Feature by Martha Nichols and Lorraine Berry
A Call for Information Activism
Using Wikipedia is lusciously seductive. It’s convenient. It’s fast. Just whip out a smartphone, and you’ve got a universe of facts at your fingertips.
This nonprofit venture—“the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit,” Wikipedia’s home page declares—is barely a decade old. Yet, it’s now available in almost 300 languages. More revolutionary still, its open approach represents a new attitude toward knowledge: that it should be available to all, that information is ever evolving.
As writers and teachers, we’d like to embrace this collective vision. We aren’t exactly fans of the gatekeeping done by mainstream media. But the flap this April over certain Wikipedia editors removing female authors from its “American Novelists” page revealed this Internet behemoth’s serious downside.
A brief recap: Amanda Filipacchi, author of three novels, happened to notice that women’s names were vanishing from the page. In two New York Times op-eds, she reported that authors such as Amy Tan, Louisa May Alcott, and Harper Lee had been moved to a new “American Women Novelists” subcategory. Filipacchi wryly added:
I also noticed that Edwidge Danticat was plucked from ‘Haitian Novelists’ and dumped into ‘Haitian Women Novelists.’ So it seems, at least, that women from different countries are treated the same. It’s just too bad they’re not treated the same as men.
Even cynical magazine editors like us, well versed in the VIDA count and other bad news for female writers, were stunned by such disregard for gender bias.
How do we mobilize against an eight-headed monster that keeps ducking responsibility for unreliable information amassed by volunteers? That’s the quandary feminists and other Wikipedia critics now face. It’s not possible to boycott a ubiquitous cyber enterprise, is it? That’s a scary thought, whether you think a boycott is righteous or stupid.
By this point, many outraged commentators have weighed in about the female novelists scandal. Many journalists keep lauding Wikipedia’s idealism, anyway. Few have challenged the core premises of Wikipedia, a site that’s been plagued since its founding by a pattern of gender, racial, ethnic, and political bias.
At TW, we asked other writers to comment on a problem that’s almost as hard to pin down as the one with no name. We excerpt a number of their responses in this article and conclude with suggestions for what Wikipedia can do to right its veering course.
Some writers we contacted told us they hadn’t heard about female novelists being moved to a Wikipedia subcategory. Predictably, they sputtered at the news. But others—like Jodi Picoult, author of many bestselling novels—were well aware of this Wikipedia incident. Picoult connects it to the general bias against female authors in the literary world:
To move all the American female novelists to a subcategory is to create a list of American novelists that is all male—which is misleading and reflects a second-class status for the female author in America. What if the average student doesn't think to search for ‘American Female Novelist’ and instead just puts in ‘American Novelist’ in his search bar? His results would be sorely compromised.
Wikipedia is far from evil. Most of its thousands of contributors have good intentions, and many would probably call themselves information activists.
But when it comes to a global reference work that’s routinely used by schoolchildren, activists should not only strive to make knowledge freely available. They should fight hard to represent all voices—even if the truth is a messy, partial thing.
Wikipedia: The Buck Stops Nowhere
As Filipacchi discovered, taking on Wikipedia is like putting a big fat bull’s-eye on your forehead. Her own page was vandalized by unnamed editors, who cast aspersions on her work, her credentials, and her right to bring the site’s shortcomings into the public eye.
Who’s in charge there, anyway? Our first thought was that the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia and raises money for it, must provide oversight, especially during PR disasters. But according to Jay Walsh, Wikimedia’s communications director, the Foundation’s leaders have no control over content.
The encyclopedia’s volunteer editors—or “Wikipedians”—make all the editorial decisions. The Foundation estimates that there are about 80,000 active editors (those who make at least five edits a week) for all the Wikipedias around the world. It is true that anyone can click the “Edit” button at the top of a Wikipedia page, even if they’re not logged in. But most Wikipedians register for login accounts (often under pseudonyms) that allow them to start new encyclopedia pages or categories, create their own user pages, and vote in Wikimedia Board elections, among other benefits.
“There is no ‘editor in chief’ at the Foundation, nor are there staff who approve or review content on our projects,” Walsh told us by email. “With the exception of removing a very small number of articles or posts that might violate copyright or potentially harm someone, we do not remove or alter content. That’s all in the hands of our volunteers.”
Wikipedians, of course, argue about many things, often in long discussion logs (or “Talk” pages) that are archived on the site. After a heated “Category: American women novelists” debate, Filipacchi’s page was restored. Wikipedia editors have moved female authors back to Wikipedia’s main American Novelists page and added “American Men Novelists” as a subcategory.
“I completely understand why Filipacchi was outraged,” says Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner in a recent Wikimedia blog post. A self-described “feminist Wikipedian,” Gardner also points out that “[s]ince 2011, Wikipedia has officially discouraged the creation of gender-specific subcategories.”
Yet, her post stops far short of an apology. She doesn’t take responsibility, as executive director, for such policy being undermined by other Wikipedians. She and the Foundation stand at a distance, claiming that “Wikipedia belongs to its readers”:
It’s not always the case, but in this instance the system worked. Filipacchi saw something on Wikipedia that she thought was wrong. She drew attention to it. Now it’s being discussed and fixed. That’s how Wikipedia works.
The answer to bad speech is more speech. Many eyes make all bugs shallow.
Unfortunately, most of Wikipedia’s hundreds of millions of readers aren’t obsessive Wikipedians. For those willing to dig, the revisions to Filipacchi’s page can be tracked. But the whole point of Wikipedia for most of us—students, teachers, couples arguing about who wrote which novel, or anyone else who isn’t dedicated to doing hours of research—is to find the information fast.
Worse yet, those who saw the Filipacchi page while the malicious editing was going on would later find something else and perhaps wonder if their memories were deceiving them. That’s more than a little creepy. It’s Orwellian. Facts are here today and gone in seconds—or constantly open to interpretation, revision, mashing, deliberate trashing, or simply deletion from the public record.
“This should be our call to action,” says Julia Scheeres, author of the 2005 bestselling memoir Jesus Land and A Thousand Lives, a 2011 account of Jonestown:
Gardner, too, urges feminists to get on Wikipedia and “fix it,” as she notes in her Wikimedia post. Since her 2007 arrival at the Wikimedia Foundation, she has made increasing the number of female editors a priority. The April 2013 version of the “Wikimedia Movement Strategic Plan Summary” lists the following as a “2015 target”: Support healthy diversity in the editing community by doubling the percentage of female editors to 25 percent.
Nonetheless, the response Amanda Filipacchi got from some Wikipedians was intimidating. If the immediate reaction to whistleblowing is to be denigrated by those who clearly have no interest in dissent—who instead swarm the naysayer, wasp-like—what is the likelihood that a hypothetical new army of women warriors will be brave enough to risk editing Wikipedia pages?
The site’s “About” page does discuss Wikipedia’s editorial oversight and management, noting that editors can become administrators (if approved by fellow Wikipedians), which gives them power to delete articles and block accounts. There’s also an Arbitration Committee of elected Wikipedians for handling disputes. But as the editors of this and other pages acknowledge, achieving consensus can be very slow.
By the way: Despite the brouhaha over female novelists, Wikipedia still includes a separate “List of Female Poets” but no equivalent page for male poets (at least as of this writing). It seems the “bad speech” continues, unless somebody kicks up a fuss.
Constantly Revising History—and Wikipedia
There’s good reason not to trust an information source that can erase its own mistakes as if they never happened. At least newspapers and magazines have to publish retractions—and stories are written under bylines—but at Wikipedia, mistakes are revised away by editors who often don’t use their real names.
Take the revisions to Wikipedia’s own story. Since its inception in 2001, it’s had plenty of critics—including cofounder Larry Sanger. His discomfort is clear in “Deconstructing Wikipedia,” a 2010 piece by Chris Lydgate in the Reed College alumni magazine. (Sanger is a Reed alum, as is Martha Nichols.) Sanger argues in that article:
"An encyclopedia entry is not just a collection of facts. It’s the ability to construct a narrative of the subject, the ability to describe things in a way that does not supply a misleading implication. You have to have lived with a topic for a while to do that. This is the sort of thing that separates the real expert from the ersatz expert.
Not only did early Wikipedians turn deaf ears to his pleas for verification and peer review of articles, Sanger found himself deleted from the official story. His cofounder was the colorful, quotable Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s longtime entrepreneurial front man. (Wales still sits on the Wikimedia Foundation board.) At the time the feature about Sanger appeared in Reed Magazine, however, Wikipedia referred to Wales as the site’s sole founder. As of this writing, Sanger is once more listed as a cofounder on various Wikipedia pages, but many news stories about Wikipedia still only mention Wales.
The Wikipedian community has tightened up rules for entries and for the editorial verification given to articles about well-known people. Many of these changes have come under Gardner’s watch at the Wikimedia Foundation, although she announced this March that she’ll be stepping down soon.
Still, the continual revision of entries results in history being retold—and retold again. Wikipedia’s open-source approach also attracts trolls and sock puppets. For years, such vandals have inserted deliberate misinformation into pages about politicians, corporations, celebrities, and just about any other contested topic.
Last week, as we were completing this article, a Salon expose by Andrew Leonard reported that the Wikipedian known as Qworty has been systematically “revenge editing” authors’ Wikipedia pages (including Filipacchi’s). It turns out that Qworty is the writer Robert Clark Young. Among other spiteful edits of Southern author Barry Hannah’s Wikipedia page, Young changed Hannah’s cause of death from “natural causes” to “alcoholism”—possibly because his own work was criticized by Hannah at the 2001 Sewanee Writers’ Conference.
The Qworty fiasco came to Leonard’s attention, he writes, when members of Wikipediocracy, a site that details instances of Wikipedian fakery and bias, contacted him. Qworty isn’t a typical Wikipedian volunteer, Leonard notes, but, he adds grimly, “just as surely, there are others like him”:
We just don’t know. Nobody knows. Nobody watches everything that happens on Wikipedia; nobody can watch everything that happens. But Qworty’s example tells us that even when people call attention to a rogue editor, even when that editor’s temper tantrums come to the attention of the founder of Wikipedia, it’s quite possible that no action will be taken.
Repeat something often enough, and it becomes a “fact.” That’s the trouble with media of all kinds, whether it’s hard news or a supposedly neutral encyclopedia entry. And now that information rockets around the world in milliseconds on the Web, misinformation can be even harder to rectify.
Consider the “lone wolf” explanation that some Wikipedians bruited about after Filipacchi’s first NYT op-ed appeared and that was picked up by a number of media commentators. Even Salon’s Leonard promoted the idea that the removal of female novelists from the main page was the work of one editor.
Meanwhile, Filipacchi, in a followup Atlantic piece, documents that at least seven Wikipedia editors participated in the culling of the novelist herd.
For Wikipedians, it’s an article of faith that the crowd will get closer to the truth than standard top-down editing. They insist that their constant negotiations will expose errors and vandalism. Yet, prejudices such as sexism and racism are rarely spread by a single vandal. They flourish in packs, where it’s easy for individuals to remain anonymous, and a gang mentality eggs everyone on to new lows.
Why Wikipedia's Neutral POV Isn't Neutral
Wikipedia is far from alone in generating errors or bias in the media. As journalist William Wong, author of the 2001 book Yellow Journalist: Dispatches from Asian America, says of Wikipedia’s handling of female novelists:
I find gender, racial, ethnic, and cultural hierarchies fascinating, whether in literature, politics, economics, academics, entertainment, sports…. I see that Amy Tan makes it onto the women's list. Is that an advance over her getting subcategorized as an ‘Asian American woman novelist’?
Plenty of other reference books, including the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica, have been riddled with sexist and racist assumptions—often in terms of the people they don’t include under various topics or in biographical entries.
One of Wikipedia’s oft-stated “five pillars” (or “fundamental principles”) is that “Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view”:
We strive for articles that document and explain the major points of view, giving due weight with respect to their prominence in an impartial tone. We avoid advocacy and we characterize information and issues rather than debate them.
That’s a laudable goal for any media organization. But during the female novelists’ fracas, in which Filipacchi and others reported that author names were dragged back and forth on pages like skipping checkers, this pillar went by the wayside.
More troubling still, clinging to the neutral point of view (or NPOV) can obscure biases by sounding impartial when it really isn’t. Just as journalists have long argued over whether the objective news voice is really objective, Wikipedia’s emphasis on the neutral point of view in an encyclopedia entry may muddle the actual truth far more than a bylined article in which a writer’s biases are clearly stated.
In trumpeting the NPOV, there’s an unspoken assumption that writing from specific perspectives, especially minority viewpoints, can never be neutral. Kirsten Greenidge, an Obie-winning playwright, frames the conflict she feels this way:
What I struggle with is the idea that I am very proud to be a female writer who is also a black writer. I wish the qualifier ‘woman’ or ‘black’ did not imply to the rest of the world that my work is lesser because of those associations, but far too often it does or can. Until this is no longer the case, it's far more equitable to refer to all those who write as writers, period.
In her Wikimedia blog post, Gardner argues that Wikipedia is just reflecting “the cultural biases and attitudes of the general society.” Yet here, the Foundation’s executive director sidesteps the need for advocacy when biases infiltrate the very roots of social institutions. Jim Crow laws didn’t change because a bunch of rational people sat down and discussed the problem. That required a social movement in which many put their lives—and their real names—on the line.
Grace Hwang Lynch, the News and Politics editor at BlogHer, says that moving women to a separate category reflects not only gender bias but also the way society in general interprets “American.” As she points out:
Granted, organization and architecture are factors for a website the size of Wikipedia, but the troubling part is not just Wikipedia…. Let's not ignore gender, but we should acknowledge it without creating this false idea of the ‘neutral’ American, which inevitably ends up meaning white and male.
Perhaps the most pernicious thing about crowdsourced information is the way it reinforces the biases that already exist. Because female writers are underrepresented in the pages of major magazines and literary journals, for instance, their work doesn’t garner as many book reviews or academic studies. So if Wikipedia editors rely on citations to construct lists of “the most important” novelists, then women's absence from literary culture is reflected in Wikipedia.
The Trouble With Wikipedian Categories
Joan Wallach Scott's 1986 essay, "Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis," underscored decades ago that anything coded “masculine”—soldiers, scientists, plumbers, writers—has more power than words coded “feminine.” The opening to her article could be addressing Wikipedia today:
Those who would codify the meanings of words fight a losing battle, for words, like the ideas and things they are meant to signify, have a history. Neither Oxford dons nor the Académie Française have been entirely able to stem the tide, to capture and fix meanings free of the play of human invention and imagination.
In the discussion over what to do about the “American Women Novelists” page, many Wikipedia editors stuck to their guns about the need to clean up the original unwieldy alphabetical list of 3,000-plus authors. Shiftchange’s comment is typical: “The use of categories is not done in a normative or prescriptive manner, only for the purpose of simplifying navigation.”
But social reality is messy. It really is a moving target that can’t be quantified. Richard Zimler, author of the 2010 novel The Warsaw Anagrams and other books, calls such categorization “very haphazard and sloppy.” He told us that his most recent check of Wikipedia had him on the “American Men Novelists” page but not on “American Novelists.” He was categorized as a “Jewish American Writer” but not as a “Jewish Novelist”:
I find this sort of labeling absurd. Does the fact that Sidney Sheldon and Carson McCullers are both ‘American novelists’ mean that they have a great deal in common? ...How about Danielle Steel and William Faulkner? Or Anne Rice and Philip Roth? I suppose that grouping these writers together is supposed to help readers, researchers, and librarians find common ground in their books or lives, but it doesn't make any sense to me. It strikes me as specious.
In their lively discussion about categorizing novelists, some Wikipedians noted the need to group writers by genre rather than gender. Others were irritated by slapping national labels on writers. And the consensus was to “merge” the men and women again on the same American Novelists main page.
But the problem with the way basic categories of information are presented online goes much deeper than issues of genre or gender.
“Any writer who is not white and male has to deal with labels attached to their writing,” says Vietnamese American writer Aimee Phan, author of the 2012 novel The Reeducation of Cherry Truong. Whether it’s reviews or Wikipedia entries, she notes, the response to a minority writer’s work “has never been in our control”:
As writers, we're supposed to forget and transcend these categorizations. But it's hard to consistently ignore the reality that many, many more people will be reading your work, or about your work, through these lenses. If only our writing could speak for itself; but instead, it's what others are saying about our writing that gets more attention—and sometimes determines who will read our work.
The first question any information activist needs to ask, then, is why authors, artists, businesspeople, or plumbers have to be categorized by gender or race at all. "If it were up to me, the only categories that would include me would be ‘Novelist’ and ‘Writer,'" says Zimler, an American who lives in Portugal. "And I suspect that most writers would be happy being part of those two categories.”
Fix Wikipedia: No More Anonymous Editors
When we asked Joan Wallach Scott for a comment about what she thought of the Wikipedia incident with female novelists, she told us she was “appalled” that Amanda Filipacchi’s page had been vandalized. Scott adds:
I find that practice to be contrary to any notion of openness in the production of knowledge…. [N]o knowledge is free of subjective input, however well-masked the subjective input or how carefully it is presented as ‘truth.’
Technology itself is bias free, but not the people who use it. To date, high-tech users are still predominantly male, white, and childless (that describes 80 percent of Wikipedia’s editors, estimates one Forbes writer). The Wikimedia Foundation’s own strategic plan includes the following caveat: “We know that no one is free from bias.”
Nichole Bernier, author of the 2012 novel The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D., reminded us that as recently as 2011, VS Naipaul said, “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.” Here’s Bernier’s take on why such sexism continues to dog the literary world:
Anyone who is inclined to think that way is helped along by a million small clues, starting with predictable things like the choice of cover (what self-respecting man is going to pick up a book with a woman spinning in a field in a swirl of taffeta?). And now apparently they can check [in Wikipedia] whether the writer is a novelist or a novelesse.
(Bernier has more to say about the ”Naipaul Test” in a recent post in Beyond the Margins.)
It’s time to hold Wikipedia’s editors, leaders, and backers responsible for continuing to scatter those small clues. Citing March 2013 stats, Walsh of Wikimedia calls the online encyclopedia and “its sister properties…the fifth most visited web property on the Internet.” (Wikipedia’s main page claims it’s currently “the sixth-most-popular website worldwide.”) Regardless, Wikipedia entries usually pop up at the top of Google searches.
As teachers and TW editors, we see increasing numbers of students and writers list a Wikipedia entry as a primary source without verifying the facts. Many writing and journalism instructors advise their classes to take anything gleaned from Wikipedia with a grain of salt. Even Wikipedia’s entry on “Researching with Wikipedia” says, “You should not use Wikipedia by itself for primary research (unless you are writing a paper about Wikipedia).” Still, far too many users pay no attention to such admonitions.
Here’s where a strict Wikipedia diet is in order, especially for students, writers, and anyone under the age of 50. Nibble sparingly; use it for informal overviews or as a pointer to primary references and statistics. Treat it as information fast food. It’s fine to use Wikipedia to win a bar bet, but it’s unacceptable as a research resource.
The stakes are high for generations to come. Writer and editor Kate H. Winter, author of the 2011 novel Lost Twain: A Novel of Hawai’i, says:
Thinking teachers train the next generation to assess both the information and the source, to be critical thinkers. That will create a new generation that will subvert bias and rewrite the narrative. Sometimes a bad example is the best example.
Scott suggests that more female editors vet Wikipedia entries, which is in line with the Wikimedia Foundation’s goal of increasing the number of women who contribute to the site.
After noting that she’d just fixed a few small errors on her Wikipedia page, Scott also wonders what would happen if “lots of us” created our own entries about women, feminism, and gender studies. “If some of the omission is omission and not deliberate exclusion,” she says, “it could be rectified that way. And if the ‘boys’ reject the entries, then there will be lots of concrete things to expose.”
We’re all for keeping the pressure on in this fashion. But we call for more editorial leadership at the Wikimedia Foundation itself, despite Sue Gardner’s many good changes. Information activism is about more than reflecting and codifying cultural attitudes.
The executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation has a bully pulpit. Gardner or her successor could certainly keep the public focus on eradicating gender and racial bias in Wikipedia. Why not? Reactions to that rhetorical question are bound to reveal more about high-tech culture—enough with the PC crap! women can fix their own pages, if they’ll bother to turn on a computer! biased? look at all the pages for female porn stars!—than Wikipedia’s idealism.
Some Wikipedians will bridle at the notion of top-down management of any sort. Indeed, foisting the accountability expected of for-profit media corporations on Wikipedia is neither realistic nor the right approach.
But true social change doesn’t happen without leadership. If you glance through Wikipedian discussion logs, you’ll find calls for leadership and vision there, too. Walsh notes that the Foundation funds projects such as “Wikipedia edit-a-thons, special workshops for students and those with unique education and experience, and efforts to promote our projects to new users.”
He confirmed that Gardner plans to give a keynote presentation at the annual Wikimania conference in Hong Kong this summer. A 2011 Fast Company profile of Gardner raises the possibility of mentorship programs for new Wikipedia editors. These are all opportunities for consciousness-raising among Wikipedians.
So, here’s a thought: As part of a welcome package whenever a new Wikipedian registers, email him or her pdfs of Scott’s 1986 essay about gender as a category; Peggy McIntosh’s 1989 article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”; and Audre Lorde’s 1984 classic “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.”
Last but not least, the Wikipedian community could make two basic changes:
Require all Wikipedia editors to use their real names.
Don’t allow unregistered users to edit Wikipedia pages.
It may fly in the face of Internet norms. Sometimes it is politically dangerous to attach your name to controversial ideas, such as in writing about political movements in a repressive regime. But all too frequently, anonymity just allows online writers to be sloppy or craven, because they assume they’ll never get caught.
Writing under your own name rather than an avatar makes you publicly accountable in a way that need not be out of step with Wikipedia’s mission. And displaying the bylines of all who contributed to each Wikipedia page on that page—not as part of a separate “view history” link—will allow far more sunlight to shine on who’s making the decisions.
- “Wikipedia’s Sexism Toward Female Novelists” by Amanda Filipacchi, New York Times, April 24, 2013.
- “Wikipedia’s Sexism” (followup op-ed) by Amanda Filipacchi, New York Times, April 27, 2013.
- “What’s Missing From the Media Discussions of Wikipedia Categories and Sexism” by Sue Gardner, Wikimedia Blog, May 1, 2013.
- “Wikipedia: Categorization/Ethnicity, gender, religion and sexuality: Difference between revisions,” Wikipedia page revised July 15, 2011.
- “Wikimedia Movement Strategic Plan Summary,” page last modified on April 6, 2013. You can also download the full “Wikimedia Strategic Plan: A Collaborative Vision for the Movement Through 2015.”
- “Deconstructing Wikipedia” by Chris Lydgate, Reed Magazine, June 2010.
- “Revenge, Ego, and the Corruption of Wikipedia” by Andrew Leonard, Salon, May 17, 2013.
- “Anonymous Revenge Editing on Wikipedia—the Case of Robert Clark Young aka Qworty,” Wikipediocracy, May 17, 2013.
- "Wikipedia's Shame" by Andrew Leonard, Salon, April 29, 2013.
- “Sexism on Wikipedia Is Not the Work of 'a Single Misguided Editor'” by Amanda Filipacchi, Atlantic, April 30, 2013.
- “Wikipedia: Five Pillars,” page last modified April 10, 2013.
- “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis” by Joan W. Scott, American Historical Review, December 1986.
- “Category: American women novelists,” including quote from Shiftchange, archived Wikipedia discussion log for April 24, 2013.
- “Yes, Wikipedia Is Sexist—That’s Why It Needs You” by Deanna Zandt, Forbes, April 26, 2013.
- “VS Naipaul Finds No Woman Writer His Literary Match—Not Even Jane Austen” by Amy Fallon, Guardian, June 1, 2011.
- "Can You Tell Whether This Book Was Written by a Man or a Woman?" by Nichole Bernier, Beyond the Margins, May 16, 2013.
- “Wikipedia: Researching with Wikipedia,” page last modified April 24, 2013.
- “Wikipedia’s Librarian to the World” (profile of Sue Gardner) by Karen Valby, Fast Company, April 2011.
- "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh, Peace and Freedom Magazine, July/August 1989.
- "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House" by Audre Lorde in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde (Crossing Press/Random House, 1984).
Update May 21, 2013: Joan Scott's photo has been added beside her first quote.
Martha Nichols is editor in chief of Talking Writing. She's also a longtime contributing editor at the Women's Review of Books.
"If human beings were perfect, there would be no stories. Most narratives derive their tension from somebody making bad decisions or ending up in a scary place. But how can you overcome something if there’s nothing to overcome?" — "The Devil Made Me Write It"
Lorraine Berry is an associate editor at Talking Writing. On Twitter, you’ll find her @BerryFLW.
"Pity the female writer. Not only is she less likely to get reviewed in major magazines and short-listed for prizes, she often finds herself on the receiving end of interview questions that would leave most of us mouthing three little letters: WTF?" — "Women Writers and Bad Interviews"