What’s with the * in Wom*n?

A lot of people are interested to know why we spell women as wom*n/womyn. There are a few reasons, listed here in no particular order:

  1. This is the name of the department in the UMSU constitution so in any case it is the name we must use.
  2. The founders and past members of the department have used this name, so we use it out of respect to their hard work and our shared past.
  3. It’s impossible to use an asterisk (*) in a web address, hence we use the spelling ‘womyn’ in our site address (umsuwomyns.com).
  4. The reason for using alternative spellings in the first place is explained below with a tad bit of a history lesson on the development of the idea/ words (the history info is shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia!):
    The words woman and women are derived from the words man and men. This first examples of this appeared in early biblical and religious language structures.Taking the second vowel and replacing it with an alternative spelling is a way to symbolically remove the concept of wom*n from a patriarchal context.

    Alternative spelling is often used in autonomous organising to symbolise wom*n striving to live without the oppression of patriarchy and their strength without what society sees as the essential male. Basically it is asserting wom*n being wom*n in their own right and on their own terms.

    Variations can be wom*n, wimmin, womyn, basically anything which when read aloud can be pronounced like women/women.  Those who chose to alter the spelling of women/woman do not necessarily only use one spelling, as different spellings in different contexts may be appropriate and our identity is not necessarily fixed.


Wom*n” is one of a number of alternative spellings of the word “women” used by some feminist writers.[1] There are many alternative spellings, including “wimmin“, “womban“, “wom!n“, etc. Writers who use alternative spellings see them as an expression of female independence and a repudiation of traditions that define females by reference to a male norm.[2]


Main article: Woman

In Old English sources, the word “man” was gender-neutral, with a meaning similar to the modern English usage of “one” as an indefinite pronoun. The words wer and wyf were used to specify a man or woman where necessary, respectively. Combining them into wer-man or wyf-man expressed the concept of “any man” or “any woman.” Over time, against the background of a patriarchal social and legal system, wer-man was simplified to man while wyf-man developed into woman.[3][4] Feminist writers have suggested that the less prejudicial usage of the Old English sources reflects more egalitarian notions of gender at the time.[2]



“Womyn” appeared as a regular spelling of “woman” in the Scots poetry of James Hogg. Its usage as a feminist spelling of “women” (with “womon” as the singular form) first appeared in print in 1975 referring to the first Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival,[5] an annual art festival that admits only womyn-born womyn.[6][7]


“Wimmin” appeared in 19th century renderings of African American English, without any feminist significance. Z. Budapest promoted the use of “wimmin” (singular “womon”) in the 1970s as part of her Dianic Wicca movement, which claims that present-day patriarchy represents a fall from a matriarchal golden age.[8]

See also


  1. ^ D. Hatton. “Womyn and the ‘L’: A Study of the Relationship between Communication Apprehension, Gender, and Bulletin Boards” (abstract), Education Resources Information Center, 1995.
  2. ^ a b Neeru Tandon (2008) Feminism: A Paradigm Shift
  3. ^ Spender, Dale. Man-Made Language.
  4. ^ Miller, Casey, and Kate Swift. The Handbook of Non-Sexist Language.
  5. ^ “Womyn.” Oxford English Dictionary.
  6. ^ http://eminism.org/michigan/20060822-mwmf.txt
  7. ^ Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture Issue 17, Summer 2002
  8. ^ Eugene V. Gallagher, W. Michael Ashcraft (2006) Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America

Further reading

Look up womyn in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
  • Sol Steinmetz. “Womyn: The Evidence,” American Speech, Vol. 70, No. 4 (Winter, 1995), pp. 429–437

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s