Feminism and the feminist fight exists for innumerable reasons. For years, women all over the world have risen in protest to demand their due.
It has been argued that the initial waves of feminism were skewed in their range and exclusionary of women of colour and trans-women.
With the passage of time, there have been concentrated efforts to make the recognition of womanhood more encompassing.
A way to achieve the same has been to model our mode of expression and communication around human inclusivity. Orthographic changes have been introduced in our lexicon to mirror the shifting structures of society.
One such example of a change in the orthography happened in the 1970s when feminist circuits opted to use the term ‘womyn’ instead of ‘woman’ in an effort to avoid the suffix ‘man’ and to be regarded as an independent entity instead of an extension of ‘man’.
The word ‘womyn’(singular ‘womon’) first appeared in the 1975 issue of the Lesbian Connection magazine. The magazine recognised the World Creek Womyn’s festival as a festival spearheaded only by the cisgender women.This feminist festival was conducted annually- run, built, and attended by the cisgender women. This festival excluded women who did not fall under the ambit of the heteronormative binary division.
The word was officially recognised by the Oxford dictionary in 2006, and was defined as the ‘non-standard spelling of ‘women’ adopted by some feminists in order to avoid the word ending -men’.
This change in spelling, however, also drew a lot of flak since it was exclusive and radical, focussing only on white, upper-class, cisgender, heteronormative women. This led to widespread outrage cutting across various transgender and feminist circles.
In 2014, one of the LGBTQ advocacy organisations, Equality Michigan, boycotted the World Creek Womyn’s festival and launched a petition urging the music festival, to drop their ‘womyn born womyn’ policy, as it was excluding transgender women, and they deserved to be treated as a woman in all settings. The boycott by this group and many others like the National centre of Lesbian Rights led to the closing down of this all women’s festival, ‘World Creek Womyn’s festival’ in 2015
This exclusive trend was countered by intersectional feminists who continued to tinker with the word, trying to break free from the patriarchal language.
Eventually, the word ‘womxn’ was created to broaden the scope of womanhood.
The letter ‘X’ is often used to represent an indescribable entity. For instance, in Mathematics, the ‘X’ is used to represent variable quantities in an equation. Similarly, the letter has been used to make words gender-inclusive and break free from the assigned binary genders into uncharted territories of gender fluidity.
The Boston Globe calls the term “a powerful, increasingly popular label, encompassing a broader range of gender identities than ‘woman’—or even older feminist terms such as ‘womyn’ ... a nontraditional spelling for people whose gender identity doesn’t fit in the traditional boxes”
Several organisations and women collectives have also been using the term to separate themselves from exclusionary feminism.
At a recent art exhibition, ‘Womanish’, Dionna Gray, its co-founder, called the event ‘womxn’ centred. She thereby went on to explain the use of ‘X’ in the term, “Back in the day when the feminist movement was happening, women of colour were not included in that, trans women and nonbinary women were not included in that. The term ‘womxn’ came out because it pushes the rights of women of colour, transgender women, and nonbinary women. That’s why we choose to use the x. It’s inclusive of everyone. We don’t ever want to make someone feel not included or excluded,” in an interview for Chicago Tribune.
But many have contested the use of this term, which has been borrowed from feminist theory into common parlance. The reasons for dispute are multiple, for some it arises with no consensus on how it is pronounced. People pronounce it in varied ways, sometimes as ‘wo-minx’, ‘wom-inx’ or even ‘woma/en-x’.
In 2018, the Wellcome Collection, a museum, and a library in London used this term for inclusivity.
Similarly, TEDx London was also at the centre of fierce criticism for opting to choose womxn over women in a social media promotional post.
However, both the organisations’ decision to adopt ‘womxn’ sparked a swathe of negative comments with critics raising questions over its pronunciation, some classifying the term as misogynistic, transphobic while others deemed the usage of the term a mere publicity stunt.
Despite the debate around the use of ‘X’, many people have conceded that indeed the term ‘womxn’ has been the most inclusive in recent times, bringing under its ambit all persons who’d like to identify as a woman.
Olivia Romero, the co-founder of Pikes Peak Womxn for Liberation that works for womxn’s rights, says, “The spelling of ‘womxn ‘is meant to show inclusion of trans, nonbinary, womxn of colour, womxn with disabilities and all other marginalized genders. Our organization particularly uses this spelling to separate ourselves from exclusionary feminisms.”
Eli Erlick, a transgender organiser confessed to using the term on social media, despite having a complicated stance on the term itself. In an interview with the New York Times, Erlick says, “We are fighting for womanhood, just to be recognised in the first place,” she said. “But I embrace ‘womxn,’ It allows us to define ourselves outside of the context of being men, but also to recognise that there are different ways to be a woman.”
In India, the change has caught on with many news websites discussing this shift in the lexicon.
Indian feminists like Rituparna Chakraborty and feminist platforms like FII have been using this term for a while now.
Faraz Arif Ansari, the director of India’s first silent LGBTQ love story, Sisak, says that the term ‘womxn’ helps in foregrounding everyone who wants to be identified as a woman, including non-binary genders, transgenders, and heteronormative cis-women. They say that the usage of ‘X’ in words like ‘womxn’ and ‘folx’ signals inclusivity and aids the steady breaking away from definitions rooted in heteronormative notions. The letter ‘X’ provides limitless possibilities
This orthographic change in this word has facilitated the beginning of a more pronounced conversation around identities and inclusivity. As a deeper understanding of gender is developed, we can hope for the gradual erosion of embedded stereotypes.
Even if many chose to reject this term, the discourse around this word will allow people to think further on the issue of inclusivity. The use of the letter ‘x’ has been known to raise a little bit of curiosity in the minds of people as well. Some do shun it down as a spelling mistake while some dig deeper!
Having said that, this is definitely a step forward to make the feminist fight more accommodating towards myriad identities. It’s also true that each person is different from the other, in a way undefinable; each person is so complex, it only makes sense to not fit them into cliched heteronormative boxes.
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