Womxn – to the untrained eye it may look like a typo.
But when the Wellcome Collection sent a tweet promoting an event using the word it led to a Twitter backlash from hundreds of women, and an apology from the London museum.
What does womxn mean?
Like women, womxn refers to females, but it is an attempt to get away from patriarchal language.
Dr Carla Bradbury-Rance, fellow at King’s College London, said the spelling “stems from a longstanding objection to the word woman as it comes from man, and the linguistic routes of the word mean that it really does come from the word man”.
The word is also supposed to be inclusive of trans women, and some non-binary people.
But how is it pronounced? “I’ve heard womxn pronounced in lots of different ways. I’ve heard some pronounce it ‘wo-minx’,” Dr Bradbury-Rance says.
Why did the Wellcome Collection use womxn?
The museum was promoting a four-day event called Daylighting, which featured women’s writing, art and ideas. In a tweet, the museum said it was using the spelling womxn because “we feel that it is important to create a space/venue that includes diverse perspectives”.
But the term led hundreds of people, many women, to mock and criticise the Wellcome Collection.
Guardian journalist Hadley Freeman said the museum’s “new gender categories are ‘men’ and ‘other'”.
Suzie Leighton said she would not be referred to as a womxn until men became mxn.
One Twitter user said it was “demeaning and insulting to women”.
Vanessa Bailey called it “nxnsense” and Gillian Craigie referred to it as “a load of bxllxcks”.
Many mocked the spelling, one wrote: “Wxll you xnd your collxborxtors clxxrly hxvx too much timx on your hxnds. Gxt x grip!”
Was the term inclusive?
The Wellcome Collection said it used the word womxn “with the intention of being inclusive”.
One of the groups that the term was supposed to include was trans women. But campaign group Trans Media Watch said it would never use that term.
Chair Jennie Kermode said: “We would generally just write women in the usual way because we feel it’s important for people to recognise that trans women are women.
“Trans women aren’t a special, separate category.”
One Twitter user said: “I’m not a womxn though, I’m a woman, so I guess that excludes me.”
Dr Bradbury-Rance said: “As far as I can tell I think that the problem has been seen as being too simplistic in their suggestion that they’re being all-inclusive.
“To say just using this word makes them completely inclusive in all lots of different ways – trans women, non-binary people.
“They seem to have used womxn as a fix-all.”
A Wellcome Collection spokeswoman said: “We should have put more thought into whether this was the right term to use when communicating about the event.
“We made a mistake, and we should not have used it.
“We’re sorry that we made the wrong call.”
Ms Kermode added the Wellcome Collection had always done its best to be inclusive “across the spectrum”, but added the museum should have anticipated this response.