Womyn is one of several alternative political spellings of the English word women, used by some feminists.[1] There are other spellings, including womban (a reference to the womb or uterus) or womon (singular), and wombyn or wimmin (plural). Some writers who use such alternative spellings, avoiding the suffix "-man" or "-men", see them as an expression of female independence and a repudiation of traditions that define women by reference to a male norm.[2] Recently, the term womxn has been used by intersectional feminists to indicate the same ideas while foregrounding or more explicitly including transgender women and women of color.[3][4]

Historically, "womyn" and other spelling variants were associated with regional dialects (e.g. Scottish English) and eye dialect (e.g. African American Vernacular English).[citation needed]

Old English

Main article: Woman § Etymology

Old English had a system of grammatical gender, whereby every noun was treated as either masculine, feminine or neuter, similar to modern German. In Old English sources, the word man was grammatically masculine but gender-neutral in meaning. One of its meanings was similar to the modern English usage of "one" as a gender-neutral indefinite pronoun (compare with mankind (man + kind), which means the human race, and German man, which has retained the indefinite pronoun meaning to the modern day).[5] The words wer and wīf were used, when necessary, to specify a man or woman, respectively. Combining them into werman or wīfman expressed the concept of "any man" or "any woman".[6][7] Some feminist writers have suggested that this more symmetrical usage reflected more egalitarian notions of gender at the time.[2]

18th, 19th, and early 20th century uses

The term wimmin was considered by George P. Krapp (1872–1934), an American scholar of English, to be eye dialect, the literary technique of using nonstandard spelling that implies a pronunciation of the given word that is actually standard. The spelling indicates that the character's speech overall is dialectal, foreign, or uneducated.[8][9] This form of nonstandard spelling differs from others in that a difference in spelling does not indicate a difference in pronunciation of a word. That is, it is dialect to the eye rather than to the ear.[10] It suggests that a character "would use a vulgar pronunciation if there were one" and "is at the level of ignorance where one misspells in this fashion, hence mispronounces as well."[11]

The word womyn appeared as an Older Scots spelling of woman[12] in the Scots poetry of James Hogg. The word wimmin appeared in 19th-century renderings of Black American English, without any feminist significance.[citation needed]

Contemporary usage

In the United States

The usage of "womyn" as a feminist spelling of women (with womon as the singular form) first appeared in print in 1976 referring to the first Michigan Womyn's Music Festival.[13] This is just after the founding of the Mountain Moving Coffeehouse for Womyn and Children, a lesbian feminist social event centred around women's music. Both the annual "MichFest" and the weekly coffeehouse operated a womyn-born womyn (cisgender women-only) policy.[14] Womyn's land was another usage of the term, associated with separatist feminism.[15][16]

Z. Budapest promoted the use of the word wimmin (singular womon) in the 1970s as part of her Dianic Wicca movement, which claims that present-day patriarchy represents a fall from a matriarchal golden age.[17]

These re-spellings existed alongside the use of herstory, a feminist re-examination and re-telling of history. Later, another wave of female-produced music was known as the riot grrrl movement.[non sequitur]

The word "womyn" has been criticized by trans activists[14][18] due to its usage in radical feminist circles which exclude trans women from identifying into the category of "woman" and consequently prevent them from accessing spaces and resources for women;[14][19] the term wombyn has been particularly criticized for this since it implies that a woman must have a womb to be a woman.[20]

In the United Kingdom

Millie Tant, a fictional character in the British satirical comic Viz, often used the term wimmin when discussing women's rights.[21]

Similar terms

"Womxn" has been used in a similar manner as womyn and wimmin. Due to transgender women's perceived exclusion from the usage of these respellings, an "x" is used to "broaden the scope of womanhood," to include them.[22][23] The Womxn's March on Seattle chose the spelling of its title for this reason.[24]

See also


  1. ^ D. Hatton. "Womyn and the 'L': A Study of the Relationship between Communication Apprehension, Gender, and Bulletin Boards" (abstract), Education Resources Information Center, 1995.
  2. ^ a b Neeru Tandon (2008). Feminism: A Paradigm Shift
  3. ^ Kerr, Breena (2019-03-14). "What Do Womxn Want?". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-06-20.
  4. ^ J. M. J. Marvuso et al, "Overcoming Essentialism in Community Psychology", in Floretta Boonzaier, Taryn van Niekerk (eds.), Decolonial Feminist Community Psychology (2019, Springer, ISBN 9783030200015), page 12
  5. ^ In Latin similarly, there is "homo" or "hominis" then "vir" or "viris" and "mulier" or "mulieris"; respectively meaning "man" (gender-neutral) then "adult male" and "adult female".
  6. ^ Spender, Dale. Man-Made Language.
  7. ^ Miller, Casey, and Kate Swift. The Handbook of Non-Sexist Language.
  8. ^ Walpole, Jane Raymond (1974), "Eye Dialect in Fictional dialogue", College Composition and Communication, 25 (2): 193, 195, doi:10.2307/357177, JSTOR 357177
  9. ^ Rickford, John; Rickford, Russell (2000), Spoken Soul: The Story of Black English., New York: John Wiley & Sons, p. 23, ISBN 0-471-39957-4
  10. ^ "Eye Dialect by Vivian Cook". Homepage.ntlworld.com. Archived from the original on 2012-10-23. Retrieved 2012-06-13.
  11. ^ Bolinger, Dwight L. (Oct–Dec 1946), "Visual Morphemes", Language, 22 (4): 337, doi:10.2307/409923, JSTOR 409923
  12. ^ DOST: Woman Archived 2013-05-11 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "Womyn". Oxford English Dictionary.
  14. ^ a b c Molloy, Parker Marie (July 29, 2014). "Equality Michigan Petitions Michfest to End Exclusionary Policy". The Advocate.
  15. ^ Weber, Shannon (2015). "Lesbian communities". In Whelehan, Patricia; Bolin, Anne (eds.). The International Encyclopedia of Human Sexuality (1st ed.). Wiley.
  16. ^ "Lesbian Nation". The New Yorker. 2009-02-23. Retrieved 2023-02-05.
  17. ^ Eugene V. Gallagher, W. Michael Ashcraft (2006). Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America.
  18. ^ "What They Call "Womyn-Only" Space is Really Cisgender-Only Space". The TransAdvocate. May 21, 2012.
  19. ^ Vasquez, Tina (March 20, 2016). "It's Time to End the Long History of Feminism Failing Transgender Women". Bitch.
  20. ^ Merbruja, Luna (2015-05-12). "3 Common Feminist Phrases That (Unintentionally) Marginalize Trans Women". Everyday Feminism.
  21. ^ Maconie, Stuart. Pies and Prejudice: In search of the North. Edbuty, 2008. p. 132. ISBN 978-0-09-191023-5
  22. ^ Asia Key. "Woman, womyn, womxn: Students learn about intersectionality in womanhood". The Standard. Retrieved 2019-01-31.
  23. ^ "Womyn, wimmin, and other folx - The Boston Globe". BostonGlobe.com. Retrieved 2019-01-31.
  24. ^ EndPlay (2017-01-21). "Seattle women's march estimates 50,000 attendees after Trump inauguration". KIRO. Retrieved 2019-01-31.

Further reading