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33,000 People Want Oxford Dictionary to Change its Definition of 'Woman'. Here's Why.

 Image via Devonyu/iStock/Slate.

Image via Devonyu/iStock/Slate.

If you simply Google the definition of a woman, one of the results of an example, is a sexist sentence, that calls a woman 'daft.'

Raka Mukherjee
  • Last Updated: September 19, 2019, 8:00 AM IST
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Almost 30,000 people are signing a petition to get Oxford Dictionary to change its definition of 'woman,' which has derogatory words listed under its meaning.

The petition started by Maria Beatrice Giovanardi explains how words like 'bitch, piece, baggage, wench, frail, bird, bint,' are among some of the derogatory words used as a definition of the woman, in online Oxford English Dictionary. "This sexist dictionary must change," her petition on reads.

In fact, if you simply Google the definition of a woman, one of the results of an example, is a sexist sentence, that calls a woman 'daft.'

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Some other sentences chosen to show usage of the word woman which the petition highlights are, “Ms September will embody the professional, intelligent yet sexy career woman” and “I told you to be home when I get home, little woman”. These women define “women as sex objects, subordinate, and/or an irritation to men.”

Not just sexist sentences, the word 'woman' in the Oxford Dictionary, also has some of the derogatory words listed as a direct synonym.

In an earlier interview to The Guardian, the petitioner had explained how when she first discovered this sexist definition, she checked if 'men' were also defined in as many derogatory words. They weren't. The most derogatory synonym for “man” given by dictionaries she found were “bozo” and “geezer.”

But it's not just the definition or synonym of a 'man' that was the problem. The definition of a ‘man’ is much more exhaustive than that of a ‘woman’ - with 25 examples for men, compared to only 5 for women.

The double-standards only applied to women. And Giovanardi decided to change it, which is when she started the petition in June.

"This is completely unacceptable by a reputable source like the Oxford University Press, but it’s even more worrying when you consider how much influence they have in setting norms around our language. These misogynistic definitions have become widespread because search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo license the use of Oxford Dictionaries for their definitions," she writes in her petition.

What the wants Oxford University Press to change is simple. "Eliminate all phrases and definitions that discriminate against and patronise women and/or connote men’s ownership of women, enlarge the dictionary's entry for ‘woman,’ and include examples representative of minorities, for example, a transgender woman, a lesbian woman, etc."

And it seems that it might just work. A spokesperson for Oxford University said that they “are taking the points raised in the petition very seriously … As ever, our dictionaries strive to reflect, rather than dictate, language so any changes will be made on that basis.”

At the time of writing this article, almost 30,000 people have signed the petition.

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