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I have often seen/heard these two terms in many articles and speeches about Feminism or women's rights issues. I couldn't find them in any online dictionary except for the Oxford Dictionary which describes it as

non-standard spelling of ‘women’ adopted by some feminists in order to avoid the word ending -men.

And Urban Dictionary, which has (second definition):

This is a term used by feminists who feel that having the word "man" in the word "woman" makes women a subset of men. So, to make themselves a non subset, they changed the letter 'e' to a 'y'.

Is it acceptable to use these alternate spellings in my writings and conversations with natives (educated/uneducated)? Does it sound strange, aggressive, or odd in the modern English language? Is it likely to prejudice the minds of my audience against me? Is it illegal to use it in writings and conversations? Which kinds of danger can threaten me?

That is, are these alternate spellings seen as uneducated? Are they used solely by strongly feminist groups who are looked down upon? Or are these spellings seen more positively?

Now, what is my motivation?

I thought it might prejudice my audiences regardless of their ideas about Feminists, or even an ordinary woman/womyn who likes to avoid sexism at least in her talks and writings. Furthermore, if I wanted to work with a group of people who hate Feminists or these kinds of considerations in language, it would help me to decide about changing my workplace or hiding my ideas!

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Is it valid what? –  Jon Hanna Feb 18 '13 at 23:23
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@user37324: "Is it valid?" - depends on your definition of "valid", not mine. Or maybe the definition of your intended audience - but since you don't want my advice, you'd hardly accept me as one of your intended audience, would you? Seriously, I don't see how your question can be other than a request for writing advice, nor do I see what you might want us to add to that oxforddictionary definition non-standard spelling of ‘women’ adopted by some feminists (here's a bit more probably unwanted advice: don't put too much faith in urbandictionary! :) –  FumbleFingers Feb 18 '13 at 23:39
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"Your question is about something else"; what, exactly? You know the derivation, and that this is not a word in normal dictionaries; nobody but your audience can say what they will feel. FWIW, I think Fumble was dead on the bullseye. –  TimLymington Feb 18 '13 at 23:40
    
@MετάEd while I did attempt an answer, I do have a problem with this question talking about "valid" as some sort of absolute and arbitrarily imposed binary (now there's somewhere where the English language analysis and the Feminist analysis would certainly align). I would be more inclined to vote to reopen if that was resolved. (And to delete or edit my answer, accordingly). –  Jon Hanna Feb 19 '13 at 0:36
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Please clearly state why you want to use these alternative spellings before telling us what the readers might see or think. Who are these natives of yours? Who is your audience? You can also consider asking this on writers.SE. –  coleopterist Feb 19 '13 at 17:11

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

If you use the spelling womyn your readers will assume you are drawing attention to the oppression of women. The spelling womyn has a definite connotation of social purpose: it is an example of consciousness raising (it “makes you think”). It challenges the prevailing belief that women are created to serve men. The challenge hinges upon a widely circulated story in the scriptural text Genesis. The story is that Eve was made from Adam’s rib to create for him a suitable servant, and that Adam named the new “species”, saying

This one shall be called ‘woman,’
for out of man this one has been taken.”¹

This false etymology has been taken for true for so long that it is not even questioned or thought about by most people.

(Etymologically speaking, the spelling womyn is equally false. If one wanted to raise consciousness consistent with etymology, one might begin calling men and women weres and wifs.)²

Your use of womyn is not likely to be perceived as uneducated: the spelling is used in books and academic writing.³ But you are likely to prejudice some of your audience against you. The spelling womyn is readily recognized by Christian fundamentalists as a challenge to the literal truth of Genesis, a challenge not only to their belief in the primacy of men but in scriptural inerrancy and by extension their entire religious system.

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I have to confess I got a very good answer! :) –  Persian Cat Feb 20 '13 at 0:31

Is it valid? Valid as what?

As standard English spelling, it certainly is not. But since the point of it is to deliberately not use standard English spelling, that is rather irrelevant.

As something that has any ties to etymological history in some way? No, but again that's beside the point—if you're fighting a whole complex of issues that are the legacy of a long history, why feel constrained by that history?

As an attempt to express an opinion and to adjust the opinions of others? Yes. Whether it's likely to succeed is another question again, but it's certainly valid.

Is it invalid since woman is not originally a variant of the word for male adult humans, but rather as wif-man a complement to wer-man?

No. Believe it or not, many of those Feminists who use such alternate spellings (which is certainly not all Feminsists - most just use woman/women, at least most of the time) have considered looking up woman and man at some point in the course of their thinking about how the words are considered. That doesn't stop them considering how the words are considered in the current age.

So in all, it's invalid in a bunch of ways that the people using either don't care about being valid by, don't accept the restrictions of, or actively rebel against. It's valid by other grounds such as what would be covered by many laws protecting freedom of speech and expression.

Whether it's productive or not is a question of Feminist analysis, both political and tactical, rather than of the English language.

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Reminds me of "herstory" because of the mistaken impression that history derives from "his story." –  KitFox Feb 18 '13 at 23:53
    
@KitFox can you cite something to show that history was believed to actually derive from his + story? The earliest I know of was as one of the expansions of the group WITCH, so in light of the sort of humour that went into "Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell" and "Women Interested in Toppling Consumer Holidays", and the claim that the SDS were just a front organisation for WITCH and so on, reading it so straight seems hard to support without evidence. –  Jon Hanna Feb 19 '13 at 0:25
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@Jon I should've indicated that I didn't think it was a serious assertion. I don't have any sources for it, other than my personal recollection of events. –  KitFox Feb 19 '13 at 0:45
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Convince you of what? Again, just what do you mean by "valid"? I suppose I could argue "people who believe in absolute context-free concepts of validity would oppose much Feminist thought, including those that this trend came from, and therefore you should not use it", but even that's not actually answering just what you mean by it. –  Jon Hanna Feb 19 '13 at 12:13
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@JonHanna I think I once went to an Ovular on this topic! –  mgb Feb 20 '13 at 0:36

Is it acceptable to use these alternate spellings

It can be acceptable to some people as a normal substitute in a very narrow group of people, however, it is certainly not considered normal practice with the very large majority, including many who would call themselves feminists. For general writing the use of these alternatives marks the writer as taking a fairly radical view of various subjects including patriarchy, and the social oppression of women.

Does it sound strange, aggressive, or odd in the modern English language?

Yes, it sounds all of those things, except amongst a fairly small, nepotistic group.

Is it likely to prejudice the minds of my audience against me?

It will certainly brand you as holding fairly radical positions regarding patriarchy and the social oppression of women. It may very well be efficacious if that is your intent.

Is it illegal to use it in writings and conversations?

No of course not, not in liberal western democracies.

Which kinds of danger can threaten me?

The only danger is to your reputation; though then only if your goal is to seem mainstream.

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It is better to know I have used of this "special and interesting spelling" a lot and it caused prejudice in prejudice and uneducated or religious people but only friendly questioning in educated and secular people. It can be a good exam to choose my friends too but surely not in a work place except in a workplace managing with myself! ;)) –  Persian Cat Feb 20 '13 at 0:38
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+1 This is a direct answer to the question, but I would like to see added some substantiation of the statement that the spelling womyn is used only by a "small, nepotistic group" holding "radical positions regarding patriarchy and the social oppression of women". –  MετάEd Feb 20 '13 at 0:38

I have never seen this used in English at all. My feminist friends also have never used this in writing.

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