At last, a shout-out for womxn composers

At last, a shout-out for womxn composers


norman lebrecht

August 20, 2020

The Boulanger Initiative of Washington DC has just had a board enlargement, according to a press release sent to us.

The BI is ‘a non-profit advocacy organization for womxn composers’.

This is not a misprint.

According to Wikipedia, The term Womxn (/ˈwʊmɪnks/), used by some feminists, especially in the intersectional feminist movement, is one of several alternative spellings of the English word woman. It is used to avoid the spelling woman (which contains and derives from the word men), and to foreground transgender, nonbinary, and women of color.

The person who sent us their board statement signed off as ‘He/Him/His’.

So it goes.



  • Bruce says:

    What I see behind this “womxn” is the idea that society’s expectations for how a person presents themselves needn’t be based on their genitalia. Just as many women proudly change their last name when they get married, and still call themselves “Mrs.” (although introducing yourself as “Mrs. John Smith” seems to have gone out of style a bit), many others don’t, and nobody much cares either way.

    Someone can be married and call herself “Mrs.” or “Ms.,” and nobody cares. Maybe someday people can have the same non-reaction to the term “womxn.”

    8/20/20, 8:58 am

    • Bruce says:

      I tried to post this comment once and it was called spam, then copied (incompletely, apparently) and reposted. A first paragraph is missing, which said something like:

      This kind of re-spelling will either catch on, or it won’t. I can remember when the term “Ms.” was struggling to get a foothold. The idea was that a woman need not be defined by her marital status first and foremost. The scoffers wanted to know what else a woman could possibly find more important. Early adopters were scoffed at, but eventually it made its way into the culture. Now women can call themselves “Mrs,” “Ms,” or nothing at all, and nobody much cares.

    • William Safford says:

      I agree. This has evolved over the years (and decades).

      Vermont Governor Richard Snelling once said to me, on the topic of the Vermont ERA Amendment: “What would people say, if the U.S. Constitution said: ‘All women are created equal?'”

      Kudos to him–and he was a Republican!

      My grandmothers and great-aunts were born at a time when they were disenfranchised. They did not gain the right to vote, until enough men deigned to pass the 19th Amendment to give them the suffrage.

      It’s now the 100th anniversary of the 19th.

      Then people mock women for wanting to draw a distinction between themselves and the patriarchy?

      I’m not surprised.

    • Grittenhouse says:

      Biology is everything.

  • John Borstlap says:

    I advocate the deletion of the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ and ‘male’ and ‘female’ altogether, and replace them by one simple term against no single diverse minority could have any objection: ‘it’ and ‘person’. Of course this would damage the language, and we have the problem of existing wrong texts in the millions. The only solution is, to correct ALL texts and replace the offending terms with ‘it’ and ‘person’. This will take many years, but since the coronie leaves many people with idle hands, this should be a welcome exercise in moral progress.

    Also should be considered to remove words like ‘ethnicity’, ‘race’, ‘racism’, ‘black’, ‘gay’, ‘gender’ etc. etc. from the English language. When such terms disappear, they can never again be used to diminsh other people’s worth and self-esteem: everybody will be a human being, an ‘it’, a ‘person’. Words which have a combination of terms like ‘chairman’ can easily be corrected by ‘chairperson’ or chairit’, which is already practiced in more enlightened circles. Words like ‘manual’ can also easily be adapted to a more liberated use like ‘itual’.

    Some further proposals:

    manager = itager or personager
    mandate = persondate
    mandolin = itdolin
    manège = itnège
    manoeuvre = personoeuvre
    to mangle = to itgle
    manhunt = ithunt or personhunt
    manicure = iticure
    manifest = itifest
    manipulation = itipulation

    Etc. etc….

    And for the ladies:

    womanhood = personhood
    womanizer = personizer
    womankind = personkind
    women shelter = personshelter for persons threatened by persons from another it type

    Etc. etc…

    You see, it will be quite a job. But the reward is an entirely sanitized language which abusers can no longer use, so the abuse will no longer exist.

    • Bone says:

      How bout just simply “comrade?”

    • D** says:

      I love it! Perhaps we can also follow the lead of the Coneheads, and refer to Mom and Dad as parental units.

    • Anmarie says:

      A perfect job for Sally in her spare time!

    • Marfisa says:

      But you can’t use ‘person’ – the second syllable is male-specific. And you need another word for the impersonal ‘it’. Otherwise, brilliant!

    • clarrieu says:

      John, you forgot to update the repertory:
      Robert Schuit, Piano Concerto a minor op.54
      A.Copland, Fanfare For The Common It
      S.Rachitinov, Etudes-Tableaux op.39
      Puccini, Iton Lescaut
      Gershwin, “My It’s gone now”
      etc etc…

      • John Borstlap says:

        That’s true, I see there’s much more work to do. Shocking how many ‘men’ populate the repertoire. You see how much liberation from all of that is needed.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I’ll bet Victor Borge could have done it if he was still alive – and it would have been funny!!

      • John Borstlap says:

        This video is absolutely brilliant and hilarious. He was ahead of his time.

      • William Safford says:

        Yes, I’m sure that Victor Borge could have done something funny with this, as he did in this funny video.

        I also believe that it would have been playful, gentle, and done with kindness, just as with this video. He was wonderful.

        That is to say, it would have served as a contrast with what is said on this topic by many in society in general, and many commenters on this blog in particular.

    • Marfisa says:

      And finally: surely it must have occurred to feminists that they could cut off the ‘man’ part? ‘Wo’ (plural woes) instead of woman; and if they want to make sure it is transgender inclusive, ‘wox’ (plural woxes). Much simpler than ‘womxn’ (plural womxns?) – and pronouncable!

    • George says:

      I’m sure you’re joking, but here’s a good one from Orwell:

      ‘Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by eactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. . . . The process will still be continuing long after you and I are dead. Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller. Even now, of course, there’s no reason or excuse for commiting thought-crime. It’s merely a question of self-discipline, reality-control. But in the end there won’t be any need even for that. . . . Has it ever occcured to you, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?’

      • John Borstlap says:

        Orwell was at the back of my thoughts.

        The misunderstanding of all those well-meaning people who want to remove unjustified barriers, is that you just need to change the language and people’s thoughts and behavior will change. But obviously, it is the behavior where injustice has to be fought.

      • William Safford says:

        One of the positive aspects of this linguistic movement is the *enlargement* of vocabulary, to *expand* the range of thought.

        Kudos to you for pointing out to the naysayers, how Orwell decried the narrowing of vocabulary.

        • Marfisa says:

          Forgive me, but I thought the project was *to replace* woman/women, rightly or wrongly regarded as sexist and non-inclusive, with womxn (which I assume to have the same form for singular and plural, like sheep)? So the language is not being enlarged. Human beings are being sub-classified into ever smaller groups in the manner of medieval scholasticism, necessitating the invention of new words, and the abolition of old, to re-assemble the small groups into bigger groups according to current ideology. It all seems very academic – as shown by the proliferation of gender studies in universities.

          • William Safford says:

            It depends.

            Pronouns are being expanded to accommodate the reality of our life experience, to accommodate the expanding recognition of the diversity that has always existed but has often been suppressed or ostracized.

            Remember when the former President of Iran claimed that there is no such thing as a homosexual in Iran? QED.

            Does the pronoun “he” or “she” apply to someone who is born intersex, or who is trans, or who does not fit into society’s carefully-defined and often rigorously-enforced norms of behavior and gender expression?

            This is why we see the expansion of pronouns to incorporate “they” and invented pronouns: to address the current inadequacies of the English language to address people.

            Sometimes these innovations bug me a bit just from a linguistic POV. Then I think about the people behind them, and I let go of any petty annoyance of mine and look to the person behind it, who wants to be able to fit better into this world.

            In another comment, I mentioned the use of the pronoun “you,” and how indeterminate it is. The linguistic side of me is annoyed that “thou” does not exist in current usage in the English language. I dislike having to try to ascertain if “you” addresses one person, or more than one person. But that’s the way the language is, at least at this time in our history, so I suck it up and move on with my life.

            Recognize that “womxn” may not replace “woman,” but supplement it, or perhaps eventually supplant it. Time will tell.

          • Marfisa says:

            You are of course right: tempora mutantur et nos mutamur in illis. Language evolves, for good reasons, and neologisms are created all the time. It is a shame that womxn is so ugly, though! (OK, another subjective judgement …)

          • Marfisa says:

            Perhaps I should have completed the couplet: temporar mutantur et nos mutamur in illis./ quomodo? fit semper tempore peior homo. Musical connection? Haydn, Symphony 64 (I trust that all SD commenters are latinate.)

    • V. Lind says:

      And think of the alterations to literature and the arts — you can go to It of La Itcha, win the It Booker Prize, see It of the Dunes at the local cinema (there’s a word breathing a sigh of relief that it did not add an “n” to its ending)…drink at The Green It, while reading Itsfield Park or The It in the Iron Mask Or The It with a Dragon Tattoo or The It with the Golden Gun. See and exhibition of It Ray at the local gallery.

      Then go home and read the posts to Slipped Disc by Norit Lebrecht.

    • Grittenhouse says:

      So many arguments have already taken place over this, for so many decades and no one is the wiser for it.

    • Nick says:

      Fantastic! Let’s go for IT!

    • Herbie G says:

      Yes indeed John! And why stop there? Let’s get rid of black, white, yellow and brown too – highly divisive! ‘spectrumic’ should do fine instead of any of them. Let’s get rid of bright, clever, gifted, eloquent, dumb, thick, moronic and clueless. Use ‘societally diverse’. Another step towards a more peaceful world.

      • John Borstlap says:

        At the end of such trajectory, there is a very peaceful world, but without humans. Nature will then rejoyce and recover from humanity’s impact.

    • Marfisa says:

      I’m afraid that ‘human’ will have to go too; not because it, along with humane and humanity, contains the dreaded syllable, but because Latin humanus is derived from homo, man.

  • caranome says:

    Human evolution has been merrily going along fine for about 6 million years until an infinitesimal number of woke feminists in the West, esp. US, got crazy idea from universities in the past 40 years and said it’s all bad. I’ll guarantee you if we wipe out the English language and start all over again, and say ugudaga = male, bamboko = female, ugudagas will get toy trucks while bambokos will get dolls to play, and these womxn will still be pissed and clueless…

    • buxtehude says:

      Hey, caranome — or should I say carXnome, which is catchy isn’t it?

      Ugudaga mamboko, get down! I’m sure there are people out there ready to call your system phony as a nine-pound note but not me. (Incidentally nine-pound notes are Not phony, they’re real. I happen to have a stack of them right here, crisp & new and all the color and detail you could want, ugudaga. And no, Monticito Meghan is not on them, it’s Her Majesty the Queen and Her Majesty looks splendid!)

    • John Borstlap says:

      But what about the 6 million years of suppression of women???

      • Marfisa says:

        Nobody cares about the subjugation of men. How often did women force them unwillingly out into the jungle to face man-eating tigers and huge threatening bears, while they stayed happily at home singing lullabies to the babies, doing a little light cave-work, gathering the odd berry, and grooming each other’s hair?

    • Nick says:

      Super post caranome!

  • Marfisa says:

    SD is giving me a real education: I had never heard of the Boulanger Initiative or the term ‘womnx’ before, but now I am as well informed as google and wikipedia can make me. Thank you (I think). It is surely a good thing to support contemporary composers, and if adopting the language of radical feminism helps the Boulanger Institute to raise awareness and funds, all strength to them.

    • Marfisa says:

      Correction: womxn. As hard to spell as to pronounce. (And Initiative in last sentence.)

    • John Borstlap says:

      The irony is that Boulanger should not need linguistic abberation to be promoted.

    • V. Lind says:

      God give me strength.

      These people should NOT be encouraged.

    • Grittenhouse says:

      Lili Boulanger was a minor composer, her memory kept alive by her sister, who was a major teacher of composition, if one who abandoned French music in her teaching. I am sick of hearing about her. Germaine Tailleferre is far more significant.

      • Clarrieu says:

        Grotesque statement, especially considering Lili B died so young. Get yourself a pair of functioning ears.

  • William Safford says:

    “The person who sent us their board statement signed off as ‘He/Him/His’.”

    This is becoming mainstream, especially among those under about 40.

    The English language, as it currently exists, is not set up well for much of what we ask of it.

    To use what I assume is an uncontroversial example: if I write: “I agree with your opinion,” am I addressing one person, or more than one person? Anyone reading this may try to infer an answer based on context, but does not definitively know, unless I supply some additional information: maybe “I agree with you, Mr. Lebrecht,” or “I agree with all of you.”

    “He/Him/His,” “She/Her/Hers,” and other permutations thereof, serve to provide clarification, among other things.

  • Karl says:

    Is calling someone a woman now considered a microaggression?

  • Why constantly change the words that refer to women/womxn? Why not wom and women? Leave off the offending ending. Sportswom and sportswoman. When woms were woms and women were women. I rather like the idea of having a wom in my life.

  • Alexander Graham Cracker says:

    Isn’t it amazing how many people have read ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ and come away with the impression that Big Brother is the good guy? #Newspeak

    • John Borstlap says:

      A very apt comment.

    • William Safford says:

      We see this happening in China, and we see this happening with the Trump Administration. Then again, most Trump supporters probably haven’t read 1984, or even heard of it. They just like their Big Brother.

  • Grittenhouse says:

    Why did you propogate this dishonest feminist crapola? Itx not fxnny.

  • Nick says:

    ABSURD GALORE!!! People have NOTHING to do!!

  • MC says:

    For me this cannot be changed, we are men and women, of course…what’s going to change, later or early, what will vanish, are the unfair differences in society, in the unfair treatment of everybody is weak…women, color people…etc.

    • William Safford says:

      I agree with you concerning the unfair differences in society.

      That said, it’s actually more complicated than that.

      There are intersex people, born that way.

      There are trans people, whether pre-, during, or post-surgery.

      There are people with a wide variety of gender expressions.

      As I wrote in another comment, what we see is a broadening of the language, to accommodate the burgeoning recognition of the wide variety of the human experience.

      • John Borstlap says:

        The advantage of being an intersex person is that you can present yourself either as a man or a woman, depending on mood or whim. In this sense the condition is an enrichment of possibilities which would disappear if the linguistic distinctions were deleted.

  • V. Lind says:

    Does the person who sent the press release not have a name? What the hell is He/him/his supposed to convey?

    I am getting so sick of the CRAP these people keep coming up with.

    Get a load of the gender list from ABC News:

    Then go and pour yourself a very large drink.

  • Dragonetti says:

    Language evolves naturally bit by bit over the years. This sort of forced change benefits nobody and irritates a whole lot of ordinary people. Of course no one must be discriminated against on grounds of race, creed religion, sexual orientation or anything else. That goes without saying and there’s still work to be done, but this stuff is laughable and on the same level as the outbursts from university depts. recently.
    We all know who and what we are in the world. Accept it and get on with it. This po-faced nonsense is unnecessary in the extreme. Please God don’t ever let me get stuck in a lift with someone who spouts this rubbish!

  • MarcusS74 says:

    Ah, for the old days, when a man would look at a woman with an animal eye, and she would blush and coo fake protest, and thus would begin the shivers of sexual anticipation called “flirting”. And then the ticket inspector would come by and distract you a moment, only to leave again and have you pick up where you’d left off. And you’d end up having a blissful shag in the train bathroom, reassured of the life-affirming differences between men and women, just before the train pulled into Reading station, where you were supposed to get off, but you were too busy getting off, so you’d stay on, all the way to Bristol Temple Meads! Ah! The good old days…

  • Deal Hudson says:

    For many years, my great Aunt Lucile Morley of Austin, TX attended the classes taught by Nadia Boulanger, and they became good friends. Aunt Lucile who never married toured Europe between the wars singing Burleigh’s arrangements of ‘Negro spirituals.’ She was good — good enough to sing for the Queen Mother in Royal Albert Hall on the same program with John McCormack who is described in her letters as aloof and arrogant. Aunt Lucile who had ‘dated’ Bertrand Russell was quite beautiful and not used to being ignored by men :). Here’s the sad part: In my early twenties, she invited me to go with her to attend Boulanger’s class on the ‘Symphony of Psalms.’ I foolishly thought my graduate school classes at Princeton were more important.

  • DeepSouthSenior says:

    Society has descended into self-parody. I am no longer angry, just amused and bemused – on alternate days.

  • John Borstlap says:

    I hear from a reliable source that the Torino Mandolin Ensemble is again in trouble: first they had to change their ensemble, which was made-up entirely of women, into a 50/50 gender-mixed group – pressured by the Istituto di Sostegno alla Diversità – but then, the Gruppo di Lavoro per i Rifugiati convinced them that it was a good idea to open-up the ensemble to gay muslem refugees (which caused some instrumental friction and fisticuffs). And now, there are pressures from the international mandolin community to kick-out all males again and to change the group’s name. After the men left the ensemble, under protest (especially from the refugees), and also 5 women decided to no longer suffer from modern times, the remaining 3 female itdolin players will from September onwards be promoted as l’Ensemble di Personadolino di Torino. But I think it is an impoverishment, in spite of the moral highground.