The new alchemy: turning online harassment into Wikipedia articles on women scientists

Barbara_McClintock_(1902-1992)
One of the many women scientist biographies Emily Temple-Wood has worked on is Barbara McClintock, a 1983 winner of the Nobel Prize. Photo from the Smithsonian, public domain.

By day, Emily Temple-Wood is a biology undergraduate at Loyola University in Chicago, Illinois. She has been accepted to Midwestern University medical school and will start in late 2016.
By night, she smites trolls on the internet with positive punishment: for each harassing email she receives, one Wikipedia article on a woman in science will be created.
Temple-Wood founded WikiProject Women Scientists in 2012 to be a collaborative drive to create and maintain Wikipedia’s biographies of female scientists from throughout history—a steep task to accomplish, given that their home page notes that “part of Wikipedia’s systemic bias is that women in science are woefully underrepresented.” She put the idea into action on one late night, as the we recounted in a profile of her two years ago: “A substantial number of female fellows belonging to the prestigious Royal Society, a sort of who’s who in the world of science, had no Wikipedia articles written about them. ‘I got [angry] and wrote an article that night … I literally sat in the hallway in the dorm until 2am writing [my] first women in science [Wikipedia] article.’ ”
Only a few years in, they are well on their way: the project has gotten 376 women scientists onto Wikipedia’s front-page “Did you know?” section, and 30 articles through a peer-review process (designated with a “good” or “featured” rating).
Temple-Wood also hosts edit-a-thons at the university she attends and co-facilitated a Women in Red edit-a-thon with editor Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight, who told us that Temple-Wood is the “poster child of the efforts to address Wikipedia’s scientific gender gap.”
Siko Bouterse, a former Wikimedia Foundation staff member, told us that Temple-Wood’s impact on the gender gap has been “epic”:

She’s created hundreds of articles about women scientists, including articles that address multiple gaps in Wikipedia—it’s really important that she’s not just writing about white women scientists, she’s also working to address underrepresentation of women of color in Wikipedia and looking at other points of intersectionality as well. And perhaps most importantly, because we’re much stronger collectively than alone, Emily has taught and inspired others to do the same … When I was a kid, I could count the number of women scientists I was aware of on one hand. But I know our daughters are going to have access to so much more free knowledge about scientists who look like them, thanks to Emily’s efforts, and that’s really powerful.

Unfortunately, Temple-Wood has been targeted by a significant amount of harassment based on her gender. Throwaway email addresses frequently send her requests for dates, condescendingly discuss her body, insinuate that she got to where she is through sexual favors, ask her to reserve those favors for themselves, and when she doesn’t reply, they spew profanities.
This is not uncommon for prominent young women on the Internet, but Temple-Wood is fighting back in her own way by using it as motivation to continue her quest. For every harassing email she receives, Temple-Wood and a growing number of fellow Wikipedians are quietly creating a new biography on a woman scientist, such as Liliana Lubinska, Katharine Luomala, or Adelaida Lukanina.
This harassment is something that Bouterse calls “deplorable, unacceptable, and unfortunately all-too emblematic of what women are facing on the internet today”:

The emotional labor of weathering this kind of harassment is huge. Amazingly, rather than deciding this particular public space must not be for her, Emily has been able to channel every instance of harassment into more fuel for her focus, so it’s backfiring against those who hope to silence women online. That takes courage.

Temple-Wood already has a backlog of articles to create; she thanks her harassers for helping to fight against systemic bias on Wikipedia. In a similar vein, Stephenson-Goodknight told us that “Someday we’ll be writing a biography about her and her scientific discoveries, mark my word. I wonder what her harassers and detractors will think about that, especially if Emily’s scientific discoveries help heal their mom or sister.”
Ed Erhart, Editorial Associate
Wikimedia Foundation

This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Siko Bouterse’s last name and the date of Temple-Wood’s entry into medical school.

Photo by Victor Grigas, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Photo by Victor Grigas, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Archive notice: This is an archived post from blog.wikimedia.org, which operated under different editorial and content guidelines than Diff.

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You go, Emily! Thank you for doing this. Don’t let the bastards get you down. ✊?✊?✊?✊?✊?

I’d guess many of her online harassers have never actually been close to a woman that wasn’t an animated character in a MMORPG.

Respect, Emily!

What an inspiration! Brilliant!

Awesome idea!

[…] The new alchemy: turning online harassment into Wikipedia articles on women scientists […]

[…] The new alchemy: turning online harassment into Wikipedia articles on women scientists […]

[…] “要经受住这类网络骚扰可不容易,Emily也真是有一颗钢化玻璃心。”维基媒体基金会前职员Siko Bouterse在博客中写道。 […]

[…] “要经受住这类网络骚扰可不容易,Emily也真是有一颗钢化玻璃心。”维基媒体基金会前职员Siko Bouterse在博客中写道。 […]

[…] Háskólanemi við Loyola University í Chicago, Emily Temple-Wood, ákvað árið 2012 að fara af stað með verkefnið WikiProject Women Scientists sem vinnur að því að útbúa Wikipedia síður um merkar vísindakonur. Í fyrstu ákvað Temple-Wood að taka að sér verkefnið vegna þess hversu fáar konur í vísindasamtökunum Royal Society höfðu fengið Wikipedia síðu sem tileinkuð var umfjöllun um þær og vildi Temple-Wood breyta því. […]

now I have a moral conflict…I don’t want to be nasty, but if i send her an abusive email she’ll add another great contribution…do you think she would do the same if i just ask nicely instead? 🙂 great idea Emily

[…] women scientists and women of color on Wikipedia, something you can still help with, and Wikipedian Emily Temple-Wood is turning harassment into new articles on women scientists by writing one for each trolling email she […]

[…] Maybe success is the best revenge — what if the rest of the world fails to acknowledge your success the way that they should? Is there a way to go back and correct history? Emily Temple-Wood, a biology undergrad student at Loyola University, has some ideas on the matter. […]

As a female scientist I can only say hallelujah! Awesome idea!

good for you. Have you considered marie stopes? Well known as an advocate of birth control but also a serious paleobotanist.

[…] been subject to a constant bombardment of harassment. Online trolls constantly contact her  soliciting dates and “sexual favors.” They condescendingly discuss her body, and insult her with […]

[…] student by day, writer of Wikipedia articles about lady scientists by […]

[…] The new alchemy: turning online harassment into Wikipedia articles on women scientists […]

[…] “It’s really important that she’s not just writing about white women scientists, she’s also working to address under-representation of women of color in Wikipedia. When I was a kid, I could count the number of women scientists I was aware of on one hand. But I know our daughters are going to have access to so much more free knowledge about scientists who look like them, thanks to Emily’s efforts, and that’s really powerful,” said Siko Bouterse, a former Wikipedia Foundation staff member to the Wikimedia blog. […]

[…] been subject to a constant bombardment of harassment. Online trolls frequently contact her soliciting dates and “sexual favors.” They condescendingly discuss her body, and insult her with profanities and sexist […]

[…] child of the efforts to address Wikipedia’s scientific gender gap,” and she has an ongoing effort to match every harassing email she receives with a new biography on a women […]

[…] been subject to a constant bombardment of harassment. Online trolls frequently contact her soliciting dates and “sexual favors.” They condescendingly discuss her body, and insult her with profanities and sexist […]

[…] Veronica Erb wrote about Editing Wikipedia as self-care activism. Emily Temple-Wood’s positive punishment plan. Jake Orlowitz wrote about his Journey of a Wikipedian. I’d love to hear from other […]

Very well done

Thank you. ❤️

[…] Wikipedia’s notability policies. And the new alchemy highlighted Emily Temple-Wood, who would later become a Wikipedian of the year, and her efforts to match bouts of online harassment with new articles on women scientists. This […]

[…] Temple-Wood, one of Wikipedia’s best known female editors, became a minor media sensation for a project with an irresistible hook: for every instance of online sexual harassment she experienced, she would create another Wikipedia […]

[…] The new alchemy: turning online harassment into Wikipedia articles on women scientists,  Wikimedia Foundation […]

[…] of last year’s Wikipedian of the Year Award, made headlines by creating an article about a female scientist every time she is harassed online. Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight, who shared that award with […]

[…] one year ago today, the Wikimedia blog wrote about Wikipedia editor Emily Temple-Wood and her personal stand against sexist trolls. The post described how Emily, a medical student at Midwestern University who edits as […]

[…] Bouterse, a former Wikimedia Foundation workers member, said: “The emotional labor of weathering this type of harassment is big. Amazingly, somewhat than […]

[…] 11 March 2016] Emily Temple-Wood spoke out about her response to the harassment her Wikipedia involvement brings – writing a new […]