Note: This resource on inclusive language is an article to explain why we choose to use certain inclusive terms, and what those terms mean, for those who may not understand or be familiar with these terms. Our goal is to be as inclusive and intersectional as possible, however, as any single source, we are by no means definitive or able to speak on behalf of any community as a whole.
We recognize that the history of feminism has included racism, transphobia and gender binary views. We want our feminism to be as inclusive and intersectional as possible. To that end, we try to use language that is as inclusive as possible. Here are some terms we use, along with a definition of each as we understand it best, in the context of how we are using it.
- Intersectionality: The theory of how different types of discrimination interact (coined by Dr. Kimberlé Crenshwaw, more on this concept here.)
- Feminism: We adapt our definition of feminism from that of feminist theorist bell hooks: “feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression” [from Feminism is for Everybody] and “to want for all people, female and male [and all genders], liberation from sexist role patterns, domination and oppression.” [from Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism]
- Feminist: A person committed to the movement of feminism (see above).
- Intersectional feminism: Feminism (see above) which recognizes the overlapping identities across spectrums of class, race, ability, sexuality, gender, and economic status; which recognizes that power structures and systemic oppression differ across these many experiences; and which prioritizes diversity and inclusion.
- Womxn: A definition of women that explicitly includes not only cis women, but also trans women and femme/feminine-identifying genderqueer and non-binary folks. The older term “womyn” was historically used to exclude “men” and has a history of transphobia (See TERFs); we use “womxn” to underscore inclusivity)
- Womyn: An alternate spelling of “women” originally created to not include the word “men/man” — see above for historical TERF connotations that have caused some, like us, to prefer “womxn” as a more inclusive alternative.
- TERFs: “Trans-exclusionary radical feminists” — a movement with which we do NOT align.
- Cis / Cisgender: A term to describe a person who identifies as the sex they were assigned at birth, or whose assigned gender is consistent with their sense of self.
- Enby: A nonbinary person. Derived from “nb” or an abbreviation of nonbinary.
- Nonbinary: An identification for folks outside of exclusively binary definitions of male or female.
- Genderqueer: A broader term to include all who identify or sometimes identify outside of a binary male/female gender. Sometimes used interchangeably with nonbinary, although not all who identify as genderqueer would identify as nonbinary. Can also include folks on the trans spectrum.
- Femme: This term is sometimes used by folks of any genders who identify on the feminine end of the gender spectrum. Some spaces are defined to include “womxn and femmes” meaning all genders who identify on the femme end of the spectrum. Can exclude some nonbinary folks or masculine-identifying folks.
- Feminine: A subjective term that typically is used to encompass attributes traditionally thought of as female. Any or all genders could identify with feminine attributes. Sometimes used to describe a “side” of ones personality or attributes. Like most of the terms on this list, this can be defined differently depending on who is using it. Sometimes used by theorists to communicate attributes that are traditionally ascribed to women or girls, whether or not the theorist is positing it as an accepted construct.
Above is a very brief overview of terms that have come up as folks ask us questions about our work and language we use. It is by no means comprehensive, and we strive to update our own language as we learn and grow.
There are many great resources on inclusive language that can go into more depth about these and many other terms. We’ve listed a few below.
Additional resources for inclusive language:
- Woman, womyn, womxn: Students learn about intersectionality in womanhood
- Kimberlé Crenshaw: The Urgency of Intersectionality
- Sister’s “Proposals for the Feminine Economy”
We welcome your thoughts and feedback on inclusive language mentioned here, or your suggestions on terms we should add — please comment below or contact us with any questions, challenges or information.
Hi! Could you include Femme and Womyn? I am also confused in some instances of using female and feminine! Thank you 🙂