Update: Oxford Dictionaries has sort-of apologised
Twitter is one of our best weapons against sexism. From exposing industry double standards to redefining stereotypes, the mass communication platform is a good way to shine a light on unacceptable behaviour. But often, too, it’s the source of said behaviour.
Whether you identify as a feminist or not, most of us who use the platform are very aware of what happens to brands who underestimate the movement and poke fun at it. Today, Oxford Dictionaries fell into that very trap.
It started when anthropologist Michael Oman-Reagan spotted a dictionary definition he thought was out of line:
The full dictionary entry is, if anything, even worse. Two example sentences: one about a feminist, one about a dog.
Now, you can argue – fairly – that all example sentences in the dictionary come from real usage and aren’t representative of the publisher’s opinions. That’s fine. But look what they replied:
Face, meet palm.
Yep, they just called him rabid. They followed it up by letting him know that a word that literally means having a brain-bloating viral disease isn’t actually all bad:
Btw, 'rabid' isn't always negative, and our example sentences come from real-world use and aren't definitions: https://t.co/npaVgBahOM— Oxford Dictionaries (@OxfordWords) January 22, 2016
This was swiftly disproved by Robert McNees, who quoted their own words back at them in the long and noble tradition of Twitter justice:
To make matters worse for the dictionary firm, Oman-Reagan has done his research and found a fair few more sexist example sentences.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of the responses to Oman-Reagan’s tweet are depressingly typical of Misogynist Twitter, but there’s been a lot of good discussion about the effect of language on culture, too. Ultimately, there are thousands of example sentences the dictionary could have chosen to illustrate ‘rabid’, and one that reinforces stereotypes of a movement that gets knocked and derailed every day was a terrible choice.
Whether the other examples Oman-Reagan’s found so far illustrate a wider sexism issue at Oxford Dictionaries is unclear (you’d need to do a proper study of examples chosen across the whole book), but one thing is unassailably obvious: Oxford Dictionaries needs to make use of another one of their example sentences.