As of late, many woman-oriented organizations around the United States are taking on alternate spellings of the words “woman” and “women” in efforts to be more inclusive.
“Womyn” and “womxn” are two of the most commonly used substitutes to avoid using the suffix “-men” at the end of the term, but others, like “wimmin,” “wimyn” and “womin” are also sometimes used.
“Women” and “woman” originate from Old English, where “man” was used as a gender fluid pronoun much like “one” and “they” have turned into today.
These spellings are closely associated with the feminism movement, with some choosing to use the term “womxn” over “womyn” due to the latter’s roots in transphobia. As Tumblr user Sanpaguitagirl put it, the term “womyn” appeared at a festival that celebrated cisgender (identifying as the same assigned sex at birth) women’s accomplishments in art and music. This festival does not allow men or transgender women to attend, and some believe that represents the exclusion of transgender women (and other identities) from general discourse.
It “shows how a lot of feminist movements have chosen to ignore the many struggles, identities and intersectionalities of what it means to not only be born as a womxn, but to identify as a womxn,” according to Sanpaguitagirl’s Tumblr response.
While dictionaries do not officially recognize the terms (Google labels “womyn” as nonstandard), they’re often used to promote inclusivity among cis- and transgender women. By avoiding the “-men” or “-man” suffixes, people who use alternate spellings of the word “women” aim to achieve female independence from patriarchal linguistic norms.
Some people think that the change in spelling is unnecessary given that they’re not officially part of the English language. However, feminists who use the terms argue that the English language constantly fluctuates with standardized dictionaries adding new words constantly. For instance, “selfie” was the Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2013 — just one example of how new words have come into existence constantly.
Womyn Creating Consciousness Collectively, an organization at Michigan State University, stated that it was symbolically showing that they do not need men to be complete entities, as the word suggests.
“We, as womyn, are not a sub-category of men,” the group wrote on their organization’s website. “We are not included in many of the history books, studies and statistics that are done in male dominated societies, thus they do not apply to us, for in these items we do not exist. In these societies men are the ‘norm’ and women the ‘particular,’ a mere sub-category of the ‘norm,’ of men. The re-spelling of the word ‘woman’ is a statement that we refused to be defined by men. We are womyn and only we have the right to define our relationships with ourselves, society, with other womyn and men.”
Ultimately, the development of “womxn,” “womyn” and other terms symbolize a unique turn in how the second-wave feminism has progressed since its explosion in the 1970s. While most people have not adopted those terms, it is possible that it will become part of the English lexicon if others continue to use it.
By Gwendolyn Wu
Originally published on HelloFlo.