Womyn

By Talia Bat Pessi

A button from the March for Women's Lives in 2004.

As a rule, I like to be controversial and cause a stir, especially when it involves feminism. After all, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich had it right when she said that well-behaved women seldom make history. About a year ago, I even went through a phase when I referred to God as ‘She’ instead of ‘He’ at my Jewish day school. (At this point, I believe that God has no gender, and avoid using pronouns when referring to God.) Despite this, I never got into the whole ‘womyn’ thing.

In the 1970s, a number of feminists felt that because the word ‘woman’ contains the word ‘man’, it defines femininity as a diminutive of masculinity. As a result, they began to spell ‘woman’ and ‘women’ differently, the most popular variant spellings being ‘womyn,’ ‘wimmin’, and ‘womon.’

Though I love this concept in theory, in practice, I’m just not buying it. In Old English, the word ‘man’ was gender-neutral, like ‘person’ today. A woman was a ‘wifman’, a female person, and a man was a ‘werman’, a male person. Throughout time, ‘werman’ was shortened to ‘man’ and ‘wifman’ was changed to ‘woman’. So in reality, the word ‘woman’ is not in any way a diminutive of the word ‘man’; they both mean ‘person’, just specifying the gender. So I’ll be using ‘woman’ for the foreseeable future.

‘Human’, however, is problematic for a feminist. It comes from Latin for ‘Homo sapiens’, which means ‘wise man’. No, not wise person – wise MAN. So essentially, when you say “I’m a human,” you’re saying “I’m a dude.” I think I’ll be spelling it ‘humyn’ from now on. (Look for an update on how freaked out my teachers are when I write it on tests!)

When I first discovered Women of the Wall, an organization of women that are working for the right to pray at Kotel HaMa’aravi (the Western Wall in Jerusalem), I noticed that they call themselves Nashot HaKotel rather than Nashim HaKotel, which is the masculine, and “correct,” pluralization of the word ‘woman’. “It is a pro-female assertion that seeks to remove the linguistic dependency of the word woman or women on the word man or men,” the WOW website says.


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