Debate Magazine

Woma/i/o/u/yn Power?

Posted on the 13 September 2011 by Starofdavida
Woma/i/o/u/yn Power?As a rule, I like to becontroversial and cause a stir, especially when it involves feminism. Afterall, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich had it right when she said well-behaved womenseldom make history. About a year ago, I even went through a phase when Icalled God She instead of He. (At this point, I realize that God has no gender,and avoid using pronouns when referring to the Holy One.) Despite this, I nevergot into the whole womyn thing.
In the 1970s, a number offeminists felt that because the word woman contains man, itdefines femininity as a diminutive of masculinity. As a result, they began tospell woman and women differently. (The most popular variantspellings are woman as womyn and women as wimmin, or woman as womon and womenas womyn.) In theory, I absolutely love this, and would totally begin using thealternate spellings, especially on tests and papers to freak my teachers out.
However, I’m just not buying it.In Old English, the word man was gender-neutral, like persontoday. 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 wordman; they both mean person, just specifying the gender. So I’ll be usingwoman for the foreseeable future.
The word person, whilesounding like it comes from a masculine root (per son), also has an innocuousorigin; it comes from the Latin word persona, meaning mask. SoI’m also not into spelling it persyn. (For the record, I’ve neveractually seen persyn - I’m just nipping the issue in the bud.)
Human, however, isproblematic for a feminist. It comes from Latin for Homo sapiens, whichmeans wise man. No, not wise person - wise MAN. Soessentially, when you say “I’m a human,” you’re saying “I’m a dude.” I thinkI’ll be spelling it humyn from now. (Look for an update on how freakedout my teachers are when I write it on tests!)
When I first discovered Women of the Wall, an organization of women that want to be able to pray at the KotelHaMa’aravi (Western Wall), I saw that they call themselves NashotHaKotel in Hebrew. It never occurred to me that the correct plural for womenin Hebrew is nashim, not nashot. Usually, -im is themasculine plural of a masculine word, and -ot is the feminine plural ofa feminine word. Nashim, which is a plural of a feminine word (the onefor woman) is an exception to the rule. (There are many.) “It is a pro-femaleassertion that seeks to remove the linguistic dependency of the word woman orwomen on the word man or men,” the WOW website says.
I totally understand that motivation, and I completely stand by it. I’ve started to use the word nashotin my own personal notes in Judaic classes, and I plan on continuing to dothat. (Just not in Hebrew language classes. The teacher would probably thinkI’m an absolute idiot for pluralizing a word as simple as woman wrong,and take off points.)
So, fellow women, people, humyns, and nashot - let's band together and fight for feminism!

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