Dear Change.org: Please read the petition below, about why you should remove Fawcett Society of East London’s (FSEL) Petition, which advocates for the use of sexist words against women.
Have you ever searched online for the definition of a woman? ‘Bitch, besom, piece, bit, mare, baggage, wench, petticoat, frail, bird, bint, biddy, filly’ – these are the words which FSEL’s petition tells us are okay to use to mean the same as ‘woman’. This sexist petition must be ended.
Over a third of young women aged between 18 to 24 have been targeted by online abuse. 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 FSEL petition.
Right now under acceptable variations of ‘woman,’ FSEL lists the following:
Bitch, besom, piece, bit, mare, baggage, wench, petticoat, frail, bird, bint, biddy, filly.
These examples show women as sex objects, subordinate, and/or an irritation to men.
This is completely unacceptable by a reputable source like FSEL, but it’s even more worrying when you consider how much influence they have in setting norms around our language. These misogynistic methods of describing women, have become widespread because petitions like the one by FSEL, insist they must be used.
This can influence the way that women are spoken about online. Should an institution like the FSEL be allowed to portray women this way? What message does this send to young girls about their identity and expectations for the future? If we want to create an equal society, we need language fit for the 21st century that doesn’t discriminate against women. FSEL’s team are defining who women are and doing it in a very outdated manner which denigrates women.
This petition is to ask Change.org to to:
Eliminate all of FSEL’s petitions, which use these words with the intent to increase discrimination against and patronise women and/or connote men’s ownership of women.
Together, we can succeed in removing the offensive and damaging ways that FSEL wishes for women to be described with, so that more people don’t follow their lead and broaden the use of them even further. We hope you support us and join our campaign! Please sign this petition and take the first steps towards a fairer internet and a less discriminating world.
Thank you in advance!
An Open Letter to Change.org —
I attempted to file the above counter-petition to illustrate the absurdity of FSEL’s original petition, but when reviewing the rules for submitting the counter-petition, I found that any writer of any petition is not allowed to “make things up” — but the writer of FSEL’s petition does exactly that.
The claims the original petition is making against Oxford are patently false; the writer crafts a false narrative for the dictionary’s reporting of data, and my attempted counter-petition reflects the same level of absurdity.
a : b :: c : d
a = FSEL’s interpretation about b
b = Oxford(/etc)’s actual intention of reporting listed terms
c = Divvyry’s interpretation of d
d = FSEL’s actual intention of reporting listed terms
A dictionary is like a newspaper which reports strictly the hard news on a murder without editorial: the newspaper’s report isn’t somehow saying “murder is allowed now” or “future murders must happen this way or else it’s not a real murder” — no, it is describing a prior murder, by observation of available data without inferring.
Likewise, dictionaries are not proclaiming or portraying the word “woman” as the way FSEL claims.. dictionaries are describing past uses of it, historically and by frequency of observation.
If someone were to publish a list of top 5 cities where car accidents happen, would that list inherently suggest “if you want to crash your car, do it here” or “it is more-correct to crash your car in these cities” ?
No, it is simply describing observed stats about crashes, not imposing a correctness of crashes. Likewise, a dictionary is not imposing correctness of the usages listed, but ranks their meanings in 1-2-3 order like the crash cities list, in order of most-frequently-observed ways the word has been observed used in the past.
Dictionaries report on observational data, not propose that use of a word is somehow correct. Dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive. The writer of the petition seems to believe that dictionaries are prescriptive, or somehow authorize or impose allowances on usage, which is a completely backwards understanding of how the dictionary is even presenting information.
In 2008, there was a big kerfuffle about how dictionaries “changed the definition” of marriage to include more ways than simply male-female pairs. The people who were outraged, believed that the role of a dictionary were to set limitations on how words are allowed to be used, and that by updating the entry, the dictionary were now “making it official” that it was acceptable to use marriage to mean differently than just male-female pairs.
However, the dictionary does not perform this role, and did not change the entry for that purpose. Dictionaries employ lexicographers, or linguistics researchers, who analyze the ways that the masses of the public use words, and those observations all go into a tally. If a way that the general public uses a word reaches a number of observations that is high enough, then that method observed becomes part of the entry, like the way a different city could unseat a previous top 5 car crash city by having more crashes that year.
The entry was adjusted to account for how many observations were tallied of how the general public uses them, not on whether it’s acceptable or valid. Therefore, the people who were outraged about the adjustment of the marriage entry, were angry because their understanding of how dictionaries even function, was flawed. FSEL’s petition is committing a similar flub, in believing that a dictionary somehow regulates or authorizes restrictions on usage, rather than simply listing the most common ways.
Imagine how a mayor of one of the top-five cities didn’t want their city listed there, so made a petition to have their city removed from the list because it made their city look bad. Likewise, the dictionary entry is reporting on statistics of usage, not making any kind of attempt to disparage anyone — it is simply reporting statistical data, and therefore cannot even remove the requested entries because it would require reshaping the entire nature of very industry that FSEL appears to misunderstands to begin with.
The whole basis of the counter-petition is based on a made-up concept with no basis in reality, and is reflective of just how baseless the original FSEL petition is in relation to Oxford’s part. The context for the petition is literally, non-figuratively, made up, which is against the rules for Change.org petitions, and money is being collected by Change.org in connection with that false petition.
The people signing the petition are against the narrative FSEL presents, because the narrative is already false, and are simply listing their name down as someone who believes the falsity of what the writer is stating, and could possibly be targeted for their ignorance about it.
I believe it is in your best interest, Change.org, to remove FSEL’s petition, refund the donations acquired as a result of it, and prevent the people who signed it from being shamed for having signed such a patently false narrative.