Recently, use of the word “womxn” has gained headway. The word was coined by modern feminists on the basis of being more inclusive than the term women itself.
“Womxn” was popularized during what was originally named the Women’s March Seattle on Jan. 21, 2017. One of the core organizers of the march, Ebony Miranda, who identifies as nonbinary, suggested their branch of the Women’s March use the term “womxn” rather than “women.” Miranda said they believed this spelling represented “women and those affected by misogyny and women related issues.”
Elizabeth Hunter-Keller, the communications chair for what became known as the Womxn’s March Seattle, stated that the need for the use of a term that included everyone involved was important. Hunter-Keller mentioned that initially, some women, mainly white, were confused by the use of the word “womxn” but understood after some explanation.
“There were a lot of, for the most part, white women, who wondered why we had to use the ‘x’ and asked us about it. But when we talked to them online, most were totally understanding,” said Hunter-Keller in an interview with The New York Times.
Womxn is not the first alternative spelling of women. Since the 1960s, there have been many variations of the word, including “wimmin,” “womin” and “womyn.”
Ultimately, the goal of the variation in spelling is to remove the root word “men.” This is for multiple reasons, among them being the idea of men as the default. Keridwen Luis, a professor of sociology at Harvard University, highlighted this annoyance that feminists have been attempting to deal with for ages.
“If you go back to the logical root of the word, it’s that ‘men’ is the default,” Luis said in an interview with The New York Times. “And in many cases in English, we’ve just reverted to using the masculine as the default for a lot of things. Waiter and waitress. Actor and actress. It used to be that poet was a masculine term and therefore if you were a woman poet, you have to be a poetess, which sounds really Victorian and like you spend a lot of time on a fainting couch. Fortunately, that has dropped out of use.”
College groups in the United Kingdom also started to use the alternative spelling as a way to be more inclusive in 2018. For example, the student union at Goldsmiths, University of London, and a student society at King’s College London have begun to use the alternative in an attempt to be more inclusive.
For the student union at Goldsmiths, University of London, they began using the alternative when spelling out events such as “Womxn’s Basketball Session” and the “Adidas Womxn’s Fun Run,” The King’s College London Womxn in Physics also uses the inclusive language on their social media platforms for their events as well.
Despite the attempts to be more inclusive through the use of this language, it may not have the same effect that is intended. Criticisms of the alternative spelling include viewing is as anti-men dialect, while others say the word is having the opposite effect, making trans and non-binary women feel excluded.
Trans actress Kat Griffin wrote in a blog post “The label “Womxn” is doing the opposite of what you want” how harmful this distinction between “women” and “womxn” is.
Griffin said that the use of the word subliminally sends messages that trans and nonbinary women are less women than cis women are. Griffin also said that the term being initiated and used by an overwhelming number of cis women is bothersome and performative, as she feels the term is unnecessary to include marginalized women groups.
“Look to Trans people to lead you when it comes to including Trans people. Look to Black people to lead you when it comes to including Black people,” said Griffin in the blog post. “If you want to ‘include’ folks of any marginalized demographic, do just that: Include them. Listen to them. Make space, and if necessary, step aside for them.”
It is important to make space for marginalized groups to be heard and identified how they wish to be identified. However, the same goes for all individuals: If identifying yourself with a particular term allows you to feel more identifiable, and more comfortable as yourself, then that is the term you should use.
Labels for sexuality and gender are meant to allow oneself to feel connected to who they are, but also to those who are like them, and one of the great things about labels is that they can always be changed.
If women, whether they are cis, trans or nonbinary, wish to use a term they feel better defines their humanity, then they should feel free to do so. For those that do not need an alternative spelling, that is fine. It is important to respect the labels individuals and groups give to themselves while also making sure not to ignore the problems presented with those labels.