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The Oxford Dictionary Is Finally Changing ‘Sexist’ Definitions Of The Word ‘Woman’

Language has a tendency to be sexist.

Fortunately, Oxford University Press knows this and is making efforts to combat sexism and out of date language in its dictionaries. This year, their kicking off by tackling the word “woman.” According to Oxford University Press they’ve updated and changed the entry for “woman” in its dictionaries, including the Oxford English Dictionary, to promote equality and better describe women.

Oxford University Press explained in a recent statement that they’re expanding the dictionary’s coverage of women.

“We have expanded the dictionary coverage of ‘woman’ with more examples and idiomatic phrases which depict women in a positive and active manner,” the largest university press in the world explained in a statement. “We have ensured that offensive synonyms or senses are clearly labeled as such and only included where we have evidence of real-world usage.”

As part of their action, OUP added phrases such as “woman of the moment,” which had been absent from the dictionaries despite having the presence of ones like “man of the moment.”

According to CNN, “one of the definitions of ‘woman’ now refers to a ‘person’s wife, girlfriend, or female lover,’ as opposed to being tied to only a man. The definition for ‘man’ was updated to include gender-neutral terms and references to ‘sexual attractiveness or activity’ were revised for ‘man’ and ‘woman’ entries. OUP said its lexicographers regularly review entries to make sure they are accurate. This time around, the voice of the people helped create change.”

“Sometimes the team focus on topics highlighted by user feedback (such as last year’s petition about the definition of ‘woman’) and sometimes these topics are driven by current events or through projects taking place within the Oxford Languages team,” a spokesperson told CNN.

It’s not the first time OUP has updated its words. Recently, the dictionary for the English language has made changes to words related to race and gender identity. Earlier this year, OUP updated the use of “they” which is used as a pronoun by and for nonbinary people.

In 2019, OUP removed “sexist” terms for a woman after tens of thousands of people signed a Change.org petition.

In response to the petition, suggestive phrases about women were removed including “Ms September will embody the professional, intelligent yet sexy career woman,” according to CNN and phrases such as “I told you to be home when I get home, little woman.”

In a statement their definiitions, OUP wrote “Our dictionaries reflect, rather than dictate, how language is used… This is driven solely by evidence of how real people use English in their daily lives. With that in mind, lexicographers reviewed examples in its dictionary data to make sure representations of woman were positive and active.”

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