A petition is calling to remove sexist synonyms for 'woman' from the dictionary

If you're a woman, you've probably been called a "bitch" at some point in your life. Unfortunately, one of the places you've been called that is the dictionary. A petition on Change.org is trying to get the Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus of English to remove sexist and outdated synonyms for the word "woman." The petition, which was started by London-based communications strategist Maria Beatrice Giovanardi, has already received 30,000 signatures — more than the student body of Oxford. They're trying to redefine the way we talk about women. Literally.

Some of the synonyms for "woman" are derogatory, like "bitch." Some synonyms are both archaic and derogatory, like "wench" and "bird." Some are flat out sexist, like "baggage" and "frail." Some of the other synonyms include, "chick," "biddy", "bint," "broad," "piece," and "petticoat." Interestingly, most of the positive synonyms for "woman" refer to a woman as a "sweetheart" or "paramour." It's not just the synonyms that are the problem. The examples "show women as sex objects, subordinate, and/or an irritation to men." Not only that, "the definition of a 'man' is much more exhaustive than that of a 'woman' — with 25 examples for men, compared to only five for women," the petition reads.


The petition says that seeing the word "bitch" as a synonym for "woman" in the dictionary opens the door for harassment. "This is completely unacceptable by a reputable source like the Oxford University Press, but it's even more worrying when you consider how much influence they have in setting norms around our language," according to the petition. Name calling is a form of bullying, and according to a Pew Research poll, four in ten Americans have said that they've experienced online harassment. "We can take a serious step towards reducing the harm this is causing our young women and girls by looking at our language and this starts with the dictionary," the petition says. Words have meaning.

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The dictionary, however, says it doesn't start with the dictionary. It starts with you and me. Katherine Martin, the head of lexical content strategy at Oxford University Press, addressed the petition in a blog post. According to Martin, the words are in the dictionary because they're in our everyday language. "If there is evidence of an offensive or derogatory word or meaning being widely used in English, it will not be excluded from the dictionary solely on the grounds that it is offensive or derogatory," she wrote. She also noted that offensive words are labeled as such.

The dictionary is open to change, but it has to come from the people first. The dictionary doesn't influence the language, the language influences the dictionary. "The relationship between the dictionary and the living language is more like a map than a set of directions; it can tell you the contours of the landscape, but not direct you on where to go or how to get there. As the usage of English speakers changes over time, the dictionary changes to reflect that new lexical terrain. The current cultural moment has seen an increasing acknowledgment of the real-life impact that words can have on individuals and groups. As this awareness leads to changes in linguistic behaviour, the dictionary will seek to record them," Martin continued.

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It doesn't sound like the dictionary is going to budge on removing "bit"or "biddy" anytime soon. But at the end of the day, it's not up to the dictionary to define who we are. Nor is it up to someone who goes around calling women "baggage" and "birds." Only we can write our own meaning. The best way to get "bitch" taken out of the dictionary is to remove it from our vocabulary altogether.

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Macy's and Girls Inc. believe that all girls deserve to be safe, supported, and valued. However, racial disparities continue to exist for young people when it comes to education levels, employment, and opportunities for growth. Add to that the gender divide, and it's clear to see why it's important for girls of color to have access to mentors who can equip them with the tools needed to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers.

Anissa Rivera is one of those mentors. Rivera is a recent Program Manager at the Long Island affiliate of Girls Inc., a nonprofit focusing on the holistic development of girls ages 5-18. The goal of the organization is to provide a safe space for girls to develop long-lasting mentoring relationships and build the skills, knowledge, and attitudes to thrive now and as adults.

Rivera spent years of her career working within the themes of self and community empowerment with young people — encouraging them to tap into their full potential. Her passion for youth development and female empowerment eventually led her to Girls Inc., where she served as an agent of positive change helping to inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold.

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Inspiring young women from all backgrounds is why Macy's has continued to partner with Girls Inc. for the second year in a row. The partnership will support mentoring programming that offers girls career readiness, college preparation, financial literacy, and more. Last year, Macy's raised over $1.3M for Girls Inc. in support of this program along with their Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programming for more than 26,000 girls. Studies show that girls who participated are more likely than their peers to enjoy math and science, score higher on standardized math tests, and be more equipped for college and campus life.

Thanks to mentors like Rivera, girls across the country have the tools they need to excel in school and the confidence to change the world. With your help, we can give even more girls the opportunity to rise up. Throughout September 2021, customers can round up their in-store purchases or donate online to support Girls Inc. at Macys.com/MacysGives.

Who runs the world? Girls!

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In the Pacific Northwest, orca sightings are a fairly common occurrence. Still, tourists and locals alike marvel when a pod of "sea pandas" swim by, whipping out their phones to capture some of nature's most beautiful and intelligent creatures in their natural habitat.

While orcas aren't a threat to humans, there's a reason they're called "killer whales." To their prey, which includes just about everything that swims except humans, they are terrifying apex predators who hunt in packs and will even coordinate to attack whales several times their own size.

So if you're a human alone on a little platform boat, and a sea lion that a group of orcas was eyeing for lunch jumps onto your boat, you might feel a little wary. Especially when those orcas don't just swim on by, but surround you head-on.

Watch exactly that scenario play out (language warning, if you've got wee ones you don't want f-bombed):

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