“People Who Can Take It”: How Women Wikipedians Negotiate & Navigate Safety

2019 Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at The Museum of Modern Art, New York — MoMA Art Feminism 2019 93.jpg () by Manuel Molina Martagon, CC-BY-SA-4.0.

The first time Helena* — a scientist and published author — edited Wikipedia, her edit was immediately reverted: “It was not only reverted,” she recalled, “it was reverted with a ‘You don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground’ kind of a note.”

But she persisted. She created a new account, read Wikipedia’s policies, and continued to contribute. When another user blanked Helena’s Wikipedia user page — deleting content she had written and leaving her a death threat — administrators refused to act. At this point, Helena decided it was time for a break: “I took a hiatus. I told everybody to just basically go shove it. ‘I may never come back to Wikipedia’ is what the message says; ‘I’ll think about it.’”

Today, Helena has been editing Wikipedia for more than 14 years. When asked to reflect on her earliest experiences, she replied, “There’s a wonderful phrase. I culled it out the other day. I put it in a little file folder to share with you. ‘We throw brand new potential editors directly into shark-infested waters, then yell at them for splashing at the sharks.’”

In our paper People Who Can Take It: How Women Wikipedians Negotiate and Navigate Safety, we wade into these “shark-infested waters,” asking how women Wikipedians like Helena remain in the community as active participants even when they feel unsafe, or are ignored or admonished when they seek help.

Note: Our paper is a qualitative study and, thus, is not intended to be generalizable. Also, some Wikipedia editors have criticized our study for containing “outdated” data, but qualitative work is time-consuming, and academic research requires a lengthy peer review process that does not allow for immediate publication.


  • Wikipedia is written primarily by men. This unequal division of labor in social systems is known as the gender gap.
  • Women who edit Wikipedia have different perspectives about the gender gap, but many have witnessed or experienced harassment. [1]
  • Experienced women Wikipedians have developed sophisticated tactics to participate in the community even when they feel unsafe.
  • Based on our conversations with experienced women Wikipedians, we share three provocations for designing safer spaces: (1) when aiming for inclusivity, consider safety a design requirement; (2) recognize your own assumptions and biases about safety; (3) provide users with tools for creating their own safe spaces.

Our Research

We interviewed 25 women who are experienced Wikipedia editors.

There’s this one guy who is part of the chapter here that was, for a while, posting date invitations on my talk page, that would say how much he wanted to spend time with me. Then it became a thing at edit‑a‑thons that he would attend too, where I felt like he was harassing me.

Mia, editing for 5 years

Wikipedia is more than a website. It’s a community stretching across the globe and made up of a multiplicity of online and offline spaces, many of which are porous. Each of these spaces — article talk pages, internet relay chat (IRC), edit-a-thons, meetups, conferences — has its own character, which is shaped by design affordances as well as community norms and values. Interactions in these different parts of Wikipedia, as Mia notes, often bleed across these sociotechnical boundaries — often without consent or control.

Maze — Schönbrunn Palace (8371660461).jpg () by Steve Collis from Melbourne, Australia, CC-BY-2.0.

I’m not an administrator and don’t want to be. Editors who work in topics which are perennially under assault […] often burn out for periods, sometimes permanently. I have tremendous admiration for those who have taken on the Sisyphean task […] I couldn’t do that work.

Oona, editing for 12 years

Women Wikipedians have developed sophisticated tactics to sustain their participation as community members even when they feel unsafe among their peers. For women like Oona, choosing what work to avoid is one way to protect themselves. For other women, choosing what to edit (for example, avoiding controversial topics) is another way to manage their participation so that they can “avoid drama” and its associated harassment risks.

2019 Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at The Museum of Modern Art, New York — MoMA Art Feminism 2019 91.jpg () by Manuel Molina Martagon, CC-BY-SA-4.0.

We don’t feel safe on Wiki. Not all of us, but a lot of us don’t, so why keep doing this on Wiki when we can take it another place […] ?

Jenn, editing for 12 years

Because Wikipedia does not allow users to create exclusive online spaces (e.g., women-only), women like Jenn have created or joined private groups on Facebook to cultivate and promote safe peer engagement. These spaces allow participants to share their personal experiences as well as their ideas about editing and other ways of participating bravely in the Wikipedia community. We take from these examples the need for designers to consider safety as a design requirement when aiming for inclusivity. This approach, in turn, means recognizing one’s own assumptions and biases when imagining the design of idealized scenarios, but also sometimes translates into the realization that providing users with tools to create their own safe spaces is the best means to ensure the safety of all.


[1] Community Engagement Insights. 2018. Wikimedia Foundation. Wikimedia Meta. Retrieved from https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Community_Engagement_Insights/2018_Report#Experience_of_harassment_has_not_declined_since_2017_and_appears_to_remain_steady


* We’ve used pseudonyms to protect our participants’ identities.

This article summarizes a paper authored by Amanda Menking, Ingrid Erickson, and Wanda Pratt. This paper was presented at CHI 2019, a conference of Human-Computer Interaction.This post was originally published via Medium.

Art+Feminism is looking for an Executive Director to help further the vision we’ve developed over the past six years.

2019 Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at The Museum of Modern Art, New York — MoMA Art Feminism 2019 80.jpg () by Manuel Molina Martagon, CC-BY-SA-4.0.

Founded in 2014, Art+Feminism is an award-winning do-it-yourself campaign to improve coverage of gender, feminism and the arts on Wikipedia. Wikipedia’s gender trouble is well-documented; in a 2011 survey, the Wikimedia Foundation found that less than 10% of its contributors identify as women. This lack of participation has led to significant gaps in the content on the world’s most popular online research tool. Since 2014, over 14,000 people at more than 1,100 events around the world have participated in our edit-a-thons, resulting in the creation and improvement of more than 58,000 articles on Wikipedia. Our events range from small gatherings at coffee shops to hundreds of folks at the largest cultural institutions in the world and take place on all six inhabited continents. Our organizing practices are horizontal and rhizomatic and our feminism is trans-inclusive and intersectional.

The Executive Director sets the strategic vision and executes the annual plan in collaboration with the Lead Organizers and manages relationships with the Board of Directors. The Executive Director, Lead Co-Organizers, and the Project Administrator form the Core Leadership Team of Art+Feminism. The Executive Director must have strong project management skills, a demonstrated history of work at the intersection of the arts and social justice, an understanding of intersectional feminist organizing principles, experience generating diverse financial support, and a knowledge of the Wikimedia community or another open-source/online community. Art+Feminism is entering into its seventh year but this will be our first year as a non-profit. While we do have great systems in place for community organizing, we seek an Executive Director who is also skilled at operations and development, and committed to developing leadership among other members of the team. Because the position requires international outreach and coordination, fluency in at least one language other than English is preferred.

The Executive Director’s responsibilities include:


  • Work with the Core Leadership Team to provide a strong day-to-day leadership presence that incorporates our mission, vision, and values into our everyday operations.
  • Work with the Board of Directors and the Core Leadership Team to develop the project’s mission, vision and values.
  • Draft strategic planning documents alongside the rest of the Core Leadership Team.
  • Represent Art+Feminism at art and social justice conferences, events, and Wikimedia Community gatherings.
  • Manage all staff and contractors, including the Project Administrator
  • Collaborate with the lead organizers to plan and implement the annual campaign.


  • Lead development goals and activities including grants administration and reporting.
  • Lead various fundraising activities.
  • Write grant proposals and compile supporting documents.
  • Recruit Board Members and cultivate Board.
  • Work with Core Leadership Team and Regional Organizers to identify and cultivate new funding sources.

Marketing and Communications

  • Work with the Core Leadership Team to oversee the development and execution of an annual communications plan, including marking, social media, and educational programming.


  • Co-manage key institutional partnerships, such as with the Museum of Modern Art.
  • Maintain and ensure the execution of project timelines.
  • Establish, improve and maintain efficient operations and project management platforms.
  • Direct and administer all financial plans and work with the Project Administrator to manage accounting processes for grant reporting and federal reporting.
  • Oversee regular meetings with Core Leadership Team members
  • Compose budgets for specific programs and processes.
  • Oversee risk management and legal activities, such as contracts
  • Work with the Project Administrator to analyze and improve operations and workflows.


  • Must be passionate about and have experience with the arts, intersectional feminism, and open source culture.
  • Must have demonstrated a commitment to developing leadership among other members of the team.
  • Requires proven fundraising and development experience.
  • Requires a minimum of 3 years of non-profit leadership experience or equivalent experience; 5 years preferred.
  • Requires strong self-awareness and high emotional intelligence.
  • Must have the ability to work independently and as part of a team.
  • Requires a demonstrated ability to develop and maintain productive working relationships with colleagues (e.g. staff, volunteers, donors, and board members.)
  • Preferably have strong financial management skills and analytical abilities.
  • Preferably have experience editing, organizing, or analyzing Wikipedia.
  • Preferably have experience with metrics/analytics tools.
  • Preferably have experience with project management and customer relations tools (we use Slack, Streak, and Trello.)
  • Requires flexibility to work evenings and weekends, and to travel for the role.

Executive Director reports to the Board of Directors. This position is entirely remote; the Core Leadership Team, which is located in four different cities, meets weekly via video chat. The candidate must be legally authorized to work in the United States. Due to our funding structure, this role is currently a one-year contract beginning September 1, 2019, with an expectation for renewal, pending the successful accomplishment of the above tasks.

Salary Range: $60-75,000/year. This is currently an independent contractor position but may be transitioned to employee status, depending on our legal and accounting advice. Application Deadline: August 13, 2019

Art+Feminism provides equal employment opportunities to all without regard to race, ethnicity, color, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability or genetics. Candidates from groups underrepresented in tech are especially encouraged to apply.

To apply, please send a cover letter and resume to us at info@artandfeminism.org.