Waterloo renames 'womyns' centre

Canadian Universities Forum (discussion group)

Subject: Waterloo renames 'womyns' centre
University casts out radical old ´womyn´ for younger, less ardent ´women´

Feminists debate name

Katie Rook, National Post

Published: Thursday, November 16, 2006

The University of Waterloo has changed the name of its campus women´s centre after 45 minutes of intense debate on a single, symbolically laden vowel.

After more than a decade as a bastion of feminist retreat, the campus Womyn´s Centre has become its Women´s Centre.

The change, seen by some as long overdue, may reflect a departure from the politicized language of early feminism.

"It´s a necessary and inevitable moving away from the feminism of the ´70s and ´80s," says Philinda Masters, a women´s studies researcher at the University of Toronto.

"Time changes and there is new input from younger and more diverse voices. [Feminism] is forging ahead into the future, which focuses on equality and social justice."

The term "womyn" evolved out of a radical feminism that emphasized patriarchy as the cause of women´s oppression and resolved to separate from men.

As a consequence of the same movement, "history" was reintroduced as "herstory."

The University of Waterloo´s director of Women´s Studies, Rhiannon Bury, says the spelling is often remembered because it is simple and accessible even to those who pay little attention to feminist ideas.

"So people take that and say, ´Well that´s kind of silly, why would you change that,´ but I think with all language, language is never neutral, right? It´s always about power and control, who gets to name," she says.

"We´re really in a third wave of feminism which is much more reflective and looks at larger issues of gender, understanding masculinity as well as femininity.

Despite student council´s Oct. 30 resolution to amend the spelling, the centre´s signage, literature and Web site remain unchanged.

Centre co-ordinator Margarita Osipian says she has received no instructions to implement the change, does not have the funding and questioned the climate of the council debate that left many centre attendees feeling bullied.

Members maintained their attachment to spelling the word with a "y" not because they embrace the radical feminism it represents, she says, but because of the process by which the change was introduced -- with a council debate that seem stacked against them from the start.

Ms. Osipian says the University of Waterloo campus has been less than welcoming to feminism.

"There´s a stigma against feminism, there´s a stigma against the women´s centre generally as though it´s a radical space.

It is not the first time the campus has questioned the centre´s name. A y-spelling was first adopted in 1993, more than a decade after its opening as the Women´s Centre.

Opposing the new spelling, council documents from that time refrained from spelling ´women´ at all and instead used the symbol.

The debate was reignited following this year´s review of student council-funded services which recommended the centre´s duties and functions be re-evaluated, council president Michelle Zakrison says.

Some students regarded "womyn" as an alienating term, she says.

The review "found that the women´s centre with a ´y´ confused students and had an aura and perception of being radical... promoting a different kind of an equality for women."



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