Yes, womynism. That’s not a misspelling, and it shouldn’t be confused with womanism, the movement started by Alice Walker focusing on the experiences of black women/women of colour.
Exactly what womynism is requires a bit of an explanation. Allow Villainesse to help.
What is womynism?
Womynism is a term that came about during the Second Wave of feminism in the 1960s and 70s, and was also strongly influenced by the female-positive Dianic Wicca movement.
One of its core focuses is the usage of the term womyn instead of woman and women. This is because the more common English spelling of those words is seen as labelling women as lesser than men because “woman” still has “man” in it. “Womyn” was adopted because it recognised those with XX chromosomes as wholly distinct from men, rather than a lesser form of men.
Michigan State University’s Womyn Creating Consciousness Collectively (W3) sums is up well:
It is important to point out that this alternative spelling of the word “woman” is not about men. It is about womyn. It is about reclaiming a term, that has been used as a reason to discriminate and oppress us for centuries, and making it our own. These alternative spellings of the word “woman” is about the redefinition of ourselves, as we are spiritually, socially, and physically, on our own terms and not in relation to men. Throughout our lives as womyn, we have different and unique experiences that differ from the experiences of men in our society. It is our way of telling the world that we DO exist separately from men in our society and that we should be acknowledged as such.
By taking the “men” and “man” out of the words “woman” and “women” we are symbolically saying that we do not need men to be “complete.” We, as womyn, are not a sub-category of men. We are not included in many of the history books, studies and statistics that are done in male dominated societies, thus they do not apply to us, for in these items we do not exist. In these societies men are the “norm” and women the “particular,” a mere sub-category of the “norm,” of men. The re-spelling of the word “woman” is a statement that we refused to be defined by men. We are womyn and only we have the right to define our relationships with ourselves, society, with other womyn and men. These re-spellings work as a symbolic act of looking at and defining ourselves as we really are, not how men and society view us, but through our own female views of ourselves, as self-defined womyn.
Where can I learn more about womynism?
Womynism is primarily discussed online and in academic settings, such as at universities. Part of the reason for this is because part of the idea of womynism is to create safe spaces for, by, and about womyn who were identified as female at birth, raised as girls, and then chose to live as womyn.
In universities, womynism is often discussed along with herstory, a term which describes the examination of the past, present and future of womyn (rather than history, which has a male pronoun).
So why isn’t the term more popular?
There are several reasons for this, but part of it has to do with the exclusionary nature of traditional womynism. Traditional womynism is a movement “by and for born-womyn,” meaning trans women, allies, and everyone else not born biologically female are unable to fully participate. This has spurred accusations of transphobia in the past, such as at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. The festival, held annually from 1976 to 2015 in the US state of Michigan, did not allow anyone who was not born biologically female to attend – drawing widespread protest from LGBTQ+ rights groups.
So what next?
There’s much debate as to whether the term womyn will ever catch on, particularly since it has already been around for about a half-century. But just because it’s not exactly a common term doesn’t mean we can’t discuss its significance, and the influence womynism has had – and continues to have – on more mainstream feminism.Support Villainesse