Thank you so much for all your support for the #IAmAnEssexGirl campaign! We are quite overwhelmed with all comments that have been coming in - clearly there are many of you out there who feel as passionately as we do about this! There are lots of exciting things happening behind the scenes, so let's keep up the momentum!
Quite a few people have asked who came up with the definitions and how they were allowed to be entered into the dictionaries. We did some research and, rather depressingly, it's all about recorded usage. To warrant an entry in the dictionary, a word or term has to be widely used... that is to say that there have to be a sufficient number of citations across a wide range of publications (print and online) over a considerable period of time, all of which indicate clear meaning.
So we take that to mean that Collins Dictionaries were able to find a "sufficient" number of instances in which "Essex girl" was used in print or online to mean "a young working-class woman from the Essex area, typically considered as being unintelligent, materialistic, devoid of taste, and sexually promiscuous"
And, in the same way, The Oxford English Dictionary was able to define an "Essex girl" as "a type of young woman, supposedly to be found in and around Essex, and variously characterized as unintelligent, promiscuous, and materialistic."
The way we see it, there is a wider issue here with the official integration of stereotypes into the English language. But sticking with Essex girl specifically for now, what is really scary is that these dictionary entries were "justified" because the media were widely using "Essex girl" in this context.
In order to get the definitions removed (or, more likely, made obsolete) we are petitioning The OED and Collins Dictionaries to revise the dictionary entries. But we also have to reclaim "Essex girl" by using it in our own context to mean something else... because all it should ever really mean is "a girl who is from or living in Essex"... Who she is beyond that is entirely up to her.