I have been spending a lot of time on social media, definitely more than I did pre-COVID. Recently, I reposted a feminist article that referred to women as “womxn.” An Instagram friend of mine reached out and asked why the term “womxn” even exists. For some reason, I thought it was common knowledge. I explained the term briefly to my friend, but this question piqued my interest. Despite knowing what the term means and having a general idea of the origins, I had never researched it. This article is going to take you through what I learned about the word “womxn.” As of 2019, the word “womxn” was added to Dictionary.com, and it refers to a woman. It is especially used in intersectional feminism to include trans, intersex, and nonbinary women.
Men as the default
Many of us may have started using the term due to social media, without fully understanding its origins. Originally, I believed womxn was meant to include trans and cisgender women under one umbrella. However, the origins go even deeper. If you look at the root of the word women, the logical root is “men”. This makes men the default, not only in this term but in many other categories. Some examples include waiter versus waitress, and actor versus actress. The default for many terms tends to be the masculine version.
This does not just apply to English either, if you look at other languages such as French, Hindi, etc. many of the default terms refer to the male version. But why? Even the word poet was originally referred solely to men, and womxn poets were referred to as poetess. The term poetess gives a very different image compared to the word poet, which is probably why it dropped out of use. Let’s take it back even one step further, to when the first alteration of the term women came to be.
Alternatives to the term “women”
In the 1900s, the first alternative was Wimmin. This was followed by the term womyn in the 1970s, then by the term womxn. The term womxn with an “x” seemed to be the most inclusive, ungendered way of referring to womxn. Many people believe this term is more inclusive, while others think it can lead to further stigma. Some womxn argue that the change of one letter will not influence ingrained gender biases. However, many argue that the letter “x” creates a more gender-neutral language, which is rising in importance. In a world moving away from the construct of gender, it is important to use language that keeps up with the movement.
The letter x is usually used very seldom in the English language, and depicts the indescribable. Another example of the use of “x” is in the title Mx. This is a gender neutral title first used in 1977, but has grown in use throughout the 2000s. Traditionally, men only use Mr. to refer to a man irrespective of marital status or age. Yet, for women there are many variations that depend on their marital status and age. Regardless of gender, people are commonly forced to identify with Mr./Mrs./Ms. which further enforces traditional genders.
Why it matters
The use of Mx. removes the need for gender identification. In contrast, the use of womxn allows a woman to exist outside of the context of a man. Both of these terms are very important in our current context and incorporate the use of the letter “x.” This is still a relatively new term, but it allows for a conversation around the language we use. In languages such as English where the default for many terms is male, the term “womxn” starts a vital dialogue.