Love letter to Wikipedia Editor Agent 86

Y is home from college for the rest of the summer and tells me he wants a job. So I tell him my server has 25 years of posts on it and I lost some, so I need him to go on the Wayback Machine and find them.

“What did you lose?”

“My hypertexts.”


“Hypertexts are stories that deconstruct patriarchal tropes of self-discovery and I’m famous for writing them.”

“If you were really famous, you’d have a much longer Wikipedia page.”

My brain explodes. “My Wikipedia page is constantly under siege. People have been trying to delete my page forever.”

Y won’t read my blog, but he loves reading the arguments for deleting my Wikipedia page. He agrees to take the job and starts studying the rules of linking.

After two days of his link studies I tell him, “No more reading. A real boss would fire you.”

“Wikipedia linking is an art form. You can’t rush it.” Then he says, “Wait. Someone is editing your page. Look: ‘The New York Times interviewed parenting experts who warned Trunk to stop blogging about her divorce. Trunk did not stop.'”

I kvell. “I wrote that,” I say. “Y, this is why I’m successful. Because I know when to cut corners. I’m just going to edit my own page.”

I start rectifying every problem I’ve ever had in life. I had the first blog-to-book in 2003.[1] That’s UC Santa Cruz. Very trusted. When I go to edit the Wikipedia entry for blogging to make it point to the entry for me, the blogging entry is locked. And I notice Kathy Sierra gets a whole paragraph devoted to her quitting blogging because men harassed her online. WTF? I should be in that paragraph because I was there too,[2]  and I put up with all that crap for another 20 years.

I find a law review article about how women give up earning power if they stop blogging because men are jerks online.[3]And guess who they cite? My blog post. So I put the this whole discussion in a new section that I add into my Wikipedia entry: Controversy. I’ve seen that on other peoples’ pages.

An hour later I notice I misspelled controversy, so I go back to edit and there’s a note saying it looks like I have an undisclosed financial stake in editing the page and I need to disclose who is paying me.

So I write back: “Hi. I’m Penelope and I wish I were getting paid because it’s taking me a really long time to fix my page, and I’m annoyed that Wikipedia keeps letting people delete my stuff.”

Then I get a reply that there’s an warning from someone who is “qualified to boldly revise the page”.

Y wakes up, sees that I’ve stayed up all night, and immediately checks my page: “Mom, you’re talking to a bot! What are you doing? Stop! You look insane.”

Whatever. I keep boldly revising the page myself. But when I look for a link to the project I did with Yoko Ono, I notice that half my page is gone. Not gone, actually. Just relegated to the boldly revised section. I take that as an invitation to try to make it more palatable to the bot in the Talk section.

But I notice someone deleted Trunk speaks publicly about her experience with gender conflict at work, [4][5] which they should have never deleted because one of my trusted sources [6] also included some very important information. Like:

· Wikipedia articles about topics of particular interest to female editors are significantly shorter than “male” articles.

· The articles women tend to edit are twice as likely to be about controversial or contentious topics.

· Female editors are significantly more likely to have their early contributions undone by their fellow editors, and are more likely to be indefinitely blocked by fellow editors.

The result of women not editing Wikipedia is that women don’t get written about, even though women and men use Wikipedia at the same rate. Also, when women do get written about the entries end up looking like mine: The topics the editors left were my miscarriage and my naked picture documenting domestic violence. And now, in the background, men are debating if those leftover topics are significant enough for me to have my own page.

It’s completely obvious why there are so many more men editing than women. Women do unpaid labor to be caretakers and men do unpaid labor to amass power and influence. We know this is not a result of social pressure because the more equal a society is, the more likely women are to choose to spend time on taking care of family rather than amassing power and influence.[7]

I am citing Claudia Goldin’s Wikipedia page there. She is a Harvard economist who has established over decades that the choice of caretaking is not from social pressure. Goldin has done at least as much for society as Larry Summers, but her page is minuscule, compared to his, and his is littered with tech-bro-BS like the fact that the Winklevoss twins requested a meeting with him in 2004.[8] Seriously. That piece of useless information has its own full section on Summers’ page.

You know how we got to equal pay between equally qualified men and women in the workplace? By placing them side by side and checking for parity. So how about doing a sex-based parity check on Wikipedia, like I just did? Find someone who is similar, but of the opposite sex, and make sure the pages are of similar length. If they are not, either delete the fluff from one or add substance to the other.

I have a candidate to manage this initiative. There’s a Wikipedia editor with high authority who has singlehandedly fought off calls to delete the Penelope Trunk Wikipedia entry for the last 10 years. So I want to say a big thank you to Agent 86[9], and I nominate them for the job. Also, can you please hire my son? I can’t manage him anymore.

Followup: Agent 86 responds!

19 replies
    JANE CARNELL says:

    A wise and witty chronicle of pushing back at Wikipedian mice nibbling at the listings of accomplished women. Not to put myself in your category but I too have a Wikipedia entry which over the years has fallen prey to near-erasure as well as removal of a photograph or two. Initially I was sanguine, stoic, and/or stalwart,mustering my waning indifference, thinking to myself, well, a man wouldn’t get all bent out of shape under these circumstances. But a man would…probably invade a lesser nation or even declare war….
    Never give up. And the hypertexts are true treasures and you are rightfully a pioneer in the technology of fiction. You deserve that recognition!.

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      Thanks, for the recognition, Jane. Maybe what I am really looking for is a seamless convergence of an encyclopedia and my favorite comments.


  2. christine
    christine says:

    And this is why I love you and what you are doing! AND, I might add, why you son should be proud of his mom. Not only did you “call out” the subtlety of gender inequity in a place not necessarily considered by most, but you paused and published gratitude to another for recognizing you and your work. I appreciate you, not always, but mostly and definitely in this case.

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      It’s pumpkin. But I’m so happy to see you mention shoo-fly pie! When Z was little I taught him to swing dance and as he got older he thought it was stupid. But now that he has a head injury we swing dance all the time because the lead stays in one place and the follow swings so his head doesn’t hurt. Anyway, the song, shoo-fly pie has the perfect beat where it’s fast enough to swing and slow enough for his head. It’s our favorite song for dancing!


  3. Sister Wolf
    Sister Wolf says:

    What a fucking nightmare! My younger son was/is a tech savant and built my blog 100 years ago and then refused to help with problems even if I sobbed hysterically. If I need wordpress troubleshooting would your kid be able to help ( for a fee of course)?

    Also, I hope Z is doing ok! Having gone through something similar, I am here to commiserate xo

  4. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Your Wikipedia page is much improved since you’ve given it more attention. Even with all the inherent challenges that have gone along with it. But there are many limitations as you have discovered. Thankfully you have a Wikipedia page that links to this blog. Why not write your own wiki on this blog exactly as you desire to your own standards? Keep the ‘About’ section as an informal introduction to yourself and this blog. Then add another section titled ‘My Wiki, My Way’ with some or all of the references in this post and more. As concise or wordy as you like. Link to posts in this blog and outside of this blog. Also, consider dropping the section titled ‘Vendetta’. The scammers and thieves got their 15 minutes of shame already.
    The link that got me to virtual Petz and Babyz was fun.
    And finally this sentence – “I find a law review article about how women give up earning power if they stop blogging because men are jerks online.” reminded me of a fine post you did after interviewing Ann Althouse (now a retired law professor, author, and still blogger). I think there are a few things Ann would change and add to her Wikipedia page. C’est la vie.

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      You’re right! The Wikipedia page is so much better. I’m excited. Also, after mucking around in it I realized how difficult it is to structure a page properly. The person who edited it has done a lovely job. And there is a gift – Six Sex Scenes got its own page. I feel like I’ve won an academy award. I’m so happy about wikipedia now.

      I have more to say about the other stuff you wrote about Mark — but I’m so happy about my hypertext getting its own page that I have to have fifteen minutes of joy.


  5. Tatianna
    Tatianna says:

    I hope somebody at Wikipedia / the nternet gods see this and are able to make a structural change. It’s so infuriating! Love the idea about the side by side gender parity idea, great internship opportunity??

  6. Agent 86
    Agent 86 says:

    I know you have no reason to believe this, but I’m Agent 86. I haven’t followed your blog or been on Wikipedia in years. In fact, not trying to be rude, I had forgotten about you and all the other bloggers I used to follow because I just don’t follow blogs anymore. However, the other day I was reminded about you and told to check you out again. So I did and saw…this?!? I kind of freaked out at first, because I thought someone I knew had figured out my editing history. Whew – with further investigation I realized it was an amazing coincidence.

    I had forgotten all about the attempts to delete the article about you. After seeing this post I went to look at it and the Talk page. Wow, did I get involved. Hard to believe that I was once so passionate about editing Wikipedia. Now I could care less – maybe I got a life? It was fun to re-read those posts. I am also a bit gobsmacked that there was a *fourth* AfD. If I still edited, for what it’s worth I’d would have put in yet another vote of support.

    Anyhow, whether you believe I’m me or not, I’m quite chuffed to get a nod from you. Thank you!! <3 I really did enjoy your blog back in the day, and it was really nice to catch up – as far as I knew, you were still in Wisconsin!

    cheers :-)

  7. Jacky
    Jacky says:

    You beautifully capture the essence of the important work done by Wikipedia editors and you shed light on the behind-the-scenes efforts that often go unnoticed.

  8. Laura
    Laura says:

    I came back to read this article just for insight, after noticing a cult that I came in contact with has several controversies listed on its wikipedia page, but not some of the really bad ones. The folks affected are wondering about how they can edit the page. I told them they probably need someone who is an expert editor to get the information pushed through!

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      I’ll help you. Email me
      Note: This is not an open invitation for people to email me with BS wikipedia editing requests. Of course I myself am the queen of BS wikipedia editing requests, but I don’t want to do it for other people.


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