Merriam-Webster just got served.
When writer Ali Segel was “gathering submissions for a zine meant to get people ‘engaged and involved’” after last week’s election, she spotted a pretty offensive entry on Merriam-Webster’s website.
When explaining the definition of “femininity,” the example sentence the dictionary used said: “She managed to become a female CEO without sacrificing her femininity.”
Segel told Cosmopolitan that a zine contributor had sent her some poetry along with a screenshot of this offensive definition of femininity.
“I decided to tweet it out because yeah, that’s nuts!,” she told Cosmopolitan. “Can you imagine: ‘He managed to become a CEO without sacrificing his masculinity.’”
Segel also told The Huffington Post that at first, she thought it was a “meme or a joke.”
Not long after Segel sent out her tweet, Merriam-Webster responded on Twitter, saying that they were removing the offending example.
The Merriam-Webster site has indeed taken down the sentence, but has yet to replace it with an alternative.
The entry for “femininity” currently looks like this:
Segel expressed her joy for the updated entry with a celebratory tweet, celebrating her own femininity.
”I think when we frame femininity in a sentence as something that’s sacrificed if we succeed instead of something that’s celebrated, that’s the first problem,” she told HuffPost. “The words feminine and femininity in general... What makes someone stereotypically female is changing.”
After Ali’s initial tweet, women jumped in on Twitter with sentences that use “femininity” in a more accurate way. Below are just a few Merriam-Webster could use now that it has taken down its own example sentence:
When reached for comment by HuffPost, Merriam-Webster responded:
“Lexicography has always been a back-and-forth between dictionary readers and dictionary writers, and one of the great things about social is that we have a direct line between those two. When a reader stumbled across a sentence that was inappropriate, we were happy to remove it, and we were grateful for their feedback.’”