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

JK Rowling invented Quidditch to ‘annoy men’ after row with her ex

The Harry Potter author is such a badass

by Kayleigh Dray
07 Dec 2016

Watch Emma Watson star in chilling new trailer for The Circle

We’re getting serious Black Mirror vibes from this social media thriller

by Kayleigh Dray
07 Dec 2016

Read an exclusive extract from 2017's most hotly anticipated novel

Devour the first three chapters of the psychological thriller here

by Sarah Biddlecombe
06 Dec 2016

Stylist's pick of the best new books for 2017

From family sagas to crime thrillers

by Sarah Shaffi
05 Dec 2016

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale: First look at new TV series

Elisabeth Moss dons Offred’s famous red gown for the first time

by Kayleigh Dray
05 Dec 2016

The Girl on the Train author, Paula Hawkins, is back with second book

In a Stylist.co.uk exclusive, here's everything you need to know

by Sarah Biddlecombe
29 Nov 2016

You can now spend the night in the world's first library hotel

Why not cosy up in your own book nook?

by Sarah Biddlecombe
29 Nov 2016

You can now read Jane Eyre in Charlotte Brontë’s own handwriting

A luxury edition of Brontë’s original manuscript has been reprinted.

by Moya Crockett
28 Nov 2016

Mary Berry to meet with ‘civilised’ bookworms who shun #BlackFriday

Forget #BlackFriday; Mary Berry is all about #CivilisedSaturday

by Kayleigh Dray
25 Nov 2016

10 beautiful books to buy as Christmas presents this season

by Scarlett Cayford
24 Nov 2016