Intersectional academic papers discussing "womxn" as a term
October 12, 2021 6:57 PM   Subscribe

I had never seen the term "womxn" until very recently, and now it's popping up in a lot of contexts. My understanding from social media is that while it's touted to be "inclusive", it's really transphobic. Looking for academic articles that discuss this, please!

I have come across many Instagram posts (eg) and new articles (eg about the Wellcome Collection's tweet missteps) that discuss how the term is problematic. However, my early incursions into academic literature have found lots of instances where it seems to be used as a placeholder for "women", without any discussion of a definition or how the term is being used.

Ideally, I'm looking for an academic (social science? gender studies?) discussion on the term with a focus on intersectionality. Ideally from trans scholars. Even better if it discusses in the context of women in STEM, but I would be grateful for at least direction of where to start.

Thank you!
posted by Paper rabies to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would suggest looking into the terms "womyn" and "wimmin" as well.

I had never seen "womxn" until your post, but remember "womyn" a lot from around 10 - 15 years ago.

From a quick google, I believe that "womyn" came about through wanting to find an alternative spelling that does not include the word "men". However the term then became strongly associated with transphobia due to the Michigan's Women's Folk Festival calling for attendees who were "womyn born womyn". So then maybe the term "womxn" was born to avoid association with this?
posted by kinddieserzeit at 8:32 AM on October 13

A quick search of relevant indexes did not turn up such an article. The term itself is pretty rare in academic literature, often appearing as part of an affiliation — “Author B is from the Womxns Collective…” — rather than in the text itself. The term seems closely related to Black and Indigenous groups, and some quick googling found groups with “we affirm all gender identities” in their descriptions, so, unless they are being seriously crypto-TERF, I don’t think the term is necessarily trans- or nonbinary-excluding and is more likely to identify a Black or Indigenous membership or leadership.

Keep in mind that this is non-expert speculation after light research.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:24 AM on October 13

Best answer: Google Scholar can be a good tool for this, though depending on your access, you may or may not be able to get to some of the content. Here's a search for just the word womxn in Google Scholar.

And through Google Scholar, I found a 2019 article, "WOMXN: An Evolution of Identity," from a grad student journal that places this word in the context of environmental studies and the author's own experiences.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:53 PM on October 13 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I was just going to suggest Google Scholar but bluedaisy beat me to it!

I found the following by searching "womxn" and then "womxn womyn." There are probably other terms you could search, but my thought was that including both "womxn" and "womyn" would return results focused on the distinction between these terms.

Another tip would be to look at the citations in these articles, especially the Peters 2017 citation in "BI+ IDENTITIES AND BELONGING" (third example below).

We Are Woke: A Collaborative Critical Autoethnography of Three “Womxn” of Color Graduate Students in Higher Education includes this footnote about their use of the term: "The authors use “womxn” as a symbol of resistance to move beyond a monolithic, white-dominant, cisgender, man-centered understanding of “womxnhood” and move toward a more inclusive and empowered meaning."

From this article, WOMXN: An Evolution of Identity:
"In pursuing this degree and research, I hoped to refine my skills as an educator and
facilitator and gain the knowledge and experience to create inclusive spaces for people
who identity as a womxn. This term stems from the orthographic “woman”, which is
rooted in the patriarchal power structure that still systematically excludes womxn.
“Womxn” is an intersectional concept that seeks to include transgender womxn, womxn
of color, womxn of Third World countries, and every personal identity of womxn. It an
antithesis to the daily micro-aggressions that subtly, but systematically work to
undermine the value of womxn and enforce their secondary social status. It is vital to
abolish these toxic paradigms and empower young womxn to be bold and brave..."


Additionally, the term “womxn” in describing the demographic being written about is
purposeful. Our Trans sisters and non-binary folx are prioritised in the consideration of this Major Research Paper (MRP), because they have a very long history of being left out of sexuality discourses (Barker et. al, 2012). It is critical to both document and honour their experiences, and to not repeat what much of the existing literature about 2SLGBT+ communities has done by perpetuating Trans and non-binary erasure (Browne & Bakshi, 2013).

Last, the terms “womxn” and “folx” in this paper are used as a way to resist gender binaries. Alternative spellings of the word “Women” can be traced back to 1700s literature to represent differences in dialect (Peters, 2017), however assigning the following meaning to them happened much later. “Womxn” is a term that is based on the word “womyn”, which has existed since around 1975. Initially, this replacement of the words “womyn/womin” was used by (typically white, cisgender) feminists in order to avoid referring to “man” and “men” (Peters, 2017). However, as our understandings of gender identities have grown, the term has shifted to “womxn” in order to move beyond traditional white and Trans-exclusionary feminism (Peters,
2017). Over time, the use of this word may become obsolete, but for now it is the most recent form of resistance to gender binaries, and the fight for the inclusion of complexity in studying gender. Similarly, “Folx” can be used as an umbrella term for people who do not identify with a normative, Western gender, or sexual orientation- with the replacement of “ks” with “x” suggesting solidarity with those who exist outside binary constructions of identity (Peters, 2017).
posted by a.steele at 2:56 PM on October 13 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Ah! Also check out pages 298-299 in this article: Operating within systems of oppression which includes a link to this website:
posted by a.steele at 3:09 PM on October 13

Response by poster: Aha! Thank you for digging up some specific papers - I swear I had looked on Google Scholar but hadn't come across those results!
posted by Paper rabies at 6:39 PM on October 13

This Google Ngram timeline might help you narrow your search parameters.
posted by delezzo at 11:46 PM on October 13

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