CommunityLet’s Talk: Women, Womxn…and Womyn?

Michelle Zohlman
writes on March 3, 2021

Did the title catch your attention? I imagine it did, whether it was out of interest, frustration, or appreciation. Maybe a combination of a few. Let’s talk about it. 

Let’s start with why we’re bringing this up. There’s a disagreement within the community on whether to use the term women or womxn. Previously the term womyn was used, it has since been retired, but it’s important to mention it to understand the iterations of women and the histories behind them (we’ll get to that soon).  

The reason we bring this up is because March is Women’s History Month! YAY! What a wonderful month to celebrate folx who identify as womxn/women. This month not only recognizes these individuals but brings forth essential conversations such as ‘which term should be used?’ Well, we’ve done the research, had conversations, and want to share with you what we’re learning. 

Starting with womyn, this alternate spelling began in the 1970s as a way to separate the suffix of “man” from wo-man. Folx wanted to show that “womyn are their own free and separate entities.” (1) It is said to be done in “protest of the biblical concept that women are simple subsets of men.” (2) The purpose was to establish an inclusive and progressive term to show that ‘womyn’ are independent and their own person. This term ended up being viewed as exclusionary and only for cis white women as the phrase “womyn-born-womyn” was used at a festival, thus excluding the trans community. Therefore, this term and spelling aren’t common anymore. 

Moving on to womxn. It’s pronounced the same as ‘woman,’ yet it is the spelling that holds meaning to people. The reasoning behind womxn is folx wanted to  “broaden the scope of womanhood by including ‘womxn-of-color,’ ‘trans-womxn’ and other ‘womxn-identified’ groups.” (1)  Additionally, it wanted to take the original concept for ‘womyn’ where it includes intersectional feminism, to avoid the spelling of ‘man’ or ‘men’ in the name. To some people, this is viewed as a way to include everyone that identifies as a womxn, non-binary, gender fluid, and so on. It is meant not to put anyone into boxes and not to only represent one aspect of an identity. 

But there are people who disagree and prefer using the original term women. Individuals from the transgender community have discussed whether this includes them. Some feel it does as they always saw themselves as women and don’t want the ‘x’ to other them. There have been trans women who have expressed that they fought so long to be seen as a woman that the ‘x’ takes this away. On the other hand, some people feel that this excludes them and the fluidity and intersectionality of being a woman, feminist and focuses solely on cis-women. 

So, where does this leave us? It reinforces to us how personal language is. It emphasizes how we have to listen to all voices, do the work, and research to determine how our employees and Treehouse community want to be seen. For us, it comes down to this: “before applying labels, always ask the community to whom you’re applying them first. And if you don’t know or follow anyone in that community, start to think about why that is and why you thought you were qualified to speak for them in the first place.” (3). That is really important to us at Treehouse. 

I know; this sounds a little cliche. But it’s true! We really have these conversations regularly at Treehouse because we are invested in this work, and will always be transparent about what we’re learning and what we know. Our language and actions are ever-changing and evolving to be more inclusive. 

We’re going to continue to listen to each person on how they would like to be acknowledged. We look forward to learning and challenging one another as we figure out the best solutions that denote gender fluidity and inclusivity. Gender identity is personal, and we want to advocate for folx, especially in the tech industry, where access and acceptance are limited. 

Here are some resources to read through if you want to learn more:

(1) Woman, womyn, womxn: Students learn about intersectionality in womanhood

(2) Today I Learnt: Womxn And Womyn Mean Two Different Things

(3) Why ‘Womxn’ Isn’t Exactly the Inclusive Term You Think It Is

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