Thousands sign petition to change ‘sexist’ dictionary definitions

The petition has nearly 30,000 signatures

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Nearly 30,000 people have signed a petition calling for the removal of "sexist" definitions of the word 'woman' in Oxford University Press dictionaries.

The appeal, launched by Maria Beatrice Giovanardi, relates to the Oxford Thesaurus of English and the Oxford Dictionary of English.

Ms Giovanardi claims the texts' examples relating to women show them as “sex objects, subordinate, and/or an irritation to men”.

One sentence chosen to illustrate the word woman in context is "I told you to be home when I get home, little woman", with "bitch" suggested as a synonym.

The campaigner wrote on petition site Change.org: “Have you ever searched online for the definition of a woman? 

“Bitch, besom, piece, bit, mare, baggage, wench, petticoat, frail, bird, bint, biddy, filly' - these are the words which the Oxford's English Dictionary online tells us mean the same as ‘woman’. This sexist dictionary must change.”

The petition also wants the dictionary to extend its definitions of 'woman', to include transgender and lesbian women.

However, Katherine Connor Martin, head of lexical content strategy at Oxford University Press, said that while the petition raised “useful points for consideration”, she wished to offer “context”.

She said the dictionary was “more like a map than a set of directions”.

“If there is evidence of an offensive or derogatory word or meaning being widely used in English, it will not be excluded from the dictionary solely on the grounds that it is offensive or derogatory,” she said in the statement.

"Part of the descriptive process is to make a word's offensive status clear in the dictionary’s treatment. For instance, the phrase the little woman is defined as 'a condescending way of referring to one's wife', and the use of 'bit' as a synonym for woman is labelled as 'derogatory' in the thesaurus."

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