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A woman by any other name

What ever happened to...
Womyn with a "y"?

BY Alison Lee

There was a time when spelling marked whether you stood with the feminist revolution or The Man. The first uppity ladies to replace the e in women with a y were editors of the Michigan-based magazine Lesbian Connection, back in 1976. The spelling caught on in some feminist circles as a way to avoid using man to refer to all humans, and to draw attention to the ways that language reinforces gender bias, at a time when women were actively challenging their exclusion in all areas of society and culture.

Campus politics played a key role in propagating the spelling, and female students in the 1970s and 1980s typically organized womyns centres rather than womens centres. The alternate spelling was common enough by the early 1990s to have made it into several dictionaries, but earned its share of ridicule, becoming an early target in the backlash against political correctness.

Today, the student feminist group at York University in Toronto is called the Centre for Women and Trans People, a change that both accepts the widely recognized spelling and acknowledges diversity within genderand a move away from secondwave feminist thinking.

While alternate spellings are still in use (wimmin, womben and wemoon are other, less-recognized ones), language is no longer seen as a key battleground in the struggle for equality. Creative spellings of grrrl aside, feminists today are generally more focused on bigger-picture issues such as racism, globalization and food safety than they are on vowels.


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