A New Campaign Wants To End The Term “Essex Girl”

Illustration by Assa Ariyoshi
What springs to mind when you hear the words "Essex girl"? Over the years, the phrase, which emerged in the 1980s, has been used to belittle a whole county's worth of women simply because of where they're from. Even the mere use of "girls" rather than "women" is infantilising and patronising. But these so-called "Essex girls" have had enough. Two women, angry about the persistent use of the term, have launched a campaign to have the term removed from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The phrase is currently defined as: "Essex girl n. [after Essex man n.] Brit. derogatory a contemptuous term applied (usu. joc.) to a type of young woman, supposedly to be found in and around Essex, and variously characterized as unintelligent, promiscuous, and materialistic." (The dictionary's online definition is similarly disparaging.) Quite rightly, proud Essex women Juliet Thomas and Natasha Sawkins claim the term is an offensive, outdated stereotype that should be consigned to history. They're calling their fellow Essex natives to sign their petition and tweet about their success using #IAmAnEssexGirl. "'Unintelligent', 'materialistic', 'sexually promiscuous' and 'devoid of taste'. These terms simply don't define the women we know, heck even the ones we don't know but see around us every day," the pair write on their petition page. Pre-empting the potential criticism that they shouldn't be taking the stereotype seriously, they add: "People can argue that it's a bit of 'harmless fun, all taken in jest'. But it's naive to say stereotypes are harmless, especially derogatory ones. They slowly seep into everyday lexicon, and in turn have a profound effect on general perceptions." Thomas also said The Only Way Is Essex shouldn't be allowed to define all women from a single county, considering that other parts of the UK have similar reality TV shows. Even the former TOWIE star Grace Andrews told the BBC she supported the campaign "100 million per cent". Their hashtag has gained traction on social media, with some women even saying the stereotype has made it difficult for them to be taken seriously in their careers.
However, one insurmountable hurdle facing the campaign is that definitions are never removed from the OED, only amended. "It's a historical dictionary," a spokeswoman for the OED told the BBC. "Definitions can change, but an entry will never come out." Bosses at the OED have nevertheless agreed to meet Thomas and Sawkins tomorrow, and said they will re-examine the definition if or when there is evidence that is needs to be amended, the Evening Standard reported. “We are so pleased that the petition has sparked a conversation around the outdated derogatory ‘Essex girl’ stereotype and dictionary definitions," said Thomas. "We are now in an open dialogue with Oxford Dictionaries and will be meeting with the head of marketing tomorrow to discuss the campaign.”

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