The Wellcome Collection museum in London has been forced to apologize after its efforts to be ‘inclusive’ by using the word ‘womxn’ instead of ‘women’ backfired and caused outrage on social media.
In promotional material for a four-day program aiming to “challenge archives, change narratives and amplify new voices,”the museum said it wanted to begin a conversation about “how womxn can challenge existing archives.”
The choice of word was intended to be inclusive – but for who? According to a tiny fraction of society, it appears that the word “women” is seen as exclusively referring to white, straight and cisgender women. In other words it is (apparently) racist and transphobic.
The word ‘womxn’ seems to be a spin-off from the word ‘womyn,’ which was adopted by some feminists during the 1970s women’s movement. Unfortunately for the Wellcome Collection, however, today’s women (and men – or is it mxn?) were not too pleased with the new iteration of the word – and they let the museum know about it on Twitter.
One user noted that, in its effort to be inclusive, the museum had strangely divided the world into “men and other things,”while another suggested that using an ‘x’ looks like an effort to make woman and women interchangeable, as though some women now “identified as plurals.”
Responding to the criticism, the museum tweeted to explain that “womxn” creates a space for “diverse perspectives” – but soon realized that wasn’t going to cut it. The Wellcome Collection later released a statement apologizing for having used the word.
“We should have put more thought into whether this was the right term to use when communicating about the event. We made a mistake, and we should not have used it. We’re sorry that we made the wrong call,” it said.
Women’s organization Her Stories, which is sponsored by fashion brand H&M, also came under fire this week for using the word ‘womxn’ repeatedly in a promotional email about an art exhibition to support refugee and migrant women in London.
Twitter users lashed out at H&M, with one suggesting that what was truly racist was any suggestion that the word women does not include women of color.