Graduate student and aspiring biologist, Emily Temple-Wood, is an outspoken Wikipedia contributor and the co-founder of WikiProject Women Scientists - an initiative dedicated to ensuring that women in science are adequately represented on Wikipedia.
While her passion for this very worthy cause is obviously an awesome thing, it’s seen her deal with a constant barrage of online harassment for years. But Temple-Wood has come up with the perfect way to turn those aggressive, sexist emails into a positive: for each one she receives, she writes a new Wikipedia article about a female scientist.
"The emotional labour of weathering this kind of harassment is huge," Siko Bouterse, a former Wikimedia Foundation staff member, wrote in a blog post about Temple-Wood.
"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 is a 21-year-old molecular biology student at Loyola University in Chicago, and has been a Wikipedia contributor since she was 12. Back in 2012, she co-founded WikiProject Women Scientists when she became aware of the significant gender bias in Wikipedia’s science coverage.
Of particular note was the fact that many female fellows belonging to the UK’s Royal Society, which is often described as "a sort of who’s who in the world of science", were absent from the massive online encyclopaedia.
"I got pissed and wrote an article that night," says Temple-Wood. "I literally sat in the hallway in the dorm until 2am writing the first women in science (Wikipedia) article."
Since then, the project has seen 376 women scientists featured on Wikipedia’s front-page, with Temple-Wood researching and writing hundreds of those up herself. She’s also been addressing the underrepresentation of women of colour in Wikipedia, and has set up a number of events were she can train other young women to become contributors.
Of course, with every heightened profile on the Internet - particularly one dedicated to addressing systematic sexism - comes the risk of trolls, and Temple-Wood has had her fair share, as Wikimedia reports:
"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 favours, ask her to reserve those favours for themselves, and when she doesn’t reply, they spew profanities."
She’s now got a backlog of Wikipedia articles she has to write thanks to the constant stream of negative emails she receives, but the WikiProject Women Scientists has never been stronger. Aimée Lutkin reports for Jezebel that there are now 76 young volunteers contributing Wikipedia articles about notable women scientists from around the world, which you can see the entire list of here.
We can't stress enough how awesome this initiative - and Temple-Wood's response to online harassment - are. It's easy to give in to the trolls and retreat from the public sphere, but Temple-Wood has been brave enough to make her cause even more prominent in the face of those trying to belittle her.
Thanks to her strength, we get to write about all these awesome female scientists who deserve to be household names because of their incredible achievements, and hopefully in the future, kids will grow up with a more balanced view of who's making the discoveries that are changing the course of human history and scientific understanding.
"When I was a kid, I could count the number of women scientists I was aware of on one hand," Bouterse writes for the Wikipedia blog. "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."