Missouri State’s Multicultural Resources Center held a lunch last week where students discussed the best alternative spellings to the word “woman,” shunning the traditional way of writing the word because it implies females are derivative of males.

Among the options considered: “Womyn,” “womxn,” “wimmin,” “womban” and “femme,” the Missouri State Standard reported.

“The different spellings makes you ask, ‘What does that mean about inclusivity?’” explained the Multicultural Programs’ executive director, Yvania Garcia-Pusateri. “ ‘What does that mean in a historical context?’ ‘If you use ‘womyn,’ what does that mean?’ ‘If you use ‘womxn,’ what does that mean?’”

Students discussed how some of these supposedly more inclusive spellings have fraught histories, the Standard noted.

For instance, the term “womyn” originated in 1976 at a Michigan music festival. But that same festival included only “womyn-born-womyn” attendants—a stipulation that excludes transgender people.

Consequently, a handout given to the discussion particpants explained, the spelling “womyn” can be “considered a white, liberal-feminist concept, and thus, the term ‘womxn’ was created to broaden the scope of womanhood by including ‘womxn-of-color,’ ‘trans-womxn’ and other ‘womxn-identified groups,” the Standard summarized.

As Missouri State participants weighed the alternate spellings, they were also asked to specify their preferred pronoun, because “being a woman is very fluid,” said Garcia-Pusateri.

The event also touched on gender-based microaggressions. Garcia-Pusateri emphasized that it could be considered offensive when students assume each other’s identities, pronouns of preferred spellings of the word “woman.”

“You can say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that; that’s not my intention,’ but owning that impact of what you did is the first step,” she said. “We don’t mean to be negative, but then we don’t take ownership of what the impact was. [Missouri State students should be] taking the extra step to really understand other people, understand different traditions and understanding the power of language and spelling.”

— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.