Earlier this week, Oxford University Press became the subject of criticism for the way they handled accusations of sexism in their dictionary entries. From all the ideologies in the world, it seems that the only one they deemed appropriate to exemplify the word “rabid” was feminism. To be exact, the definition of “rabid” in the Oxford English Dictionary is “having or proceeding from an extreme or fanatical support of or belief in something. “a rabid feminist”. Blown out of proportions, the scandal led to OUP issuing a statement that promised to revise the example and to a plethora of articles that hurried to demonstrate that the reaction of feminists on Twitter was, indeed, a rabid one.
As a feminist and someone who has studied multiple languages, dead and alive without discrimination, I’ll mention that:
- All languages are sexist. Their pace of evolution is very slow and someone who expects a language to reflect social changes immediately is naive. Just because women got the vote and other rights it does not mean the language caught up with the times. In about a century, maybe people will not immediately think of women when they hear words such as “nurse” and “cleaner” and of men when they hear lawyer” and “doctor”. Maybe the newspapers will stop with the unnecessary addition of the label “female” or “woman” when talking about police officers and judges. Maybe we’ll get rid of distinctions such as “Miss” and “Mrs” and use just “Ms.” as an equal counterpart of “Mr.” Until then, it’s sexist business as usual.
- Most languages have a higher number of pejorative words for women than for men and putting a label on a woman is much more frequent than putting one on a man. There is no equivalent of “slut”, “bimbo” or “whore” for men. Women are called “dear”, “darling”, “love” and so on by men who wouldn’t dare to address this way to a male individual in the same position. It’s no wonder then that we have become a little bit sensitive when we’re called names. As such, you may understand how giving “feminist” as the only noun to exemplify an adjective such as “rabid” may look like someone slightly mocks the only significant ideology that represents the interests of women and regards it as derisory.
- Feminists are often left without a good course of action when something like the “rabid” scandal happens. To say nothing means to accept the status quo; to say something, almost anything, is a sure way to get called names, being derided, and ultimately dismissed. “If only there were a word to describe how strongly you felt about feminism…” – this is what OUP tweeted hours after the entire thing burst on Twitter. They were right, of course. Once again, feminists were put in their place for something they had no choice but comment against.
- We live in times when it is so easy to try to shut up a woman with a valid opinion that differs from yours (male or female). You dismiss her as a feminist, as if all of a sudden this would render her arguments null. If she opens the mouth for a second time, you can even go for “feminazi” or “bully.” Yes, there are feminists who exacerbate the movement and turn it into something else. They are vocal and seemingly omnipresent on the Internet. They are often the reason some women don’t want to be associated with the word “feminist”. This does not mean, however, that anyone has the right to dismiss an entire ideology with a history of over 100 years, which simply militates for equal rights for both genders, just because some of its members are, well…what’s the word I’m looking for?