Wikimedia Is Moving Toward Using Gender-Neutral Pronouns

   - Samantha Cole

Apr 12 2017, 4:09am

Image: Shawn/Flickr -
"This is worth a little 'discomfort' in order to feel more welcoming for
women, trans and genderqueer future contributors."

Wikimedia editors are considering a move to gender-neutral pronouns as
default policy
on some of the network's pages in hopes of becoming a more inclusive

The move will start with Wikimedia Commons and Help pages, and has been met
with general positivity so far. It grew out of discussions at the annual
Wikimedia Conference in Berlin, according to user Fæ
<>, who made the initial
proposal Tuesday. Main Commons and Help namespaces would automatically
support edits to gender-neutral pronouns, replacing "his or her" with
"their" when preferred gender pronoun isn't specified.

This comes as the Wikimedia community
— and many spaces online where a diverse group of people work together —
grapple with ways to curb harassment and support inclusion.

"I recognize that moving to a more gender neutral form for other languages
is much harder, but that is not a reason for our community to avoid showing
leadership within our Wikimedia projects, and we should forge ahead where
it is possible and reasonable to do so," Fæ wrote. "I'd even say this is
worth a little 'discomfort' in order to adopt modern best practices and
take positive steps to feel more welcoming for women, trans and genderqueer
future contributors."

Wikipedia editors are predominantly male. A 2011 survey
showed that only 16 percent of editors were women. The disparity makes a
difference in how women are portrayed on the site as subjects: Women's
pages were more likely to focus on their personal relationships than their
accomplishments, research has shown
Articles about women more often linked to articles about men than vice versa
and were more likely to emphasize gender than in articles about men.

Points of opposition so far include the confusion ESL speakers might
encounter with "their" meaning "a community," and how the meaning in
non-English translations could get garbled. "In the past, we used the male
pronouns in situations where it could apply to anybody," user ghouston
<> writes. "Then people
started thinking it was sexist, and we've been somewhat confused ever

With 18 billion page views
<> a month,
a change to how people use Wikipedia and its pages is a small but
meaningful step toward better gender inclusivity online.
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