For International Womxn’s Month, my old university’s student union is attempting to challenge patriarchy and misogyny through a series of films and discussions.
Their spelling of womxn is not a typo; it is used throughout their programme for the week. This caught my attention, because the university itself is a global authority on world and endangered languages.
The linguists and etymologists of their language departments would surely be cringing at this point, head in hands, pointing out that “man” most like derived from the Indic/Sanscrit root “manu”, relating to humankind as a whole.
Thinking “man” to mean male is a relatively late development. Prior to modernity, “man” was gender neutral, meaning “person”, as in its continued usage in place of “humankind” in literary prose. In olden times, we had the gender-specific terms weremen (male human) and wifmen (female human).
“Man” meaning a male human is merely the formalisation of a once lazy contraction of an older word, as seen is the perpetual evolution and disintegration of language. The same could be said of “wife”. We male humans were “weremen”, like “werewolves”. “Woman” does not indicate a lesser male human; it merely means a female human.
It is surely is ironic that the words we use to describe gender have seemingly become more patriarchal in recent times. Ironic still that activists directing their efforts to challenging misogyny have become fixated with a suffix erroneously stripped of its inclusive connotations.
We are not mxn and womxn, but male and female humans.