Oxford Dictionary updates ‘sexist’ definition of the word ‘woman’

The definition of the word “woman” has been updated in the Oxford Dictionary after equality campaigners identified some of the terms listed as synonyms for the word as “derogatory”, “offensive” or “dated”.

Oxford University Press has carried out an “extensive review of entries for ‘woman’ and many other related terms,” reports The Guardian quoting a spokesperson.

The updated definition acknowledges that a woman can be “a person’s wife, girlfriend, or female lover”, rather than only a man’s.

The dictionary has also updated the entry for “man” to include similar gender-neutral terminology.

Many other terms that relate to sexual attractiveness and activity have been revised.

A petition last year criticised the dictionary’s inclusion of an array of derogatory and offensive remarks among its list of synonyms for women, triggering the review, The Guardian reports.

The synonyms and other terms offered for the word “man” in the dictionary presented women as “subordinate or “an irritation”, the campaigners argued.

Activists of the Women’s Aid and the Women’s Equality party led the campaign on the International Women’s Day this year by signing an open letter calling on OUP to eliminate all phrases and definitions that “discriminate and patronise” or “connote men’s ownership” of women.

Maria Beatrice Giovanardi, who pioneered the petition that reached 30,000 signatures, said she was “very happy” that the campaign had achieved 90% of its aims, according to The Guardian report.

The inclusion of gender-neutral terminology in the dictionary’s relationship examples marked “a huge step forward for the LGBTQI people”, she said.

The dictionaries “reflect, rather than dictate, how language is used”, driven solely by evidence of how English is being used by real people in their daily lives, an OUP spokesperson told The Guardian.

“This independent editorial approach means that our dictionaries provide an accurate representation of language, even where it means recording senses and example uses of words that are offensive or derogatory, and which we wouldn’t necessarily employ ourselves,” she added.

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