- On Monday, Twitch announced “Womxn’s History Month” on the platform and received waves of criticism.
- Some gamers, trans allies, and conservative critics all railed on Twitch.
- “Womxn” has a decades-long history of provoking controversy and conversation.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
On Monday, Twitch announced a “Womxn’s History Month” initiative to feature female streamers on the front page of the website. The announcement was surely meant to be an uncontroversial PR win, but the use of the word “womxn” rather than “women” became the sole focus of online conversation.
After just a few hours, the post was taken down and Twitch issued an apology.
The incident illustrates the tricky terrain of identity politics that companies like Twitch now navigate, where most are trying earnestly to be as inclusive as possible, but run the risk of becoming a focal point of the day’s discourse around quickly evolving topics.
‘Womxn’s History Month’ turned into a nightmare for Twitch
After Twitch’s tweeted about their initiative, social media lit up with criticism targeting the Amazon-owned live streaming company. In just a few hours, “womxn” had hit the top of Twitter trending and had been tweeted over 40,000 times. People from all different corners of the gaming and influencer space shared their opinion on the use of word.
Many people, including some trans women, felt the word was exclusionary and transphobic, claiming that it “implied that trans women were not women,” according to the BBC. Critics believed that using an alternate spelling of the word “women” implies that trans women couldn’t be in the same category as “women” and needed a separate descriptor.
—Ada Worcester (@pikhq) March 1, 2021
—lucian (@DARKNIGHTHER0) March 1, 2021
—? FINK ? (@Finkriel) March 2, 2021
Some Twitch streamers, who make their living on the platform, were also vocal about the use of the word.
—Cohh Carnage (@CohhCarnage) March 1, 2021
—Kawa (@KaraCorvus) March 1, 2021
Alongside those that felt the word shouldn’t be used because they felt it wasn’t inclusive, were the crowd that typically campaigns against political correctness.
With numerous camps coming at them, Twitch quickly folded.
In just a few short hours, the original tweet was deleted and the announcement blog post was rewritten to use the word “women” instead. They also issued an apology on Twitter where they wrote “our good intentions don’t always equate to positive impact, but we’re committed to growing from these experiences, doing better, and ensuring we’re inclusive to all.”
—Twitch (@Twitch) March 2, 2021
The term ‘Womxn’ has a decades-long history
“Womxn” as a label evolved out of “womyn,” which first gained popularity in the 1970s at the crux of the second-wave feminist movement. Originally, “womxn” was designed as a counter to what some feminists viewed as exclusionary terminology. It was “meant to include trans and nonbinary women in intersectional feminism,” according to Dictionary.com, which added the word in 2019.
“It’s a word that lets you pick the pronoun to be identified by, like letting 1,000 flowers bloom and letting people pick the gender quality of pronouns and of identification,” Temma Kaplan, a retired professor of women’s studies and history who previously taught at Rutgers University, told Insider. “It’s moving gender out by substituting for an ‘x.’ The ‘x’ is sort of an inclusive thing.”
Over the past decade, use of the term has grown in popularity, which has also attracted skepticism.
Some groups still proudly use and celebrate the term.
Seattle, Portland, and Denver have their own annual “Womxn’s March.” When TedXLondon used “womxn” in a tweet announcement, they defended the use of the term that it is “more inclusive and progressive.”
—TEDxLondon (@tedxlondon) September 5, 2020
Others have distanced themselves from the word, claiming that it is exclusionary to trans and nonbinary people.
“It can be seen as transphobic because it isn’t including people within the categories they want, not letting them refer to themselves as whatever they identify with,” Kaplan said. “People should pick what they want to claim and shouldn’t be assigned to a category.”
In 2018, the London museum Wellcome Collection tweeted out the word and received a wave of internet backlash, prompting them to delete the tweet and remove the word from their website.
Those involved in the Twitch incident were surprised and upset
For those who were involved in the Twitch incident, the slip-up came as a surprise, partly because they say using the “womxn” spelling seemingly wasn’t part of the original plan.
Ami, a 9,000 follower Twitch streamer featured in an introduction video for the initiative, told Insider she first received an email inviting her to take part one month ago that, according to her, did not include the term “womxn.” All she thought was that she was going to be a part of a “unity video” for the platform.
“A majority of my community identifies very strongly in the LGBTQIA+ community so to know that this message hurt and marginalized so many is upsetting,” Ami said. “There have been several scathing messages from people that I think aren’t really looking past the initial words of the post itself and seeing the creators behind it.”
Giana Kaplan, who goes by Bloody on Twitch, also received an email invitation to be a part of the initiative about a month ago. The 24-year-old with nearly 30,000 subscribers says that she was initially “confused about the spelling of ‘womxn” but was told by Twitch staff that “in addition to women, they wanted to celebrate nonbinary folks who don’t particularly identify under a gender binary.”
The visceral community response was “unexpected,” according to Kaplan, who says the ordeal was “a lot to handle.” Being the only trans woman featured in the video, she says she felt “a lot of people made the conversation about me” and “were implying Twitch was being extremely transphobic” which “felt super uncomfortable and isolating.”
Kaplan had originally shared a tweet with the term “womxn” in it, but deleted it after seeing the reaction. In a follow-up tweet, she wrote that the word “womxn has had very transphobic association in its use.”
—Bloody (@Bloody) March 1, 2021
When asked for a comment, Twitch pointed to their apology tweet.
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