "weaker sex" is biased.

calling her a cunt or whore is just purely offensive and hostile no matter where you stand in the spectrum of gender politics.

so while i dont expect wikipedia to be able to control "bias" (despite their assertion) i would - and do - expect them to treat people with respect. maybe it is difficult for them to keep track of their data updation - that doesnt speak too highly for their quality control process, and frankly, im not bleeding sympathy.

to each man who magnanimously overlooks the insult and agrees that it is all for the Glory of (Totally Dubious) Knowledge – not so fast batman: you didn’t lose anything, and weren’t affected by that statement. the privilege of granting forgiveness or ignoring the injury is not yours.

"Women are repeatedly accused of taking things personally. I cannot see any other honest way of taking them." - Marya Mannes

the idea of a body of knowledge, freely available to everyone is indisputably a fantastic one. it may also be only that: an idea, with very real implementation glitches. as a concerned individual i wrote wiki a polite mail showing them the article.

I wrote about it here, when by the way, the same old boring tactic of suppression by trying to be demeaning – “you’re raving”, “you’re ranting” - was tried. if we speak we rave, if we don’t – well, the women aren’t saying anything, so its no big shit, right? ho hum.

you saw the mail I received from them. to still support the use of obscene language employed for no convceivable purpose is discriminatory, sexist behaviour. it says nothing for the encyclopaedia’s professionalism, ethics or integrity. the article does no justice to women, or to the concept of wikipedia.

merely changing one article doesn’t change anything. what could possibly make a difference would be making a vehement enough objection to such sexism, that wikipedia actually bothers to check what its putting up. it has to be a policy level decision. the people behind the show have to make a serious effort. otherwise, you and I can take turns changing and rewriting articles every second day until our senescence – it doesn’t matter a damn.

I understand there are several people out there who seem to think challenging wikipedia amounts to challenging open source, something that shouldn’t (according to them) be allowed at any cost. one, it isn’t about “wikipedia versus feminism” or “wikipedia the last stand of free source”. nobody can force that kind of trade off, and even if they do, as much as I support free source, damned if ill continue to do so when the project abuses me.

and as a parting shot – how would a man like to be defined as a “dickhead” in a free, open source of “knowledge” ?

nothing condones vicious sexism, least of all the cause of spreading awareness.

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Blogger Anurag said...

Hello m.

I understand your anger, but many people won't. Some of the women closest to me think just like you, and I have come to understand, respect, and support their views.

If you catch a fish from the ocean, it doesn't matter for fish in general except for the one that gets caught. Same with harrassment of women -- it is not an issue for men, because they don't undergo that.

I have many thoughts on this matter, but they need sorting. So I won't say much right now.

Also, for future commentors, if you want to abuse my point of view, please refrain from doing so on this blog; I am not going to come back and have a commenting battle on a blog. :)


9:28 pm  
Blogger m. said...


yes, many people dont understand why its such a big deal!
whenever its a case of something vs womenkind, its SO frustrating to see how thoroughly weve been conditioned to support the something and say "women, lump it".
any humiliation or violation of rights is dismissed as insignificant, or worse, as "things have always been this way, so why are you objecting".

having said that,it sure revives hope to see folks who have thrown off the taught indifference. (bully for you!)

ps: i dont think you have to worry about the commenting battle bit, for a very careful (and interesting?!) silence prevails...


9:00 pm  
Anonymous besantnagarbeachsoothsayer said...

It is a pity you weren't born a man like your horoscope dictated!

12:51 am  
Anonymous b. said...

comrade m.,
your concerns are very valid, etc., but one sometimes wonders if well-to-do, educated, high-caste (in the indian context) women sometimes take their dissatisfaction too far. true, they are discriminated against, and true, it is unfair and unacceptable. (if anything, wikipedia only did their "encyclopedia" job too well in reflecting a larger social prejudice).

but don't you think many feminist types (both women and men) are playing with words and indulging in armchair debate, when their less fortunate sisters could do with active help or at least some discussion of their problems, which aren't the same as yours?

i assume you're a feminist because you're fighting for the underdog, not just because you happen to be a woman. then why stop with women? why not the poor, say, or dalits? the only valid reason i can think of is that a body can actively do only so many things per unit time, and you picked your area. but at least as far as intellectual debate goes, shouldn't all these classes occupy your time equally; and aren't there greater crimes out there than schoolboy genital references?

6:58 am  
Blogger Jake said...

i dont understand your raving again. you havent said anything more than you did in your last post. said it differently maybe. as b. said, all wikipedia did was reflect the prejudice. note the word reflect. sure find the article offensive, sexist whatever. what fault is it of an encyclopedia that is open source that allows collective editing by just about anyone ?
and really, i think getting hairy about something as silly as schoolboy genital references as the previous person so well put it, is going far. go after the people who put that stuff into wikipedia. what you are doing is raving about a tool that really is good, to the extent that is captures the zeitgeist.

7:38 am  
Blogger m. said...

@ the soothsayer: you and your mangled tamil! she said i would have a son, not should have been a son! oh yeah - and she was supposed to have seen my hand not my horoscope you dope :))

@ b. and jake: youre as entitled to your views as i am. be my guests.

8:02 am  
Blogger Kunal said...

Women are referred to by derogatory nicknames such as you have quoted. It's really terrible that stuff like this happens, but it does. Wikipedia reports that. They aren't saying that women *should* be referred to by such vulgar terms, but merely that they *are*. I don't know about you, but to me, that seems to be pretty much the job description of any good encyclopedia, telling stuff like it is.

9:38 am  
Blogger KoPoS said...

wikipedia is, as jake said, the reflection of the real body of knowledge(whether it carries a negative or positive connotation is not the point, the point is that such knowledge exists).
"Among some people, terms considered extremely offensive to most women (e.g., bitch, cunt, or ho) are used to refer to women in general. Many terms that refer to women's physical appearance (e.g., hottie, a sexually attractive woman) see wide use, but many consider them to imply sexual objectification."

This is what wikipedia has, and has explictily told that it is considered offensive. what more of a frank and unbiased view is needed? Do they need to omit such references?

9:34 pm  
Blogger m. said...

@kunal - what wikipedia is doing, is saying : when you think of women, think of biology, reproductive system, vulgar words, legal rights. insidious how that abuse slips in there isnt it?
its this kind of "mixed" information thats hardest to combat and most damaging.
as an encyclopaedia, they had no business using those words. even if the article were on sexism, you can discuss the issue without teaching people sexist terms. - same principle as teaching reproduction with a body chart instead of a porn film.
thanks for stopping by, and stating your point of view civilly!! :)

@ kopos - i believe the response above answers you too.

4:59 am  
Blogger Kunal said...

I think we will have to agree to disagree here, IMO the Wikipedia article says that women *are* referred to by objectionable terms. I agree with you when you say that this is sexism (especially as no similar terms exist for men), but I don't think this should be excised from the article.

PS: Thanks for your comment on my blog.

6:40 am  
Blogger Sex and the Sushi said...

You have a great blog here! I saw your entry about Wikipedia on and was intrigued. I don’t use Wikipedia that often so I’d never noticed that anything was amiss. I’ll be keeping my eyes open from now on.

Again, thanks for the wonderful blog and keep dropping that mad science on our asses!

Glamour Diva

9:01 am  
Blogger m. said...

@s&s - thanks for dropping in :)

5:27 pm  
Blogger Chris Clarke said...

I note that one will look in vain on this page for any instances of derogatory words used to describe the people covered by the article.

11:18 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anything to do with women on wiki is full of strife. I had my run in with this when I was trying to edit the entry for yaoi (a solidly female genre). Men would just throw in derogatory stuff just for the hell of it and when I would change it, I would come back to find it changed back again. Even the article linked to in the entry is from a male pov., who is shocked and amazed that those crazy women would like yaoi. If you look at the discussion for the article on feminism, you'll see how rife with conflict anything to do with women is.

-- anashi

11:45 pm  
Blogger Liz said...

Wow that's incredibly maddening!

Let's start a "derogatory terms for N" campaign on Wikipedia, where N is whatever person, ethnicity, race, or nationality. Just think of all the derogatory terms we could find for someone like Martin Luther King, or the Pope! I think all their articles should be edited to include diverse viewpoints.

Just now I tried looking up African-American on there, and it has a section about terms no longer in use, like "mulatto" or "quadroon". However, it does not have a list of offensive terms. Clearly someone needs to remedy this.

*/end sarcasm/*

3:36 pm  
Blogger m. said...

welcome to the turf :)

@chris: thanks for the link. goes to show ... its "only" women after all aint it.

@anashi: wait, you're stirring up faint memories of some stuff i read - isnt yaoi to do with homosexuality? if it is, then oh well - figures. after women, theyre the next marginalised group! as for feminism on wiki... you'd think simone de beauvoirs crowning achievement in life was to have lived with sartre. ARGH.... dont get me started!

@liz: LOL! yesh, i totally understand the feeling! :)

5:24 pm  
Blogger voyou said...

what wikipedia is doing, is saying : when you think of women, think of biology, reproductive system, vulgar words, legal rights. insidious how that abuse slips in there isnt it?

But that's not what 'Wikipedia' is doing, it's what some contributers to Wikipedia did. You say you hope that "wikipedia actually bothers to check what its putting up," but that seems to me to reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of Wiki. You are assuming that Wikipedia has a centralized structure such that "they" could check on what is being posted. But there is no such "they." Wikipedia is edited by its users.

It may well be that Wikipedia's user base is predominantly male (as men dominate the geek culture which wikis come out of), and that would certainly make Wikipedia problematic as a source of knowledge. It may even be that this male-skewed perspective is now so dominant in Wikipedia that it would be a waste of women's time to attempt to rectify it. It may well also be that formal equality alone ("anyone can edit it") cannot combat the power relations that exist in wider society. But that seems to me to be a different criticism from the one you are making.

9:29 am  
Blogger m. said...

tim: you know, its beginning to faze me, this difference between what wiki says about itself and what the diehard fans say about it.
for all that wikipedia is a free open source thing yada yada, there is one centralised structure if not controlling the act, watching from behind the scenes. please note that wikipedia themselves have not used that line of defence of how they are not centralised.
if a core of people led by jimbo wales can call themselves the board of directors, its quite reasonable imho to also treat them as the folks running the show.
though they may not have written the matter themselves, their attitude towards the article states their support for it.
that is what i was driving at.

10:19 am  
Anonymous toastykitten said...

You may be interested in what Mac Diva had to say about Wikipedia and race and New Orleans. I find Wikipedia reliable for certain topics, but areas of controversy tend to be dominated by the prejudices of the majority posters.

8:43 am  
Blogger m. said...

@toastykitten: hey! thanks for dropping in, and for the link. the league of the south thing was pretty disturbing. hmm. i dont know... there are just way too many glitches in implementing a concept like wiki - and denying them is only taking us further away from fixing anything! hmm. leaves you feeling rather fed up huh...

8:07 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice artivle but I think what was fascinating was the response u got to it.

Believe it or not, I really hadnt looked at or thought abt wikipedia till now.

Sincerely believe its one of those concepts that sounds great on paper but has too many implementation problems to actually be a reality. Yeah - I know its a reality already :P.. but its a joke its being called an encyclopedia. of ANY sort!

Response to various comments that were left stating that NO info could ever be unbiased so what's the big deal: Well, imagine if we totally stop even TRYING to be unbiased. in the premise of course that we can never be. A lot of things would become pointless rt?

To all those who said: if u really cared, u would edit such an entry. Yes, the reader could edit it. What's to stop the re-editing to the original info. Is one supposed to be the good samaritan & check wiki once a week to see if ur entry has been kept or screwed by some nut??:S.



P.S: Yeah M, finally shook off my laziness & checked the blog ;)

11:52 pm  

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