Gender

Gender symbols intertwined. The red (left) is the female Venus symbol. The blue (right) represents the male Mars symbol.

Gender is the range of characteristics pertaining to, and differentiating between, masculinity and femininity. Depending on the context, these characteristics may include biological sex (i.e., the state of being male, female, or an intersex variation), sex-based social structures (i.e., gender roles), or gender identity.[1][2][3] Most cultures use a gender binary, having two genders (boys/men and girls/women);[4] those who exist outside these groups fall under the umbrella term non-binary or genderqueer. Some societies have specific genders besides "man" and "woman", such as the hijras of South Asia; these are often referred to as third genders (and fourth genders, etc).

Sexologist John Money introduced the terminological distinction between biological sex and gender as a role in 1955. Before his work, it was uncommon to use the word gender to refer to anything but grammatical categories.[1][2] However, Money's meaning of the word did not become widespread until the 1970s, when feminist theory embraced the concept of a distinction between biological sex and the social construct of gender. Today, the distinction is followed in some contexts, especially the social sciences[5][6] and documents written by the World Health Organization (WHO).[3]

In other contexts, including some areas of the social sciences, gender includes sex or replaces it.[1][2] For instance, in non-human animal research, gender is commonly used to refer to the biological sex of the animals.[2] This change in the meaning of gender can be traced to the 1980s. In 1993, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) started to use gender instead of sex.[7] Later, in 2011, the FDA reversed its position and began using sex as the biological classification and gender as "a person's self representation as male or female, or how that person is responded to by social institutions based on the individual's gender presentation."[8]

The social sciences have a branch devoted to gender studies. Other sciences, such as sexology and neuroscience, are also interested in the subject. The social sciences sometimes approach gender as a social construct, and gender studies particularly do, while research in the natural sciences investigates whether biological differences in males and females influence the development of gender in humans; both inform debate about how far biological differences influence the formation of gender identity. In some English literature, there is also a trichotomy between biological sex, psychological gender, and social gender role. This framework first appeared in a feminist paper on transsexualism in 1978.[2][9]

Etymology and usage

Derivation

The modern English word gender comes from the Middle English gender, gendre, a loanword from Anglo-Norman and Middle French gendre. This, in turn, came from Latin genus. Both words mean "kind", "type", or "sort". They derive ultimately from a widely attested Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root gen-,[10][11] which is also the source of kin, kind, king, and many other English words.[12] It appears in Modern French in the word genre (type, kind, also genre sexuel) and is related to the Greek root gen- (to produce), appearing in gene, genesis, and oxygen. The Oxford Etymological Dictionary of the English Language of 1882 defined gender as kind, breed, sex, derived from the Latin ablative case of genus, like genere natus, which refers to birth.[13] The first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED1, Volume 4, 1900) notes the original meaning of gender as "kind" had already become obsolete.

History of the concept

The concept of gender, in the modern sense, is a recent invention in human history.[14] The ancient world had no basis of understanding gender as it has been understood in the humanities and social sciences for the past few decades.[14] The term gender had been associated with grammar for most of history and only started to move towards it being a malleable cultural construct in the 1950s and 1960s.[15]

Sexologist John Money introduced the terminological distinction between biological sex and gender as a role in 1955. Before his work, it was uncommon to use the word gender to refer to anything but grammatical categories.[1][2] For example, in a bibliography of 12,000 references on marriage and family from 1900–1964, the term gender does not even emerge once.[1] Analysis of more than 30 million academic article titles from 1945–2001 showed that the uses of the term "gender", were much rarer than uses of "sex", was often used as a grammatical category early in this period. By the end of this period, uses of "gender" outnumbered uses of "sex" in the social sciences, arts, and humanities.[2] It was in the 1970s that feminist scholars adopted the term gender as way of distinguishing “socially constructed” aspects of male–female differences (gender) from “biologically determined” aspects (sex).[2]

In the last two decades of the 20th century, the use of gender in academia has increased greatly, outnumbering uses of sex in the social sciences. While the spread of the word in science publications can be attributed to the influence of feminism, its use as a synonym for sex is attributed to the failure to grasp the distinction made in feminist theory, and the distinction has sometimes become blurred with the theory itself; David Haig stated, "Among the reasons that working scientists have given me for choosing gender rather than sex in biological contexts are desires to signal sympathy with feminist goals, to use a more academic term, or to avoid the connotation of copulation."[2]

In legal cases alleging discrimination, sex is usually preferred as the determining factor rather than gender as it refers to biology rather than socially constructed norms which are more open to interpretation and dispute.[16] Julie Greenberg writes that although gender and sex are separate concepts, they are interlinked in that gender discrimination often results from stereotypes based on what is expected of members of each sex.[17] In J.E.B. v. Alabama ex rel. T.B., United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote:

The word ‘gender’ has acquired the new and useful connotation of cultural or attitudinal characteristics (as opposed to physical characteristics) distinctive to the sexes. That is to say, gender is to sex as feminine is to female and masculine is to male.[18]

As a grammatical category

The word was still widely used, however, in the specific sense of grammatical gender (the assignment of nouns to categories such as masculine, feminine and neuter). According to Aristotle, this concept was introduced by the Greek philosopher Protagoras.[19]

In 1926, Henry Watson Fowler stated that the definition of the word pertained to this grammar-related meaning:

"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."[20]

As a social role

Sexologist John Money coined the term gender role, and was the first to use it in print in a scientific trade journal. In a seminal 1955 paper he defined it as "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."[21]

The modern academic sense of the word, in the context of social roles of men and women, dates at least back to 1945,[22] and was popularized and developed by the feminist movement from the 1970s onwards (see § Feminism theory and gender studies below), which theorizes that human nature is essentially epicene and social distinctions based on sex are arbitrarily constructed. In this context, matters pertaining to this theoretical process of social construction were labelled matters of gender.

The popular use of gender simply as an alternative to sex (as a biological category) is also widespread, although attempts are still made to preserve the distinction. The American Heritage Dictionary (2000) uses the following two sentences to illustrate the difference, noting that the distinction "is useful in principle, but it is by no means widely observed, and considerable variation in usage occurs at all levels."[23]

The effectiveness of the medication appears to depend on the sex (not gender) of the patient.
In peasant societies, gender (not sex) roles are likely to be more clearly defined.