womyn

[ woom-uhn ]
/ ˈwʊm ən /

noun, plural wim·yn, wom·yn [wim-in]. /ˈwɪm ɪn/.

a woman (used chiefly in feminist writing as an alternative spelling to avoid the suggestion of sexism perceived in the sequencesm-a-n and m-e-n).

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Origin of womyn

First recorded in 1975–80
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

ABOUT THIS WORD

What does womyn mean?

Womyn is an alternative way of spelling women, used by some feminists to avoid the perceived sexism in the suffix -men.

Where did the term womyn come from?

To some feminists, the word women (and woman) improperly defines womanhood in the context of men because of its m-e-n spelling. So, they’ve adopted alternative spellings such as wimmin or womyn to reject assumptions of male power in language.

Womyn is recorded as early as 1975 during second-wave feminism. One notable early instance was the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which was held annually starting in 1976 until 2015. This was a feminist music festival only open to “womyn-born womyn” (i.e., cisgender women). It was much criticized for its exclusion of transgender individuals, which has led to another alternative spelling of women, womxn, meant to include trans and nonbinary women in intersectional feminism.

The term is also featured in Womyn’s land, a radical feminist movement of lesbian separatists who have formed a number of communities, such as Camp Sister Spirit, that exclude men. They’ve also been criticized for excluding transgender women and non-homosexual women.

Womyn gained some more mainstream attention during the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. and other cities around the world starting in January 2017 to protest the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump. The marches, among other causes, fight for women’s rights.

How to use the term womyn

Users of the term womyn are typically feminists pushing back against patriarchal structures in society, including in language.

It’s rendered as a way to emphasize that women have their own identity and authority independent of men.

Given the trans-exclusionary history of some self-identified womyn (sometimes called TERFs, or trans-exclusionary radical feminists), the term has come under some criticism, with intersectional feminists opting for the alternative womxn to be more inclusive.

More examples of womyn:

“The Exist slate will also re-examine the current UMSU board of directors’ structure and create additional roles for marginalized communities beyond the current four positions of Indigenous, international, LGBTTQ* and womyn’s community representatives.”
—Malak Abas, The Manitoban, February 2019

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.