Call to remove 'sexist' dictionary definitions for 'woman'

  • Published
Oxford dictionaries
Image caption,
Oxford University Press said dictionaries "reflect, rather than dictate" how English is used

Campaigners and academics have called on Oxford University Press to change what they say are "sexist" dictionary definitions of the word "woman".

They say claiming that words like "bitch" or "maid" are synonyms for the word "reinforce negative stereotypes".

Signatories to an open letter - who include the leaders of Women's Aid and the Women's Equality Party - said male-orientated examples were more positive.

OUP said dictionaries "reflect, rather than dictate" how English is used.

Mandu Reid, the Women's Equality Party's leader, and Nicki Norman, the acting chief executive of Women's Aid Federation of England, are signatories to the letter, which appeared in the Guardian.

In it they point out there are a "wealth of derogatory and equally sexist examples" of how to use woman in a sentence, including "I told you to be home when I get home, little woman" and "don't be daft, woman!".

They said - in contrast - in the dictionary a man is described as "a person with the qualities associated with males, such as bravery, spirit, or toughness" and uses examples such as "a man of honour" and the "man of the house".

Maria Beatrice Giovanardi, who has previously led a campaign to change the "sexist dictionary", also signed it.

An online petition set up by Ms Giovanardi calling for OUP's definitions to be changed has been signed by more than 32,000 people.

'Everyday sexism'

The letter, published ahead of International Women's Day on 8 March, said: "Dictionaries are essential reference tools, and the Oxford Dictionary of English is an essential learning tool, used in libraries and schools around the world.

"It is also the source licensed by Apple and Google, namely the most-read online dictionary in the world.

"Its inclusion of derogatory terms used to describe women should aim at exposing everyday sexism, not perpetuating it."

OUP, which is owned by Oxford University, said it was a "strong advocate for diversity and inclusion" but added it "cannot change how people use language overnight".

It said in a statement: "We have expanded the dictionary coverage of 'woman' with more examples and idiomatic phrases, and have ensured that offensive synonyms or senses are clearly labelled as such and only included where we have evidence of real world usage.

"The labels 'offensive' and 'dated' have been applied to more terms for women and girls, particularly those that refer to appearance and sexual behaviour."

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.