"Is It Women, Womyn, Womxn or ...?"
[This essay was posted in connection with Women's HIstory Month activities in 2021]
Over the years, the Jean Miller Resource Room has received a lot of feedback about the use of "women" versus "womyn" versus "womxn." In 2021, these debates continue.
We understand that there are many different reasons and complex historical conditions for using the different spellings. In the latter part of the 20th century, groups of feminists moved away from the traditional spelling of “women” in favor of alternatives like “womyn.” Removing the “man/men” was a way to take a stand against patriarchy and against male-dominated, male-centered language. However, alternative spellings like “womyn” were later associated with feminist movements that privileged what they called “womyn-born-womyn,” excluding trans and non-binary women.
In the 2010s, “womxn” became a popular spelling because it was believed to be more inclusive. You may have also seen the “x” in alternative spellings for racial/ethnic identities, such as Latinx, Chicanx, or Filipinx. For languages that use gendered word forms, the “x” provided a way to be more gender-neutral. At JMRR, our intention behind using “womxn” was to be inclusive of all those who identify as women and center women-identified people who had historically been marginalized.
However, despite everyone’s best efforts to be inclusive, the “x” still proves to be an imperfect solution. For many marginalized communities, the “x” merely serves as a reminder of their marginalization. Recently, it has come to our attention that members of the trans and non-binary community who identify as women may still feel excluded by the term “womxn.”
Therefore, moving forward, we at JMRR will use the traditional spelling of “women” so as to not cause further harm to our trans and non-binary sisters. We also want to be clear that when we refer to “women” we include all those who identify as women.
Words are important, but so are the actions associated with those words. We at JMRR strive to align our actions with our values, to act in solidarity with and in service to those who have been marginalized for their gender or sexuality. As we say in our Mission Statement, we believe that everyone has the right to self-determine their gender and sexuality, along with other aspects of their identity.
Gender can be fluid, much like language, which means that the words we use to describe gender are also changing. There is no perfect word, no single letter, that can adequately describe the beautiful complexity of gender. Nor is there one perfect language to capture the wonderful tapestry of our intersectional identities. Regardless, we continue to speak and write and sing our truths.
As language evolves, we at JMRR humble ourselves when activists, advocates, and community members share how language impacts them. As we continue to communicate with you, we hope you will continue to communicate the beautiful truth of your identities with us.
Suggestions For Further Reading
- Today I Learnt: Womxn And Womyn Mean Two Different Things – Dyuti Gupta, She The People
- Intersectional Feminist Vocab: Using the Term Womxn – Make Muse via Medium
- The X In Latinx Is A Wound, Not A Trend – Alan Pelaez Lopez, Color Bloq
- Stop using the phrase 'womxn' to be trans-inclusive. It can be offensive to trans women and non-binary people. – Canela López, Business Insider India