Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

The rabid feminist row: Oxford Dictionaries backtracks over “sexist” listing

ThinkstockPhotos-469057254.jpg

Oxford University Press has apologised for its “flippant” response to a discussion about sexism in its world-famous dictionaries, resulting in a review of the example sentences used for the word ‘rabid’.

The issue blew up when anthropologist Michael Oman-Reagan tweeted verified Oxford Dictionaries account @OxfordWords asking, “Why is ‘rabid feminist’ the usage example of ‘rabid’ in your dictionary – maybe change that?”

dictionary sexist

“Oh, THANK you for taking time out of your doctor stuff to explain all these long words.”

Writing on medium.com, Oman-Reagan reveals that as well as the ‘rabid’ reference to feminists, example sentences for other words appear to have a sexist slant by dint of the choice of pronoun – finding that examples for words such as ‘doctor’ and ‘research’ refer to ‘he’ and ‘his’, while ‘housework’, ‘promiscious’ and ‘shrill’ point to women.

Oxford Dictionaries initially replied to his message by writing, “If only there were a word to describe how strongly you felt about feminism” and later defended its choice of sentence as coming from “real-world use”.

However as Oman-Reagan and many others have since pointed out, common usage doesn't necessarily mean that a respected authority on language should actively make a choice to use gender in an example of a word that is genderless itself, even though it may have the historical context of being used against that gender.

grating sexist dictionary

Only women can be annoying, guys

After ‘rabid’ became the top-searched word on its website, an Oxford University press spokesperson backtracked, saying: “We apologise for the offence that these comments caused.

“The example sentences we use are taken from a huge variety of different sources and do not represent the views or opinions of Oxford University Press. That said, we are now reviewing the example sentence for ‘rabid’ to ensure that it reflects current usage.”

Choice is the key issue here – using neutral sentences would not diminish the demonstration of the word, yet a choice has been made to perpetuate ideas such as ‘nagging’ wives and ‘grating’ female voices.

Interestingly enough, following the row, the Twitter account chose to push out a 2012 post from a guest blogger on the use of gender-neutral pronouns.

Oman-Reagan later said in an update: “After their reaction, I wanted to see Oxford make a clear statement denouncing all of the misogynistic abuse people are getting simply for having this conversation. They’re in a position to come out strongly against that and to point out why languge matters so much in these discussions […]

“When Oxford editorially selects example sentences reproducing sexist stereotypes, they are making implicit, prescriptive statements about gender and language. If Oxford believes it is important to tell users that the word ‘shrill’ has historically been applied primarily to women’s voices, they should say that clearly, not cover it up and hide it in a usage example.”

He ends his piece by helpfully reminding those behind Oxford Dictionaries that the usage example for ‘sexism’ reads: “Sexism in language is an offensive reminder of the way the culture sees women.”

Yup.

Images: Rex Features / Thinkstock

Related

ThinkstockPhotos-505537368.jpg

Ten brilliant books to guide you through each chapter of life

ThinkstockPhotos-467467196.jpg

Female author receives eight times more offers with male pseudonym

500303854.jpg

UK television guilty of ‘ingrained, low-level sexism’

StylistSuffragette.jpg

The politics of being a woman

Dylan Thomas Boat House.jpg

Grab a coffee, write a book: The UK’s most inspiring literary cafes

images.jpg

The 20 best snippets of relationship wisdom from children’s books

ThinkstockPhotos-485228172.jpg

The best book written by a female author in the last 10 years revealed

book and bed hostel bookshop 2.jpg

This Tokyo hostel is a dream for literature lovers

woman with book.jpeg

The 50 most moving lines in literature

Comments

More

Join us at the Emerald Street Literary Festival

The perfect Saturday for interesting women

by The Stylist web team
24 Apr 2017

Backlash as star says The Handmaid's Tale is “not a feminist story”

"It’s a human story, because women’s rights are human rights"

by Sarah Biddlecombe
24 Apr 2017

Elisabeth Moss on why you shouldn't binge watch The Handmaid's Tale

"You may need a second to step back and think about what you’ve seen"

by Sarah Biddlecombe
21 Apr 2017

Exclusive: young mother who escaped Boko Haram shares her story

"I had to be prepared for the worst at all times."

by Sarah Biddlecombe
07 Apr 2017

Margaret Atwood has penned a brand-new ending for The Handmaid’s Tale

And she’s hinted at a sequel, too…

by Kayleigh Dray
06 Apr 2017

Witherspoon & Kidman are already planning a Big Little Lies follow-up

They have optioned a second Liane Moriarty book.

by Hayley Spencer
05 Apr 2017

The best new books of April

From learning to adult to haunting short stories

by Sarah Shaffi
04 Apr 2017

The Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction shortlist is announced

Meet your spring reading list

by Sarah Biddlecombe
03 Apr 2017

The storyteller: Romola Garai kicks off Stylist’s Book Club

The actress shares her top 10 reads

by Helen Bownass
01 Apr 2017

Expert tips on how to beat writer's block

Five tips to get the words flowing

by Sarah Biddlecombe
31 Mar 2017