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Remove offensive and damaging definition

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OUP, Oxford Dictionary of English, offensive, derogatory, definition of woman, petition, open letter, change neededAn institution like the Oxford University Press   should not portray women this way.

‘Bitch, besom, piece, bit, mare, baggage, wench, petticoat, frail, bird, bint, biddy, filly’ – these are the words which the Oxford’s English Dictionary online tells us mean the same as ‘woman’.

And it gives the following examples as meanings:

‘Ms September will embody the professional, intelligent yet sexy career woman’;

‘If that does not work, they can become women of the streets’;

‘Male fisherfolk who take their catch home for the little woman to gut’;

‘I told you to be home when I get home, little woman’.


This is not only completely unacceptable by a reputable source like the Oxford University Press (OUP), but it is even more worrying when you consider how much influence dictionaries have in setting norms around our language.

These misogynistic definitions have become widespread because search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo license the use of Oxford Dictionaries for their definitions.

Maria Beatrice Giovanardi has started a petition, which to date has over 32,000 signatures, to ask Oxford University Press to eliminate all phrases and definitions that discriminate against and patronise women and/or connote men’s ownership of women, enlarge the dictionary’s entry for ‘woman’, and include examples representative of minorities.

And an open letter has just been published in The Guardian. Signatories include Mandu Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality party, Deborah Cameron, professor of language and communication at Oxford, Nicki Norman, acting chief executive of the Women’s Aid Federation of England.

The letter says:

Did you know that if you are a woman, the dictionary will refer to you as a “bitch” or a “maid”? And that a man is “a person with the qualities associated with males, such as bravery, spirit, or toughness” or “a man of honour” and the “man of the house”?

These are, according to the dictionary, the synonyms for “woman” alongside a wealth of derogatory and equally sexist examples – “I told you to be home when I get home, little woman” or “Don’t be daft, woman!”

Synonyms and examples such as these, when offered without context, reinforce negative stereotypes about women and centre men. That’s dangerous because language has real world implications, it shapes perceptions and influences the way women are treated.

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.

Bitch is not a synonym for woman. It is dehumanising to call a woman a bitch. It is but one sad, albeit extremely damaging, example of everyday sexism. And that should be explained clearly in the dictionary entry used to describe us.

We are calling on Oxford University Press, which publishes the Oxford Dictionary of English, as well as the online Oxford Dictionaries ( to change their entry for the word “woman”.

It might not end everyday sexism or the patriarchy but it’s a good start.

And it has been signed by:

Maria Beatrice Giovanardi and the campaign team

Mandu Reid, leader of Women’s Equality Party

Deborah Cameron, professor of language and communication, Oxford University

Nicki Norman, acting CEO of Women’s Aid Federation of England

Fiona Dwyer, CEO at Solace Women’s Aid

Estelle du Boulay, Director of Rights of Women

Laura Coryton, tampon tax petition starter, Period Poverty Task Force Member at the Government Equalities Office, alumni of University of Oxford (MSt in Women’s Studies)

Gabby Edlin, CEO and Founder of Bloody Good Period

The Representation Project

Zoe Dronfield, trustee at Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service

Gwen Rhys, founder and CEO of Women in the City

David Adger, professor of linguistics, Queen Mary University of London

Dr Christine Cheng, author and lecturer in war studies at King’s College

Dr Christina Scharff, author and reader in gender, media and culture at King’s College


Judith Large, senior research fellow.

The examples the dictionary uses show women as sex objects, subordinate, and/or an irritation to men and can influence the way that women are spoken about online.

Should an institution like the Oxford University Press   portray women this way?

What message does this send to young girls about their identity and expectations for the future?

If we want to create an equal society, we need language fit for the 21st century that doesn’t discriminate against women.

Oxford Dictionaries’ team are defining who women are and doing it in a very outdated manner which denigrates women.

Please join the campaign asking them to change their entry for the word “woman”.

Sign and share the petition.

Copy and share the letter.

Contact Oxford University Press and ask them to remove their offensive and damaging definition of women from the dictionary.

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