By Jamie Tatum
Art by Naomi Valdez
Part 1: Introduction
Aristotle once said, “we should regard the female nature as afflicted with a natural
defectiveness.” Obviously, in the mid 300s B.C.E., gender equality between men and women
was unimaginable. When Aristotle said this, he meant that womanhood is to be viewed as a
“defect” or “faulty variation” from manhood. Despite Aristotle’s claim being over 2000 years
old, the idea of womanhood and its origin is still being debated.
By 2020, you have undoubtedly seen the word “womxn” show up on your social media
somewhere. Despite the good intentions behind using this word, I am writing this to say why I think we should not use this word. Many may think that the use of spelling variations is a new trend, but untraditional spellings of “woman” began in the 1970’s, with spellings such as
“wimmin,” “womin,” and “womyn,” along with others. To begin, what is the purpose of changing the way we spell “woman”?
The want for a more “progressive” way of spelling “woman” comes from the obvious
root of the word – “man.” Due to the patriarchal nature of our society, manhood has always
been the default, as can be seen from the aforementioned Aristotle quote. To not be a man is to not be enough by society’s standards. To remove the idea of the “man” from womanhood would make womanhood its own existence, not some variation from a masculine norm.
The movement to use “womxn” to avoid the word man still brings up issues of the
patriarchy. If we are to organize our language as a binary of “male” or “non-male,” then we
result in two problems. We perpetuate issues of excluding nonbinary and gender non-
conforming pronouns and language, and we center the idea of, not only our speech, but our
existence, around manhood.
To be a woman is not to be “not a man,” but womanhood is its own powerful thing. To
create language centered around manhood (or its absence) is to perpetuate the patriarchal
ideas that to be a man is to be the default. I refuse to exist as a “not-man.”
To take this issue even further, others have claimed that “womxn” includes cis and trans
women, “some” nonbinary people, women of color, and women with disabilities. This still
implies that the word “woman” is not enough to describe a woman unless she is white,
cisgender, and able bodied, which is utterly false.
This intent of progressiveness made sense to me, yet it still seems to fall short of
achieving something groundbreaking. Many organizations who use the word “womxn” claim that it is more progressive and inclusive. These people claim that spelling “woman” as “womxn” is inclusive to transgender women. I have a major issue with this. As a cisgender woman, if the word “woman” describes me, and I am as much of a woman as a trans woman is, why must we create a different word for her? Trans women are not some “other” or “lesser” category of women. Creating a word to encompass cis and trans womanhood implies our woman-ness is not already equal. While trans women undoubtedly experience more discrimination than cis women, why should we have to create a new category of womanhood in order to accept trans women as women? In addition, the historical use of “womxn” as I mentioned earlier on in this article was originally used by those who wanted to exclude trans women from lesbian pride parades. Is the word “woman” not already enough to include all women?
Part 4: Conclusion
The argument I have presented here creates a paradox. Yes, the word “woman” is
lacking because it describes womanhood as a deviation from manhood, rather than its own
existence. However, the current terms we have created to replace “woman” are in many cases based in transphobia or failed attempts to include non-cisgender women. To be frank, I don’t know the solution to this problem, and I don’t think womankind as a whole will ever find an agreement as to what should be done. Should we embrace and reclaim the word “woman” as it is, and make it our own? Is there a new “proper” word that fully encompasses womanhood that hasn’t been created yet?