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Monday, May 05, 2008

A study in gender.

During one of my recent forays onto Conservapedia I noticed something that surprised me. Specifically, I found myself on their article for the term "wife" which has gotten me thinking about gender. Now, right at the moment, the article is short but not necessarily unreasonable:



The relevant* bit reads as follows:

A wife is the female partner in a marriage. Her male counterpart is her husband.


Short, almost totally uninformative, but not batshit crazy. Indeed, one could almost be proud of the Conservapeons. If we examine the corresponding article on "husband" we may feel it is similarly reasonable:



And, again, the text:

Husband is an English word deriving from the Old English - hūsbonda: master of a house. It has come to denote the male role in a marriage between a man and a woman.

Husband may also be used as a verb with the meaning of to manage or to look after, usually in a frugal fashion.

Animal husbandry refers to the care and management of livestock.


So, again, not the most thorough article possible, but not looney. This is a pretty good record for Conservapedia. Why, then, did the article on wife get me thinking? Well, because when I initially ran across it, the text was a little different. Specifically, I found this version:



And, the ever-so-relevant text:

A wife is the female partner in a marriage. Her male counterpart is her husband. The role of the wife is to maintain the household, bear and raise children, and succour her husband. [emphasis added]


Yep, you read that right: the role of a woman in a marriage is defined entirely by domestic labor, child care, and the need to "succour" her husband. Succour is not really defined here, but I have my suspicions as to their meaning.** This is a definition of "wife" that is so reactionary that on my first encounter I was struck dumb. Oh, don't get me wrong, I fully expected that Conservapedia's stance on the issue was something like that, it's just that they're normally much more stealthy. While I cannot speak for my wife, I certainly don't think that minimizing a woman's role in a marriage*** like this is wise. As far as I'm concerned the role of a wife is more or less the same as the role of a husband: to be an equal partner in creating a relationship and a family.

Yet, this isn't the lesson in gender that I think is so interesting. You see, the version of the article that is so at odds with what I think is not the current version. This is arguably to Conservapedia's credit and I'm not condemning them because a previous version of the article was so bizarre. No, instead, I want to draw your attention to something else. This is the edit history for the husband article to this point:



The article was created on November 13th, 2007 and has been edited twice since then. Pretty solid record, really. Now, let's compare that to the edit history for the wife page:



In this case the article was created on May 1st, 2008 (i.e. four days ago) and has already been subjected to seventeen edits. Think about that: for "husband" there were two edits over a span of months while for "wife" there were seventeen edits in four days. This forces me to ask a simple question: if there's this much interest in controlling the representation of women on a wiki site, how much control are women subject to in their day-to-day lives?

Something to think about.


* Meaning everything other than the bible quotes, which I rarely find relevant in any situation. It isn't that the bible doesn't contain good advice, but rather that it so often contradicts itself that I find it difficult to view it as an authority on anything.

** In a rare bout of discretion, I decided not to create a link for that implication.

*** In an interesting aside, it appears that from the perspective of Conservapedia I am not actually married. No, seriously, they define marriage as: "...a union formed between one man and one woman, ordained by God." My wife and I were not married in a ceremony that included religious rhetoric and, as it happens, Conservapedia remarks on this fairly directly: "In present-day America, 'getting married' typically involves a marriage license issued by the state government or a subdivision thereof (e.g., a county). However, marriage licenses are nowhere mentioned in Scripture; in fact, they are a relatively recent innovation and originally applied only to marriages that were otherwise forbidden." I particularly enjoy the quotes around 'getting married'. So, to sum up, according to the Conservapeons my wife isn't really my wife and we are living in "sin". I understand that they're free to adhere to whatever beliefs they choose, and I support that freedom to the fullest, but I admit I find this belief of theirs to be quite a bit more personally upsetting than their article on atheism.

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