How to help fix the “American novelists” problem on Wikipedia

The “American novelists” category on Wikipedia is apparently theoretically supposed to be just a list of subcategories, but it currently also contains a large number of individual authors.

And unfortunately, a lot of female authors have recently been removed from that category in favor of putting them in the “American women novelists” category. For more on this, see Amanda Filipacchi's New York Times op-ed piece Wikipedia’s Sexism Toward Female Novelists.

There's nothing wrong with female authors being listed in both categories, but there's a lot wrong with removing only the women from the main category.

So here's how to help fix the problem:

  1. Log in to your Wikipedia account.
  2. Go to a female American novelist's Wikipedia page. You may want to start from the American women novelists category page and click through to individual authors.
  3. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click the + at the end of the author's category list.
  4. Type in American novelists in the box that appears.
  5. Click the OK button.

I encourage y'all to do this for your favorite female American novelists!

It's possible that Wikipedia will soon decide on some other approach, such as merging the “American female novelists” category into the “American novelists” category. But that may or may not happen anytime soon, so in the meantime, we may as well fix the current problem.

A better programmer than I could probably write code to fix this in a few minutes. But there are only a couple hundred authors affected, so it seemed simpler to just crowdsource the fix.

I do have subtext here: part of my point is to remind people that Wikipedia is editable, and that we can all contribute to making it a better place.

Note, however, that longtime Wikipedia editors sometimes get a little impatient with people who appear to be there only to do one specific thing. If you create an account for the first time in order to work on this, you may unfortunately encounter some resistance. I'd like to encourage people to sign up and stick around and become part of the community, but I know it can be hard to persevere in the face of what appears to be old-timers trying to push new people away.

6 Responses to “How to help fix the “American novelists” problem on Wikipedia”

  1. reinie.erne

    Good idea, women are people too… My favorite female American novelists were already done, so I just did what was left of the L, T, and V. ~ Reinie

  2. Jed

    Update: We’ve fixed last names starting with J through Z, but the majority of the problem is in last names starting with A and B, so there’s still more to be done. Stop by and help out!

    It appears that most of the removals were done by a single Wikipedia editor, who apparently wanted to clean up the very large “American novelists” category but chose a particularly wrongheaded way of doing so. In cases where he did that, you can do an “Undo” to put the category back; that might be more in keeping with Wikipedia standards than my suggested “add the category directly” approach. But adding the category takes only a couple of seconds per author, whereas dealing with the Undo interface is slower, and not all of the authors were removed in the first place, so in some cases you’d have to add the category manually anyway. So I’m just ignoring the Undo option and adding the category.

    There is ongoing debate about how the categories should work in the long term. But I figure that almost everyone (aside from the original remover and a few others) agrees that the current situation is wrong, so I figure there’s no harm in fixing it in the short term while the discussion continues about what to do in the long term.

  3. Jed

    One more thing: Someone did apparently try to automate this, but someone else came along and, not knowing about the controversy, undid the automated change. So maybe it’s just as well that I didn’t know how to automate it.

  4. richardhine

    It seems that the author of the NYT op ed Amanda Filipacchi is being targeted by Wikipedia editors… there were more edits to her page in 24 hours following the article than in the previous 4 years.

    Many seem petty, if not vindictive:

    EXAMPLE: 9 citations were removed (inc. Chicago Tribune, Newsday, Boston Globe, Village Voice and more). THEN: The article was flagged as lacking citations

    Is there anything that can be done to help here?

    • Jed

      I would argue that it wasn’t that she was “targeted by Wikipedia editors”; rather, one Wikipedia editor vandalized her page, and others undid the vandalism. And the vandal was only an “editor” in the sense that we are all Wikipedia editors if we want to be; talking about “Wikipedia editors” can make it sound like we’re talking about an official response from The People In Charge.


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