Womyn

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The word womyn is one of several alternative spellings of the English word women used by some feminists.[1] There are other spellings, including womban or womon (singular), and 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]

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

Old English[edit]

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 neuter. 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).[3] The words wer and wyf were used, when necessary, to specify a man or woman, respectively. Combining them into wer-man or wyf-man expressed the concept of "any man" or "any woman".[4][5] 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[edit]

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.[6][7] 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.[8] 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."[9]

The word womyn appeared as an Older Scots spelling of woman[10] in the Scots poetry of James Hogg. The word wimmin appeared in 19th-century renderings of Black American English, without any feminist significance.

Current usage in the United States[edit]

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.[11] 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 policy.[12] Womyn's land was another usage of the term, associated with separatist feminism.

Z. Budapest promoted the use of 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.[13]

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.

The word "womyn" has been criticized by trans activists[12][14] due to its usage in trans-exclusionary 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.[12][15]

Current usage in the United Kingdom[edit]

Millie Tant, a fictional character in the British satirical comic Viz, often used the term wimmin when discussing women's rights.[16]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  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. ^ 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".
  4. ^ Spender, Dale. Man-Made Language.
  5. ^ Miller, Casey, and Kate Swift. The Handbook of Non-Sexist Language.
  6. ^ Walpole (1974:193, 195)[incomplete short citation]
  7. ^ Rickford & Rickford (2000:23)[incomplete short citation]
  8. ^ "Eye Dialect by Vivian Cook". Homepage.ntlworld.com. Archived from the original on 2012-10-23. Retrieved 2012-06-13. 
  9. ^ Bolinger (1946:337)[incomplete short citation]
  10. ^ DOST: Woman Archived 2013-05-11 at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ "Womyn". Oxford English Dictionary.
  12. ^ a b c Molloy, Parker Marie (July 29, 2014). "Equality Michigan Petitions Michfest to End Exclusionary Policy". The Advocate. 
  13. ^ Eugene V. Gallagher, W. Michael Ashcraft (2006). Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America.
  14. ^ "What They Call "Womyn-Only" Space is Really Cisgender-Only Space". The TransAdvocate. May 21, 2012. 
  15. ^ Vasquez, Tina (March 20, 2016). "It's Time to End the Long History of Feminism Failing Transgender Women". Bitch. 
  16. ^ Maconie, Stuart. Pies and Prejudice: In search of the North. Edbuty, 2008. p. 132. ISBN 978-0-09-191023-5

Further reading[edit]

  • Sol Steinmetz. "Womyn: The Evidence," American Speech, Vol. 70, No. 4 (Winter, 1995), pp. 429–437