Sexism is so pervasive in our society, not even our dictionaries are immune. When writer Ali Segel saw the sexist example sentence Merriam-Webster used to give context to their definition of the word”femininity,” she knew it was time to channel her inner nasty woman and get some shit changed.
That’s why she tweeted the dictionary-maker’s social media account yesterday, called them out for their example of “femininity.”
Segel first noticed the offensive gaffe while gathering submissions for a zine meant to showcase artwork and writing inspired by strong women. As she explained to Cosmopolitan.com, “One woman sent in some poetry along with a screenshot of the definition of femininity being like, ‘P.S., isn’t it insane that this is in the dictionary?!'”
Segel decided that yes, it was abso-fucking-lutely insane, and she intended to do something about it.
Surprisingly, Merriam-Webster actually responded to her call-out and promised to fix the error.
Twenty minutes after her original tweet, they said they were looking into it. Another thirty minutes later, they tweeted to let Segel know the offensive entry was gone. Mission accomplished.
Their quick response is applause-worthy, but it doesn’t take away from how icky the original sentence actually was.
As Segel pointed out to Cosmopolitan.com, Merriam-Webster isn’t the only resource that could use a crash course in how to talk about women — even Google’s definition of femininity uses the example, “She celebrates her femininity by wearing makeup and high heels.”
It’s an unfortunate fact that sexism infiltrates almost everything women encounter in their daily lives, from dictionaries to advertisements to books, movies, and TV shows. People put a woman’s appearance and sexuality above almost everything else, and it’s a limiting, offensive behavior that we have to call out as often as possible.
No one would ever say a dude “sacrificed his masculinity” to excel in his career.
Women—who, by the way, hold CEO titles at major corporations like General Motors, Yahoo, Hewlett-Packard, and Pepsi Co.— should be treated with the same sense of personal freedom and respect. Kudos to Segel for doing what she could to inspire change. Altering the definition of femininity is only one small step for Merriam-Webster, but it represents the beginning of a giant leap forward for womankind.