Misogyny fight in Australia sparks a change in dictionary definition
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—Australia’s prime minister did not define “misogyny” wrong in a blistering attack on a male rival — the dictionary did.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s fiery speech last week in which she branded conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott a misogynist for a string of allegedly sexist comments he had made in recent years has been lauded by feminists around the world.
But Gillard’s critics have accused her of hyperbole, pointing to dictionary definitions of misogyny as hatred of women.
Sue Butler, the editor of the Macquarie Dictionary, which is regarded as the definitive authority on Australian meanings of words, said Wednesday that the political furor revealed to her fellow editors that their dictionary’s definition was decades out of date.
The dictionary would broaden its definition from a hatred of women to include entrenched prejudice against women, she said.
“Since the 1980s, ‘misogyny’ has come to be used as a synonym for sexism — a synonym with bite, but nevertheless with the meaning of ‘entrenched prejudice against women’ rather than ‘pathological hatred,’” Butler said in a statement.
Gillard’s speech in Parliament last week came after Abbott attempted to move a motion to oust the House of Representatives Speaker Peter Slipper over crude and sexist terms Slipper made in text messages that came to light in a court case.
“If he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives; he needs a mirror,” Gillard told Parliament.
“Misogyny, sexism — every day from this leader of this opposition,” she added.
She complained Abbott had questioned in a media interview whether it was a bad thing that men had more power than women in Australian society and had described abortion as “the easy way out.”
Gillard said she was offended when Abbott once said to her in Parliament : “If the prime minister wants to, politically speaking, make an honest woman of herself …”
The term “making an honest woman” in Australia traditionally refers to a man marrying a woman with whom he has had a sexual relationship.
As well as being Australia’s first female prime minister, Gillard is also the first to share the prime minister’s official residence with a common law partner, former hairdresser Tim Mathieson, who is widely referred to by his unofficial title “first bloke.”
Female lawmakers in the conservative Liberal Party defended Abbott, who is married with three daughters, saying he did not hate women.
Butler said while the Oxford English Dictionary had expanded its definition of the word from a psychological term to include its contemporary meaning a decade ago, it took the debate over Gillard’s speech to prompt Macquarie to review its definition.
“Perhaps as dictionary editors we should have noticed this before it was so rudely thrust in front of us as something that we’d overlooked,” Butler told Associated Press.
She said the decision had drawn complaints.
“We’ve had various emails accusing us of a political stance in this,” Butler said. “Our changes to the dictionary usually don’t cause quite so much public interest.”
Among the critics is Sen. Fiona Nash, a member of Abbott’s coalition, who accused Macquarie of making the change to suit Gillard’s centre-left Labor Party.
“It would seem more logical for the prime minister to refine her vocabulary than for the Macquarie Dictionary to keep changing its definitions every time a politician mangles the English language,” Nash said in a statement.
Gillard and Abbott declined to comment on the change.