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Australia: PM Julia Gillard's Misogyny Speech Sparks a War of Words

A fifteen-minute parliamentary speech rarely gets local attention, much less a massive global audience. On 8 October 2012, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s attack on Opposition leader Tony Abbott as sexist and misogynist was a rare exception. The YouTube versions have had nearly 2.5 million views, with countless others on other websites.

However, a sideshow has emerged over the meaning of the word ‘misogyny’. William Steed explained at crikey.com:

Julia Gillard has been criticised for changing the definition of misogynist to suit her attack on Tony Abbott. Now, Macquarie Dictionary have updated their entry for ‘misogyny’, seemingly to reflect Gillard’s usage.

A new meaning of ‘entrenched prejudice against women’ has been added to the traditional definition of hatred of women’ by Australian dictionary Macquarie.

Prominent opposition parliamentarian Barnaby Joyce hinted at a conspiracy of some sort:

@Barnaby_Joyce: How wonderfully convenient, Macquarie Dictionary changes definition “misogyny” to suit PM Gillard's misuse of term.

Megan Clement-Couzner at the blog the conversation, does not see the need to quibble about semantics:

I have always understood and used the word in its old sense, exactly a hatred of women. And I remain convinced that Tony Abbott, along with many others, is worthy of such a label.

On the other hand, Ilana Cooper has a sense of loss:

‏@ilanacoops: Definition of #misogyny broadened in the Macquarie dictionary. What a sad time for #Australian #politics

In a lengthy discussion of the issue, Neil’s Final Decade, has had a change of mind:

I was conservative in my attitude to the word misogyny last time I mentioned it , endorsing Annabel Crabb’s opinion that misogyny was a “big call” as an accurate descriptor for Tony Abbott. She cited the Oxford Dictionary. However, the illustrative citation on the Oxford Dictionary web site is “she felt she was struggling against thinly disguised misogyny” – which perhaps reflects, if you think about it, more the sense in which Julia Gillard and others have used the word.

He explains his modified view:

On reflection, whether you like it or not, it is clear that a combination of contemporary usage and academic specialist usage has extended (or weakened?) the meaning of the word, and that this predates what happened a few days ago in the Australian parliament.

The Oxford dictionaries have also become caught up in this war of words. In fact Rachel Eldred believes that it is not a new change:

@racheldred: Interesting that the Oxford dictionary online already includes prejudice against women in its definition of misogyny. ½

Mike Seccombe writes in Word Of The Day on the Global Mail:

Words change their meanings over time, through usage. These days, “misogynist” is sort of an amped-up version of “sexist”.

Nevertheless he wants to return to the political rather than the lexical issue:

No, the real indicator of misogyny came in Abbott’s suggestion that women — all women — are unsuited to the public domain and that it was biologically predestined that men should run the show.

Unless you pay for the complete internet version of the Oxford, it may take some legwork to fact check this one, as Andrew points out in his comment on Seccombe’s post:

You need to see the full oxford online edition available by subscription. If you become a member of a state library or the National Library (no cost) you can access it or if you are a uni student uni libraries usually have access.

One of the consequences of this fracas is that lots of people have discovered the word ‘misandry’. You guessed it – that’s ‘hatred of men’. K.R. O'Connell is all for equality:

‏@RorRedRor: They are participating in Misandry by NOT doing Same for it a Misogyny! Obviously a pack of #SEXISTS at the Macquarie Dictionary! #Equality

Madbrain Rudesby lives up to his pseudonym as well as his handle:

‏@Kaptain_Kaos: @crikey_news the macquarie dictionary is a piece of shit.

As Absolutely Fabulous would say: “Oh dear, mr. dictionary seems to have deserted us again”.

The issues of trolling and online civility are ongoing debates in Australia. We’ll keep you posted.

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