Skip to main content Skip to header navigation

Oxford Dictionary slammed for promoting sexist stereotypes — again

It’s a source that’s meant to inform and educate but the Oxford English Dictionary recently came under fire for being sexist.

More: Startling new video shows how women are used as props in ads (WATCH)

Michael Oman-Reagan, an anthropologist at Memorial University of Newfoundland, highlighted the sexist stereotypes which can be found in sentences in the dictionary, including “rabid feminist” and “the rising shrill of women’s voices,” with a series of tweets to the official Oxford Dictionaries Twitter account.

However he wasn’t the first person to notice the sexist example sentences. Back in July 2014 “rabid feminist” was the subject of writer Nordette Adams’ blog post and she also tried to get a conversation going on Twitter.

“When I first wrote in 2014 about Oxford’s sexist example under rabid (‘a rabid feminist’), I was surprised that an esteemed reference source used such a politically charged and offensive example,” Adams told SheKnows. “Essentially, its writers are perpetuating misogynistic stereotypes with that example, not to mention imposing a specific political view on its readers.”

Adams was pleased that Oman-Reagan gave her credit for originally spotting the offensive example — although we have to wonder why did it take a man to get a response to this?
“While noticing ‘rabid feminist’ started it all, Michael and others established that Oxford Dictionaries had a pattern of sexist language,” said Adams. “The pattern shocked me. I’ve been called a cynic before, but apparently I’m not cynical enough. It never occurred to me that the Oxford Dictionary would have multiple incidents of sexist language.

“When I saw the examples others discovered such as ‘she still does the housework’ and ‘the rising shrill of women’s voices,’ I wondered whether the Oxford writers were stuck in an episode of Mad Men or maybe the writers there looked back fondly on the early 1900s. I object to those examples for the same reason I object to ‘a rabid feminist.’ It’s a form of rhetoric that defines women negatively or limits our potential.”

More: Study confirms that prime time British TV is completely sexist

Speaking of his discoveries, Oman-Reagan wrote on Medium, “January 21st, 2016 I noticed these sexist example sentences in The Oxford Dictionary of English and started tweeting some of them. This is default dictionary on Apple’s Mac OS X operating system. Anyone using a Mac, an iPad, or iPhone will get definitions from this dictionary. So why is it filled with explicitly sexist usage examples? (sic)”

He reinforced his point by using Oxford Dictionaries‘ very own description of what sexism is.

“As the Oxford dictionary says in the usage example for ‘sexism’: ‘sexism in language is an offensive reminder of the way the culture sees women’. Shouldn’t the usage examples in this dictionary reflect that understanding of sexism in language?”

The Guardian reports that Oxford Dictionaries has said it will review the example sentences it uses for certain adjectives (like the ones highlighted above). A far cry from their initial response, which they have since apologised for.

“We apologise for the offence that these comments caused,” a spokesperson for Oxford University Press said in a statement on Monday. “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.”

The final word on this should go to the woman who first questioned Oxford Universities’ use of “rabid feminist.”

“As keepers of the English lexicon, writers at Oxford Dictionaries surely know that connotation matters,” said Adams. “So, they must be aware of perpetuating negative biases. For instance, the adjective ‘rabid’ has a negative connotation in common usage and a negative denotation etymologically. Rarely does ‘rabid’ modify a person or philosophy in a good way. Would they have chosen ‘rabid Christian’ or ‘rabid Muslim’ as one of best ways to use that adjective? They know better. So, why is this respected dictionary promoting this nasty bias against feminism and women? Oxford Dictionaries should use its power to promote knowledge not ignorance and bigotry.”

After this negative attention hopefully that’s exactly what will happen.

More: Maidens Bursary Award aimed at virgins enrages women’s rights activists

Leave a Comment