Last summer, an online petition and campaign made waves calling for the end of sexist dictionary synonyms for the word “woman.” Major online dictionaries, including Google, Bing, and Yahoo use definitions provided by the Oxford University Press in their search results, and they not only offer words like “b*tch,” “wench,” and “bird” as synonyms for “woman”—but provide patronizing example sentences like “I told you to be home when I get home, little woman” that only further demean women in everyday language.
Gender activist Maria Beatrice Giovanardi took matters into her own hands, creating the now-viral #IAmNotAB*tch campaign and online petition that has since earned over 30,000 signatures. With the goal of removing damaging language from the Oxford University Press and the online dictionaries that license their definitions, the petition makes three requests: Eliminate all phrases and definitions that discriminate against and patronize women and/or connote men’s ownership of women, enlarge the dictionary’s entry for “woman,” and include examples representative of minorities.
In the first episode of Amplify, a podcast produced by the amazing young activists and members of our Youth Media Lab (YML), a social media community, YML Ambassadors spoke to Giovanardi about the importance of language, how words can uphold gender bias, and what aspiring activists can do to start their own movement toward gender parity. Read some of the podcast highlights below and click here to listen in full.
Giovanardi on the impact language has on our lives—and the reason dictionaries should be held accountable for the entries that perpetuate stereotypes.
“The dictionary is a tool that educates people. And by the definition [of woman] being sexist, you’re educating people in the wrong way. If you go under the entry for men, there are only very exemplary example sentences, such as ‘he was a solid labor man’ or ‘he’s a Cambridge man.’ And the men are represented as heroes and women are represented as property of man… It’s a clear example of sexism and at the same time how sexism is not taken seriously enough in society.”
Giovanardi on the campaign’s call for intersectionality.
“One of the things that we’re asking [the dictionaries] to change is for the entries to be more intersectional. We’re asking them to include in their dozens of example sentences a lesbian woman or trans woman, for example. Right now most of the entries are practically heteronormative, oppressive, and just like, white men doing things. We don’t think it’s very safe and healthy for society.”
Giovanardi on following your passions to activate change in society.
“I think if you have an idea and you’re passionate about something, you should always do it. Always try and go ahead with your dreams. Never worry about failing. I think it’s impossible not to fail and when you know you have a big idea or dream about changing the world, you should just go ahead and do it.”
In a recent update provided to Mashable, the Oxford University Press says it will begin labeling the sexist synonyms as “offensive” or “dated” and will only use them “where there is clear real-world evidence of such usage.” They say that since their dictionaries simply reflect rather than dictate language, real change will only come when real people stop using sexist language in daily speech.