Thinking about language and its (en)gendering
By Emma Sacco
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 8 of VARSITY News.
The way we use language is important when it comes to creating an inclusive and accepting society. Certain language terms have been criticised for their lack of diversity and negative connotations, with the word “women” currently holding the spotlight as it is continuously adapted in attempts to promote inclusivity and move away from sexist ideologies. The word “women” or “woman” derives from the Old English terms “wiman”, “wimman” and “wifmann”, which translates to “female servant” or simply “female person”. Many view the origins of “women” to be patriarchal, and in order to move away from the suffix of “- man” and protest the patriarchal system, feminists developed the alternative word “womyn” in the late 1900s.
It was during the 2010s that “womyn” further developed into the well-known and widely used term “womxn”. “Womxn” was created by the intersectional feminist movement with the purpose of making the term more inclusive of transgender women and women of colour. Language plays an important part in shaping our society and relates to one’s social identity; by developing language terms that are more accepting and inclusive we show solidarity with people who have been marginalised and oppressed in the past.
However, this relatively new term has received criticism from members of the transgender community, with many refusing to use “womxn” at all. While “womxn” was created with intersectionality and inclusivity in mind, the word proves to have the opposite effect: by creating this new term for “women” there is the suggestion that transgender women are not regarded as the “same kind” of woman that cisgender white females are in our society. By using “womxn” we imply that transgender women are not “real women” and end up ostracizing the transgender community instead of supporting it.
While the word “women” is outdated in its patriarchal connotations and etymology, the term “womxn” does not provide the inclusivity and modernity that our society needs. We need to develop a term that includes all women of our society in a way that does not ostracize a certain community, and that moves away from the suffix “-man/men” as well as display the strength, solidarity and unity of all women.
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