Identity can play a large role in our mental health. And the words we use to identify ourselves matter. As language changes and evolves and words gain subtext, we all get to explore the way we present ourselves with words.
The definition from Dictionary.com for the word, womxn:
a woman (used, especially in intersectional feminism, as an alternative spelling to avoid the suggestion of sexism perceived in the sequences m-a-n and m-e-n, and to be inclusive of trans and nonbinary women).
As you can see, this is a simple word with a lot of baggage. Just using this word creates a conversation, for and against its usage. This is a fairly modern spelling, only having widespread acknowledgement for about 5 to 10 years. To understand why this word is important, there is some context to be aware of.
Feminists did not like the implication that in order to complete the word woman or women, you needed to include man or men. It seemed to reinforce the gender stereotype that women cannot be happy and fulfilled without a man in her life to provide for her and protect her. It also seemed to reinforce the notion that being a man was the default and anything else was a subcategory of sorts. So, new words have been created and used through the years.
Wimmin, wombon, wombyn, and woomin were all used at different times. But more popular was the spelling: womyn. According to Alissa Smith, the first known documentation of the word womyn was in a magazine called Lesbian Connection in 1975. It was used in an advertisement for a festival that was specifically not inclusive of transgender women. Many feminist and lesbian groups continue to exclude transgender women for various reasons, in fact they have come to be known as trans- exclusionary radical feminists or TERFs.
Not too long after womyn was first used, womxn was used to fight back against the trans exclusionary nature of “womyn,” though there is no easy way to pinpoint it back to its first use. But it never really gained mainstream usage until more recently, as there has been a backlash as the queer community at large works harder to include and advocate more for its transgender members. So, activists began using womxn more. It recognizes that men are not needed for womxn to be whole – and it pushes back against the exclusion of transgender people (and even some non-binary people who have a connection to the feminine spectrum and choose to use it for themselves).
It is also important to note that feminists have not always been good at including people of color. A hundred years ago, white women were given the right to vote in this country. That right was not guaranteed for people of color, and while fighting for the rights to vote many white women argued that they deserved the right to vote more than men of color and actively worked to exclude womxn of color. The Seneca Falls convention is praised as a huge step toward voting rights – but with everyone in attendance, there was not one woman of color, as the ACLU reminds us.
While race does not impact gender identity or expression the same for everyone, modern feminists are working to actively ensure people of color know they are included. After all, when you recognize that gender might have a “default” you can start to see that maybe race does too.
For better or worse, the conversation gets started. For instance, there was backlash when a museum in the UK used it in advertisements for an event in order to promote inclusivity. The representatives later took it down and apologized as people questioned its use, as noted by the BBC.
There are many challenges that womxn face in this country and around the world. Womxn seem to be excluded from conversations that implicitly affect them. While many people may not feel that man or men was treated as a default in the world, it is important to note that there are many instances where the default is “man” or “men ” like the general assumption that men are doctors and women are nurses. Or how in sports the players are men by default and if it is a women’s team, it must be noted.
Two important notes about the usage of the spelling womxn: Don’t apply it to people who don’t want it applied to them. Some trans people may not like it as it can feel like it implies they are something different from a woman, which is not true. And by and large, non-binary people do not identify with the gender binary of man or woman – so using any spelling of the word woman would be improper at best and an insult at worst – unless a person chooses it for themselves.
What are your thoughts on the spelling “womxn” vs “women”?