One supposes that because of the “oldness” (the original was released in 1884) of the Oxford Dictionary, a certain amount of sexism has been permitted to eke by over the years. And yet, there is something lamentable about the fact that even though the revamped New Oxford Dictionary was released in 1998, so many overt instances of chauvinist word examples managed to be permitted free and effortless continuity in the go-to source for defining concepts, words and philosophies in spite of being reassessed with the advent of the New Oxford Dictionary.
After anthropologist Michael Oman-Reagan brought the dictionary “powers that be” under scrutiny with the sea of examples he parsed out highlighting the numerous instances of sexism, the insensitive person running their Twitter account replied, “If only there were a word to describe how strongly you felt about feminism…” Not really the best riposte for proving gender neutrality.
The pattern of example sentences throughout what many consider to be the bible of defining, well, just about everything is more than a hair alarming. While yes, here at The Opiate, we sometimes find all this talk about gender, race and discrimination to frequently be “the chic thing” for people to do when they’re looking for a copout excuse for their anger (see: the Editor’s Note of Issue 3), there is no denying the blatancy of this level of sexism.
Indeed, it’s hard to choose one sample sentence to single out for being most offensive. Is it “promiscuous,” which calls out a woman for being a “wild” “good-time girl”? Such phrases make one think the dictionary was modified in 1938, not 1998. Did a Democrat in the office mean nothing for the liberality of the book’s “updated” content?
One of the most alarming phrases might be “a nagging wife,” which most assuredly harkens back to, at the minimum, the 50s archetype of a little missus prodding her husband for more allowance money.
The (not so) subtly ominous reinforcement of these female caricature portraits in one of the most important pieces of reference literature is indicative of why the world of the written word is still in a state of ebbing and flowing regression. And, based on Oxford Dictionary‘s passive reaction to the entire “snafu,” it seems like drastic change to the cultural lexicon is a long way off.