Womyn is one of a number of alternative spellings of the word "women" used by some feminist writers. There are many alternative spellings, including "wimmin", "womban" and "wom!n". Writers who use the alternative spellings see them as an expression of female independence and a repudiation of traditions that define females by reference to a male norm.
In Old English sources the word "man" was gender-neutral, with a meaning similar to the modern English usage of "one" as an indefinite pronoun. The words wer and wyf were used to specify a man or woman where necessary. Combining them into wer-man or wyf-man expressed the concept of "any man" or "any woman." Over time, in the context of a patriarchal social and legal system, wer-man was simplified to man while wyf-man developed into woman. Feminists have suggested that the less prejudicial usage of the Old English sources reflects more egalitarian notions of gender at the time.
"Womyn" appeared as a regular spelling of "woman" in the Scots poetry of James Hogg. Its usage as a feminist spelling of "women" (with "womon" as the singular form) first appeared in print in 1975 referring to the first Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, a lesbian-friendly art festival that admits only cisgender women.
"Wimmin" appeared in 19th century renderings of African American English, without any feminist significance. Z. Budapest promoted the use of "wimmin" (singular "womon") in the 1970s as part of her Dianic Wicca movement, which claims that present-day patriarchy represents a fall from a matriarchal golden age.
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