‘He managed to become a CEO without sacrificing his masculinity.’
That’s not a sentence anyone is likely to come across in their daily readings. But the same is not true when considering the opposite sex.
Up until very recently, the Merriam-Webster dictionary included the following example of how to use the word ‘femininity’ in a sentence: ‘She managed to become a CEO without sacrificing her femininity’.
Los Angeles, USA-based writer Alison Segel came across the offending definition in the wake of the 2016 US election. Still reeling from the victory of Donald Trump — a politically-inexperienced, self-confessed groper of women, and frequent speaker of misogynist remarks — over the much more accomplished — and also female — Hillary Clinton, she shared a screenshot of the dictionary sentence on Twitter.
Segel’s followers were as perplexed as she was, and their retweets and reactions quickly caught the attention of the Merriam-Webster. Kudos to lexicographer Peter Sokolowski: he had the sentence removed from the online dictionary in just an hour.
Although there are many others yet to check their definitions for sexism (Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries refer to ‘make-up and high heels’, and ‘long hair’, respectively), Segel is pleased with her small victory, explaining that it’s the actions of many individuals that will pave the way for gender equality.
“We need to reframe the way we talk about women,” she says. “Changing the dictionary is such a small aspect of everything that’s going on, but it’s the little things that snowball and add up. Speak up, be active, be kind, and know that you’re not alone out there.”