Gender refers to the differences between men and women. Encyclopædia Britannica notes that gender identity is "an individual's self-conception as being male or female, as distinguished from actual biological sex." Although gender is commonly used interchangeably with sex, within the social sciences it often refers to specifically social differences, known as gender roles in the biological sciences. Historically, feminism has posited that many gender roles are socially constructed, and lack any clear biological basis. People whose gender identity feels incongruent with their physical bodies may call themselves transgender or genderqueer.

Many languages have a system of grammatical gender, a type of noun class system - nouns may be classified as masculine or feminine (for example Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic and French) and may also have a neuter grammatical gender (for example Sanskrit, German, Polish, and the Scandinavian languages). In such languages, this is essentially a convention, which may have little or no connection to the meaning of the words. Likewise, a wide variety of phenomena have characteristics termed gender, by analogy with male and female bodies (such as the gender of connectors and fasteners) or due to societal norms.

Etymology and usage

The word gender in English

As kind
The word gender comes from the Middle English gendre, a loanword from Norman-conquest-era Old French. This, in turn, came from Latin ''''. Both words mean 'kind', 'type', or 'sort'. They derive ultimately from a widely attested Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root gen-, 'gen?-', in 'Appendix I: Indo-European Roots', to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000). which is also the source of kin, kind, king and many other English words. It appears in Modern French in the word genre (type, kind, also '') and is related to the Greek root gen- (to produce), appearing in gene, genesis and oxygen''.

As a verb, it means breed in the King James Bible:

Most uses of the root gen in Indo-European languages refer either directly to what pertains to birth or, by extension, to natural, innate qualities and their consequent social distinctions (for example gentry, generation, gentile, genocide and eugenics). The first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED1, Volume 4, 1900) notes the original meaning of gender as 'kind' had already become obsolete.

Gender (d?e'nd??), sb. Also 4 gendre.
gest.1. Kind, sort, class; also, genus as opposed to species. The general gender: the common sort (of people). Obs.
13.. E.E.Allit. P. P. 434 Alle gendrez so ioyst wern ioyned wyth-inne. c 1384 CHAUSER H. Fame* 1. 18 To knowe of hir signifiaunce The gendres. 1398 TREVISA Barth. De P. K. VIII. xxix. (1495) 34I Byshynynge and lyghte ben dyuers as species and gendre, for suery shinyng is lyght, but not ayenwarde. 1602 SHAKES. Ham. IV. vii. 18 The great loue the generall gender beare him. 1604 - Oth. I. iii. 326 Supplie it with one gender of Hearbes, or distract it with many. 1643 and so on.
As masculinity or femininity
The use of gender to refer to masculinity and femininity as types is attested throughout the history of Modern English (from about the 14th century).

As a grammatical term

According to Aristotle, the Greek philosopher Protagoras used the terms "masculine", "feminine", and "neuter" to classify nouns, introducing the concept of grammatical gender.

The classes (gene) of the nouns are males, females and things.
- Aristotle, The Technique of Rhetoric III v
The words for this concept are not related to gen- in all Indo-European languages (for example, rod in Slavic languages).

The usage of gender in the context of grammatical distinctions is a specific and technical usage. However, in English, the word became attested more widely in the context of grammar, than in making sexual distinctions.

This was noted in OED1, prompting Henry Watson Fowler to recommend this usage as the primary and preferable meaning of gender in English. "Gender ... is a grammatical term only. To talk of persons ... of the masculine or feminine g[ender], meaning of the male or female sex, is either a jocularity (permissible or not according to context) or a blunder."

The sense of this can be felt by analogy with a modern expression like "persons of the female persuasion." It should be noted, however, that this was a recommendation, neither the Daily News nor Henry James citations (above) are "jocular" nor "blunders." Additionally, patterns of usage of gender have substantially changed since Fowler's day (noun class above, and sexual stereotype below).

As a sexual stereotype
The word sex is sometimes used in the context of social roles of men and women - for example, the British Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 that ended exclusion of women from various official positions. Such usage was more common before the 1970s, over the course of which the feminist movement took the word gender into their own usage to describe their theory of human nature.

Early in that decade, gender was used in ways consistent with both the history of English and the history of attestation of the root.

However, by the end of the decade consensus was achieved among feminists regarding this theory and its terminology. The theory was that human nature is essentially epicene and social distinctions based on sex are arbitrarily constructed. Matters pertaining to this theoretical process of social construction were labelled matters of gender.

The American Heritage Dictionary uses the following two sentences to illustrate the difference.

In the last two decades of the 20th century, the use of gender in academia increased greatly, outnumbering uses of sex in the social sciences. Frequently, but not exclusively, this indicates acceptance of the feminist theory of human nature. However, in many instances, the term gender still refers to sexual distinction generally without such an assumption.

In fact, the ideological distinction between sex and gender is only fitfully observed.

The concept of gender in other languages

Greek (distinguishes biological from sociological in adjectives)

In Greek, male biology and masculine grammatical inflection are denoted by arsenikos, in distinction to sociological masculinity, which is denoted by andrikos . Likewise, female biology and feminine grammatical inflection are denoted by thelukos ; and sociological femininity is denoted by gunaikeios (, compare English gynaecology). This distinction is at least as old as Aristotle (see above). It is a different distinction to English, where 'male' and 'female' refer to animals as well as humans, but not to grammatical categories; however, 'masculine' and 'feminine' refer to grammatical categories as well as humans, but not properly to animals, except as anthropomorphism.

German and Dutch (no distinction in nouns - Geschlecht and geslacht)

In English, both 'sex' and 'gender' can be used in contexts where they could not be substituted - 'sexual intercourse', 'safe sex', 'sex worker', or on the other hand, 'grammatical gender'. Other languages, like German or Dutch, use the same word, sv:könsroll and ''thumb|Hoverflies mating Sexual reproduction is a popular system of producing new individuals within various species. Individuals of sexually reproducing species produce special kinds of cells called gametes, whose function is specifically to fuse with one unlike gamete and hence form a new individual. This fusion of two unlike gametes is called fertilization. By convention, where one type of gamete cell is physically larger than the other, it is associated with female sex. Thus an individual that produces exclusively large gametes (ova in humans) is said to be female, and one that produces exclusively small gametes (spermatozoa in humans) is said to be male. An individual that produces both types of gametes is called hermaphrodite (a name applicable also to people with one testis and one ovary). In some species hermaphrodites can self-fertilize, in others they can achieve fertilization with females, males or both. Some species, like the Japanese Ash, Fraxinus lanuginosa, only have males and hermaphrodites, a rare reproductive system called androdioecy?.

What is considered defining of sexual reproduction is the difference between the gametes and the binary nature of fertilization. Multiplicity of gamete types within a species would still be considered a form of sexual reproduction. However, of more than 1.5 million living species, recorded up to about the year 2000, "no third sex cell - and so no third sex - has appeared in multicellular animals." Why sexual reproduction has an exclusively binary gamete system is not yet known. A few rare species that push the boundaries of the definitions are the subject of active research for light they may shed on the mechanisms of the evolution of sex. For example, the most toxic insect, the harvester ant Pogonomyrmex, has two kinds of female and two kinds of male. One hypothesis is that the species is a hybrid, evolved from two closely related preceding species.

Fossil records indicate that sexual reproduction has been occurring for at least one billion years. However, the reason for the initial evolution of sex, and the reason it has survived to the present are still matters of debate, there are many plausible theories. It appears that the ability to reproduce sexually has evolved independently in various species on many occasions. There are cases where it has also been lost. The flatworm, Dugesia tigrina, and a few other species can reproduce either sexually or asexually depending on various conditions.

Sexual differentiation

Although sexual reproduction is defined at the cellular level, key features of sexual reproduction operate within the structures of the gamete cells themselves. Notably, gametes carry very long molecules called DNA that the biological processes of reproduction can "read" like a book of instructions. In fact, there are typically many of these "books", called chromosomes. Human gametes usually have 23 chromosomes, 22 of which are common to both sexes. The final chromosomes in the two human gametes are called sex chromosomes because of their role in sex determination. Ova always have the same sex chromosome, labelled X. About half of spermatozoa also have this same X chromosome, the rest have a Y chromosome. At fertilization the gametes fuse to form a cell, usually with 46 chromosomes, and either XX female or XY male, depending on whether the sperm carried an X or a Y chromosome. Some of the other possibilities are listed above.

In humans, the "default" processes of reproduction result in an individual with female characteristics. An intact Y chromosome contains what is needed to "reprogram" the processes sufficiently to produce male characteristics, leading to sexual differentiation (see also Sexual dimorphism). Part of the Y chromosome, the Sex-determining Region Y (SRY), causes what would normally become ovaries to become testes. These, in turn, produce male hormones called androgens. However, several points in the processes have been identified where variations can result in people with atypical characteristics, including atypical sexual characteristics. Terminology for atypical sexual characteristics has not stabilized. Disorder of sexual development (DSD) is used by some in preference to intersex, which is used by others in preference to pseudohermaphroditism.

Androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS) is an example of a DSD that also illustrates that female development is the default for humans. Although having one X and one Y chromosome, some people are biologically insensitive to the androgens produced by their testes. As a result they follow the normal human processes which result in a person of female sex. Women who are XY report identifying as a woman - feeling and thinking like a woman - and, where their biology is completely insensitive to masculinizing factors, externally they look identical to other women. Unlike other women, however, they cannot produce ova, because they do not have ovaries.

The human XY system is not the only sex determination system. Birds typically have a reverse, ZW system - males are ZZ and females ZW. Whether male or female birds influence the sex of offspring is not known for all species. Several species of butterfly are known to have female parent sex determination. The platypus has a complex hybrid system, the male has ten sex chromosomes, half X and half Y.

Genes, Brains and Behaviour


Chromosomes were likened to books (above), also like books they have been studied at more detailed levels. They contain "sentences" called genes. In fact, many of these sentences are common to multiple species. Sometimes they are organized in the same order, other times they have been "edited" - deleted, copied, changed, moved, even relocated to another "book", as species evolve. Genes are a particularly important part of understanding biological processes because they are directly associated with observable objects, outside chromosomes, called proteins, whose influence on cell chemistry can be measured. In some cases genes can also be directly associated with differences clear to the naked eye, like eye-colour itself. Some of these differences are sex specific, like hairy ears. The "hairy ear" gene is on the Y chromosome which is why only men have it. However, sex-limited genes on any chromosome can "say" for example, "if you are in a male body do X, otherwise don't." The same principle explains why chimpanzees and humans are distinct, despite sharing nearly all their genes.

The study of genetics is particularly inter-disciplinary. It is relevant to almost every biological science. It is investigated in detail by molecular level sciences, and itself contributes details to high level abstractions like evolutionary theory.


"It is well established that men have a larger cerebrum than women by about 8-10% (Filipek et al., 1994; Nopoulos et al., 2000; Passe et al., 1997a,b; Rabinowicz et al., 1999; Witelson et al., 1995). However, what is functionally relevant are differences in composition and "wiring", some of these differences are very pronounced. Richard J. Haier and colleagues at the universities of New Mexico and California (Irvine) found, using brain mapping, that men have more than six times the amount of grey matter related to general intelligence than women, and women have nearly ten times the amount of white matter related to intelligence than men.

Gray matter is used for information processing, while white matter consists of the connections between processing centers. Other differences are measurable but less pronounced. Most of these differences are known to be produced by the activity of hormones, hence ultimately derived from the Y chromosome and sexual differentiation. However, differences arising from the activity of genes directly have also been observed.

It has also been demonstrated that brain processing responds to the external environment. Learning, both of ideas and behaviours, appears to be coded in brain processes. It also appears that in several simplified cases this coding operates differently, but in some ways equivalently, in the brains of men and women. For example, both men and women learn and use language; however, bio-chemically, they appear to process it differently. Differences in male and female use of language are likely reflections both of biological preferences and aptitudes, and of learned patterns.

Two of the main fields that study brain structure, biological (and other causes) and behavioural (and other results) are brain neurology and biological psychology. Cognitive science is another important discipline in the field of brain research.


Some behaviours are so simple that biological explanation may be sufficient. Blinking, yawning and stretching are more reflexes than behaviours. However, etiquette and protocol are complicated behaviours, presumably influenced by many environmental factors, including social (man-made) ones. A large area of research in behavioural psychology collates evidence in an effort to discover correlations between behaviour and various possible antecedents such as genetics, culture, gender, physical or social development, or physical or social environments.

A core research area within sociology is the way human behaviour operates on itself, in other words, how the behaviour of one group or individual influences the behaviour of other groups or individuals. Starting in the late 20th century, the feminist movement has contributed extensive study of gender and theories about it, notably within sociology but not restricted to it.

Social categories


Sexologist John Money coined the term gender role in 1955. "The term gender role is used to signify all those things that a person says or does to disclose himself or herself as having the status of boy or man, girl or woman, respectively. It includes, but is not restricted to, sexuality in the sense of eroticism." Elements of such a role include clothing, speech patterns, movement, occupations and other factors not limited to biological sex. Because social aspects of gender can normally be presumed to be the ones of interest in sociology and closely related disciplines, gender role is often abbreviated to gender in their literature, without leading to ambiguity in that context.

Most societies have only two distinct gender roles - male and female - and these correspond with biological sex. However, some societies explicitly incorporate people who adopt the gender role opposite to their biological sex, for example the Two-Spirit people of some indigenous American peoples. Other societies include well-developed roles that are explicitly considered more or less distinct from archetypal male and female roles in those societies. In the language of the sociology of gender they comprise a third gender, more or less distinct from biological sex (sometimes the basis for the role does include intersexuality or incorporates eunuchs). One such gender role is that adopted by the hijras of India and Pakistan.

The Bugis people of Sulawesi, Indonesia have a tradition incorporating all of the features above. Joan Roughgarden argues that in some non-human animal species, there can also be said to be more than two genders, in that there might be multiple templates for behavior available to individual organisms with a given biological sex.

Consideration of the dynamics of societies like those above prompted debate over the extent to which differences in male and female gender roles are learned socially, or reflect biology. Social constructionists argued that gender roles are entirely arbitrary, and biological preferences and aptitudes are irrelevant. Contrary to social constructionism essentialists argued that gender roles are entirely determined by biology, unmodified by social adaptations. Although these extreme views are common enough in the history of literature on the subject, both are now rare in the peer reviewed literature (see contents of Journal of Sex Research issues, published by SSSS - Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality).

Contemporary sociological reference to male and female gender roles typically uses masculinities and femininities in the plural rather than singular, suggesting diversity both within cultures as well as across them.

Feminism and Gender studies

The philosopher and feminist Simone de Beauvoir applied existentialism to women's experience of life: "One is not born a woman, one becomes one." In context, this is a philosophical statement, however, it is true biologically - a girl must pass puberty to become a woman - and true sociologically - mature relating in social contexts is learned, not instinctive.

Within feminist theory, terminology for gender issues developed over the 1970s. In the 1974 edition of Masculine/Feminine or Human, the author uses "innate gender" and "learned sex roles", but in the 1978 edition, the use of sex and gender is reversed. By 1980, most feminist writings had agreed on using gender only for socioculturally adapted traits.

In gender studies the term gender is used to refer to proposed social and cultural constructions of masculinities and femininities. In this context, gender explicitly excludes reference to biological differences, to focus on cultural differences. This emerged from a number of different areas: in sociology during the 1950s; from the theories of the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan; and in the work of French psychoanalysts like Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray and Bracha L. Ettinger and American feminists such as Judith Butler. Those who followed Butler came to regard gender roles as a practice, sometimes referred to as "performative."

Hurst states that some people think sex will "automatically determine one's gender demeanor and role (social) as well as one's sexual orientation (sexual attractions and behavior). (Hurst, p. 141)" We have cultural origins and habits for dealing with gender. Michael Schwalbe believes that humans must be taught how to act appropriately in their designated gender in order to properly fill the role. The way we behave as masculine or feminine interacts with social expectations. Schwalbe comments that we "are the results of many people embracing and acting on similar ideas.(Schwalbe, p.23)"

We do this through everything from clothing and hairstyle to relationship and employment choices. Schwalbe believes that these distinctions are important, because we want to identify and categorize people as soon as we see them. We need to place people into distinct categories in order to know how we should feel about them.

Hurst comments that in a society where we present our genders so distinctly, there can often be severe consequences for breaking these cultural norms. Many of these consequences are rooted in discrimination based on sexual orientation. Gays and lesbians are often discriminated against in our legal system due to societal prejudices. Hurst describes how this discrimination works against people for breaking gender norms, no matter what their sexual orientation is. He says that "courts often confuse sex, gender, and sexual orientation, and confuse them in a way that results in denying the rights not only of gays and lesbians, but also of those who do not present themselves or act in a manner traditionally expected of their sex. (Hurst, p.141)" This prejudice plays out in our legal system when a man or woman is judged differently because he or she does not present the "correct" gender. How we present and display our gender has consequences in everyday life, but also in institutionalized aspects of our society.

Legal status

A person's sex as male or female has legal significance - sex is indicated on government documents, and laws provide differently for men and women. Many pension systems have different retirement ages for men or women. Marriage is usually only available to opposite-sex couples.

The question then arises as to what legally determines whether someone is male or female. In most cases this can appear obvious, but the matter is complicated for intersexual or transgender people. Different jurisdictions have adopted different answers to this question. Almost all countries permit changes of legal gender status in cases of intersexualism, when the gender assignment made at birth is determined upon further investigation to be biologically inaccurate - technically, however, this is not a change of status per se. Rather, it is recognition of a status which was deemed to exist, but unknown, from birth. Increasingly, jurisdictions also provide a procedure for changes of legal gender for transgender people.

Gender assignment, when there are indications that genital sex might not be decisive in a particular case, is normally not defined by a single definition, but by a combination of conditions, including chromosomes and gonads. Thus, for example, in many jurisdictions a person with XY chromosomes but female gonads could be recognised as female at birth.

The ability to change legal gender for transgender people in particular has given rise to the phenomena in some jurisdictions of the same person having different genders for the purposes of different areas of the law. For example, in Australia prior to the Re Kevin decisions, transsexual people could be recognised as having the genders they identified with under many areas of the law, including social security law, but not for the law of marriage. Thus, for a period, it was possible for the same person to have two different genders under Australian law.

It is also possible in federal systems for the same person to have one gender under state law and a different gender under federal law (a state recognises gender transitions, but the federal government does not).

Gender and development

(2) At Compartamos they lent to women at the start not only because they knew women were more reliable borrowers, but also because in many villages most of the men had emigrated to the United States, and the women were the heads of household. In the past five years as they expanded to urban areas, they have been lending to men as well.

In Taoism, yin and yang are considered feminine and masculine, respectively.

In Judaism, God is described with mainly masculine language. God is strongly identified with the sky - God lives in Heaven and sends rain - which was understood as masculine compared to the earth understood as feminine. God is often compared to a warrior, defender, judge, and king. Once God is compared to a person sewing and once to a person knitting. In the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) the Shekhinah represents the feminine aspect of God's essence.

In Christianity, God is described in masculine terms and the Church has historically been described in feminine terms. On the other hand, Christian theology in many churches distinguishes between the masculine images used of God (Father, King, God the Son) and the reality they signify, which transcends gender, embodies all the virtues of both genders perfectly, and is the creator of both human sexes. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is treated with the neuter pronoun. Hebrew speaking Christians like the Ebionites used the female gender for the Holy Spirit.

In Hinduism,

Other uses

The word gender is used in several contexts to describe binary differences, more or less loosely associated by analogy with various actual or perceived differences between men and women.


Natural languages often make gender distinctions. These may be of various kinds.

See also




Further reading

External links

Index: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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