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Gender is a range of physical, mental, and behavioural characteristics distinguishing between masculinity and femininity. Depending on the context, the term may refer to sex (i.e. the state of being male or female), social roles (as in gender roles), or gender identity.

Gender studies is a branch of the social sciences. 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. However, Money's meaning of the word did not become widespread until the 1970s, when feminist theory embraced the distinction between biological sex and the social construct of gender. Today, the distinction is strictly followed in some contexts, especially the social sciences and documents written by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, in most other contexts, even in some areas of social sciences, the meaning of gender has undergone a usage shift to include "sex" or even to replace the latter word. Although this gradual change in the meaning of gender can be traced to the 1980s, a small acceleration of the process in the scientific literature was observed when the Food and Drug Administration started to use "gender" instead of "sex" in 1993. "Gender" is now commonly used even to refer to the physiology of non-human animals, without any implication of social gender roles.

In the English literature, the trichotomy between biological sex, psychological gender, and social sex role first appeared in a feminist paper on transsexualism in 1978. Some cultures have specific gender-related social roles that can be considered distinct from male and female, such as the hijra of India and Pakistan.

While the social sciences sometimes approach gender as a social construct, and gender studies particularly do, 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.

Etymology and usage

The modern English word gender comes from the Middle English gendre, a loanword from Norman-conquest-era Old French. 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-, which is also the source of kin, kind, king, and many other English words. Most uses of derivatives of this root in Indo-European languages refer either directly to what pertains to birth (for example pre-gn-ant) or, by extension, to natural, innate qualities and their consequent social distinctions (for example gentry, generation, gentile, genocide, and eugenics). 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 first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED1, Volume 4, 1900) notes the original meaning of gender as "kind" had already become obsolete.

Gender (dʒe'ndəɹ), sb. Also 4 gendre. [a. OF. gen(d)re (F. genre) = Sp. género, Pg. gênero, It. genere, ad. L. gener- stem form of genus race, kind = Gr. γένος, Skr. jánas:— OAryan *genes-, f. root γεν- to produce; cf. KIN.]
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. 1604Oth. I. iii. 326 Supplie it with one gender of Hearbes, or distract it with many. 1643 and so on.

The word was still widely attested, 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.

τὰ γένη τῶν ὀνομάτων ἄρρενα καὶ θήλεα καὶ σκεύη The classes (genē) of the nouns are males, females and things. The Technique of Rhetoric III v

In 1926, Henry Watson Fowler recommended that the word be restricted to this grammar-related meaning only:

" 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."

However examples of the use of gender to refer to masculinity and femininity as types are found throughout the history of Modern English (from about the 14th century).

  • 1387–8: No mo genders been there but masculine, and femynyne, all the remnaunte been no genders but of grace, in facultie of grammar— Thomas Usk, The Testament of Love II iii ( Walter William Skeat) 13.
  • c. 1460: Has thou oght written there of the femynyn gendere?— Towneley Mystery Plays xxx 161 Act One.
  • 1632: Here's a woman! The soul of Hercules has got into her. She has a spirit, is more masculine Than the first gender Shackerley Marmion, Holland's Leaguer III iv.
  • 1658: The Psyche, or soul, of Tiresias is of the masculine gender Thomas Browne, Hydriotaphia.
  • 1709: Of the fair sex ... my only consolation for being of that gender has been the assurance it gave me of never being married to any one among them— Mary Wortley Montagu, Letters to Mrs Wortley lxvi 108.
  • 1768: I may add the gender too of the person I am to govern— Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy.
  • 1859: Black divinities of the feminine 'genderCharles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.
  • 1874: It is exactly as if there were a sex in mountains, and their contours and curves and complexions were here all of the feminine genderHenry James, 'A Chain of Italian Cities', The Atlantic Monthly 33 (February, p. 162.)
  • 1892: She was uncertain as to his gender Robert Grant, 'Reflections of a Married Man', Scribner's Magazine 11 (March, p. 376.)
  • 1896: As to one's success in the work one does, surely that is not a question of gender either— Daily News 17 July.
  • c. 1900: Our most lively impression is that the sun is there assumed to be of the feminine genderHenry James, Essays on Literature.

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

Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind
Leviticus 19:19, 1616

The modern academic sense of the word, in the context of social roles of men and women, dates from the work of John Money (1955), and was popularized and developed by the feminist movement from the 1970s onwards (see Feminism theory and gender studies below). 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 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."

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.

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. While the spread of the word in science publications can be attributed to the influence of feminism, its use as a euphemism 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. A recent Publication by the Australian Human Rights Commission on " sexual orientation and gender identity" uses "sex and/or gender identity" as a broad term to refer to diverse sex and/or gender identities and expressions, including being "transgender, trans, transsexual and intersex. It also includes being androgynous, agender, a cross dresser, a drag king, a drag queen, genderfluid, genderqueer, intergender, neutrois, pansexual, pan-gendered, a third gender, and a third sex. It also includes culturally specific terms, such as sistergirl and brotherboy, which are used by some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples."

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—David Haig, The Inexorable Rise of Gender and the Decline of Sex.

Analogous terms in other languages


Tamil is the only regional language that has recently introduced terms for transgender people including more than 20 genders apart from male and female.


Urdu recognizes hijra as a third gender in India and Pakistan since the mid to late 2000s.


Greek distinguishes biological from sociological in adjectives.

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


German makes no distinction in nouns.

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, use the same word, Geschlecht or geslacht, to refer not only to biological sex, but social differences as well, making a distinction between biological 'sex' and 'gender' identity difficult. In some contexts, German has adopted the English loanword Gender to achieve this distinction. Sometimes Geschlechtsidentität is used for 'gender' (although it literally means 'gender identity') and Geschlecht for 'sex'. More common is the use of modifiers: biologisches Geschlecht for 'biological sex', Geschlechtsidentität for 'gender identity' and Geschlechtsrolle for 'gender role', and so on.


Swedish makes clear distinction in nouns

  • genus
  • kön

In Swedish, 'gender' is translated with the linguistically cognate sv:genus, including sociological contexts, thus: Genusstudier (gender studies) and Genusvetenskap (gender science). 'Sex' in Swedish, however, only signifies sexual relations, and not the proposed English dichotomy, a concept for which kön (also from PIE gen-) is used. A common distinction is then made between kön (sex) and genus (gender), where the former refers only to biological sex. There are different opinions whether genus should involve biology, but within the genusvetenskap, which is strongly influenced by feminism, it usually does not. Sweden uses the words könsroller and könsidentitet (literally 'sex role' and 'sex-identity') for the English terms 'gender role' and 'gender identity'.


French has no distinction in noun: "sexe", but the distinction is supplied by the neologistic coinage "genre".

In French, the word sexe is most widely used for both "sex" and "gender" in everyday contexts. However, the word genre is increasingly used to refer to gender in queer or academic contexts, such as the word transgenre ( transgender) or the translation of Judith Butler's book Gender Trouble as Trouble dans le genre. The term identité sexuelle was proposed for "gender" or "gender identity," although it can be confused with "sexual identity" (one's identity as it relates to one's sexual life).

Gender identity and gender roles

Gender identity is the gender a person self-identifies as. One's biological sex is directly tied to specific social roles and expectations. Judith Butler considers the concept of being a woman to have more challenges, owing not only to society's viewing women as a social category but also as a felt sense of self, a culturally conditioned or constructed subjective identity. The term "woman" has chronically been used as a reference to and for the female body; this usage has been viewed as controversial by feminists, in the definition of "woman". There are qualitative analyses that explore and present the representations of gender; feminists challenge the dominant ideologies concerning gender roles and sex. Social identity refers to the common identification with a collectivity or social category that creates a common culture among participants concerned. According to social identity theory, an important component of the self-concept is derived from memberships in social groups and categories; this is demonstrated by group processes and how inter-group relationships impact significantly on individuals' self perception and behaviors. The groups people belong to therefore provide members with the definition of who they are and how they should behave in the social sphere.

Categorizing males and females into social roles creates binaries in which individuals feel they have to be at one end of a linear spectrum and must identify themselves as man or woman. Globally, communities interpret biological differences between men and women to create a set of social expectations that define the behaviors that are "appropriate" for men and women and determine women’s and men’s different access to rights, resources, power in society and even health behaviors. Although the specific nature and degree of these differences vary from one society to the next, they typically favour men, creating an imbalance in power and gender inequalities in all countries.

Philosopher Michel Foucault, claims that as sexual subjects, humans are the object of power, which is not an institution or structure, rather it is a signifier or name attributed to "complex strategical situation". Because of this, "power" is what determines individual attributes, behaviors, etc. and people are a part of an ontologically and epistemologically constructed set of names and labels. Such as, being female characterizes one as a woman, and being a woman signifies one as weak, emotional, and irrational, and is incapable of actions attributed to a "man". Judith Butler said that gender and sex are more like verbs than nouns. She reasoned that her actions are limited because she is female. "I am not permitted to construct my gender and sex willy-nilly," she said. "[This] is so because gender is politically and therefore socially controlled. Rather than 'woman' being something one is, it is something one does." More recent criticisms of Judith Butler's theories critique her writing for reinforcing the very conventional dichotomies of gender.

Social assignment and the idea of gender fluidity

According to Kate Bornstein, gender can have ambiguity and fluidity. There are two contrasting ideas regarding the definition of gender, and the intersection of both of them is definable as below:

The World Health Organization defines gender as the result of socially constructed ideas about the behaviour, actions, and roles a particular sex performs. The beliefs, values and attitude taken up and exhibited by them is as per the agreeable norms of the society and the personal opinions of the person is not taken into the primary consideration of assignment of gender and imposition of gender roles as per the assigned gender. Intersections and crossing of the prescribed boundaries have no place in the arena of the social construct of the term "gender".

The assignment of gender involves taking into account the physiological and biological attributes assigned by nature followed by the imposition of the socially constructed conduct. The social label of being classified into one or the other sex is obligatory to the medical stamp on the birth certificate. The cultural traits typically coupled to a particular sex finalize the assignment of gender and the biological differences that play a role in classifying either sex is interchangeable with the definition of gender within the social context.

In this context, the socially constructed rules are at a cross road with the assignment of a particular gender to a person. Gender ambiguity deals with having the freedom to choose, manipulate and create a personal niche within any defined socially constructed code of conduct while gender fluidity is outlawing all the rules of cultural gender assignment. It does not accept the prevalence of the two rigidly defined genders "man" and "woman" and believes in freedom to choose any kind of gender with no rules, no defined boundaries and no fulfilling of expectations associated with any particular gender.

Both these definitions are facing opposite directionalities with their own defined set of rules and criteria on which the said systems are based.

Social categories

Mary Frith ("Moll Cutpurse") scandalised 17th century society by wearing male clothing, smoking in public, and otherwise defying gender roles.

Sexologist John Money coined the term gender role in 1955. The term gender role means those things people say or do to disclose their 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.

" Rosie the Riveter" was an iconic symbol of the American homefront in WWII and a departure from gender roles due to wartime necessity.

Most societies have only two distinct, broad classes of gender roles, masculine and feminine, that correspond with the biological sexes of male and female. 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 female and male 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. Another example may be the Muxe (pronounced [ˈmuʃe]), found in the state of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, "beyond gay and straight."

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

In July 2012 Gopi Shankar,a Gender activist and a student from The American College in Madurai coined the regional terms for genderqueer people in Tamil, Gopi said apart from male and female, there are more than 20 types of genders, such as transwoman, transmen, androgynous, pangender, trigender,, etc., and ancient India refers it as Trithiya prakirthi. "

Measurement of gender identity

Early gender identity research hypothesized a single bipolar dimension of masculinity-femininity—that is masculinity and femininity were opposites on one continuum. As societal stereotypes changed, however, assumptions of the unidimensional model were challenged. This led to the development of a two-dimensional gender identity model, in which masculinity and femininity were conceptualized as two separate, orthogonal dimensions, coexisting in varying degrees within an individual. This conceptualization on femininity and masculinity remains the accepted standard today.

Two instruments incorporating the multidimensional of masculinity and femininity have dominated gender identity research: The Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI) and the Personal Attributes Questionnaire (PAQ). Both instruments categorize individuals as either being sex typed (males report themselves as identifying primarily with masculine traits, females report themselves as identifying primarily with feminine traits), cross sex-typed (males report themselves as identifying primarily with feminine traits, females report themselves as identifying primarily with masculine traits), androgynous (either males or females who report themselves as high on both masculine and feminine traits) or undifferentiated (either males or females who report themselves as low on both masculine and feminine traits). Twenge (1997) noted that, although men are generally more masculine than women and women generally more feminine than men, the association between biological sex and masculinity/femininity is waning.

Feminism theory and gender studies

Biologist and feminist academic Anne Fausto-Sterling rejects the discourse of biological versus social determinism and advocates a deeper analysis of how interactions between the biological being and the social environment influence individuals' capacities. 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 may be analyzed in terms of biology—a girl must pass puberty to become a woman—and sociology, as a great deal of mature relating in social contexts is learned rather than 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 refers 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 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 behaviour). Gender sociologists believe that people have cultural origins and habits for dealing with gender. For example, Michael Schwalbe believes that humans must be taught how to act appropriately in their designated gender to properly fill the role, and that the way people behave as masculine or feminine interacts with social expectations. Schwalbe comments that humans "are the results of many people embracing and acting on similar ideas". People do this through everything from clothing and hairstyle to relationship and employment choices. Schwalbe believes that these distinctions are important, because society wants to identify and categorize people as soon as we see them. They need to place people into distinct categories 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". 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.

Recent critiques of feminist theory by Warren Farrell have given broader consideration to findings from a ten-year study of courtship by Buss. Both perspectives on gendering are integrated in Attraction Theory, a theoretical framework developed by Dr Rory Ridley-Duff illustrating how courtship and parenting obligations (rather than male dominance) act as a generative mechanism that produces and reproduces a range of gender identities.

HBO has recently produced a documentary of the life and work of Gloria Steinem, perhaps the name most associated with the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Gloria: In Her OWN Words shows rare video footage from the time that reshaped feminism and the understanding of gender once again.

Social construction of sex

While scholars generally regard gender as a social construct, a lot of researchers, including some feminists, consider sex to only be a matter of biology and something that is not about social or cultural construction. For instance, John Money, a sexologist, suggests the distinction between biological sex and gender as a role. Moreover, Ann Oakley, a professor of sociology and social policy at the Institute of Education, University of London, says "the constancy of sex must be admitted, but so also must the variability of gender." Also, the World Health Organization states, "'[s]ex' refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women," and "'[g]ender' refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women." Thus, sex is regarded as a category studied in biology (natural sciences), while gender is studied in humanities and social sciences. Moreover, Lynda Birke, a feminist biologist based in the Institute for Women's Studies at the University of Lancaster in the United Kingdom, maintains "'biology' is not seen as something which might change." Therefore, it is stated that sex is something that does not change, while gender can change according to social structure.

However, there are some other scholars who argue that sex is also socially constructed like gender. For example, Judith Butler, a professor of rhetoric and comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley, states in her book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity that "perhaps this construct called 'sex' is as culturally constructed as gender; indeed, perhaps it was always already gender, with the consequence that the distinction between sex and gender turns out to be no distinction at all."

Furthermore, she continues:

It would make no sense, then, to define gender as the cultural interpretation of sex, if sex is itself a gendered category. Gender ought not to be conceived merely as the cultural inscription of meaning on a pre-given sex (a jurdical conception); gender must also designate the very apparatus of production whereby the sexes themselves are established. [...] This production of sex as the pre-discursive ought to be understood as the effect of the apparatus of cultural construction designated by gender.

Moreover, she claims "bodies only appear, only endure, only live within the productive constraints of certain highly gendered regulatory schemas," and sex is "no longer as a bodily given on which the construct of gender is artificially imposed, but as a cultural norm which governs the materialization of bodies."

In regards to history, Linda Nicholson, a professor of history and women's studies at Washington University in St. Louis, claims that the notion of human bodies being separated into two sexes is not historically consistent. She argues that male genitals and female genitals were considered inherently the same in Western society until the 18th century. At that time, female genitals were regarded as incomplete male genitals, and the difference between the two was conceived as a matter of degree. In other words, there was a gradation of physical forms, or a spectrum. Therefore, the current perspective toward sex, which is to consider women and men and their typical genitalia as the only possible natural options, came into existence through historical, not biological roots.

In addition, drawing from the empirical research of intersex children, Anne Fausto-Sterling, a professor of biology and gender studies at Brown University, describes how the doctors address the issues of intersexuality. She starts her argument with an example of the birth of an intersexual individual and maintains "[o]ur conceptions of the nature of gender difference shape, even as they reflect, the ways we structure our social system and polity; they also shape and reflect our understanding of our physical bodies." Then she adds how gender assumptions affects the scientific study of sex by presenting the research of intersexuals by John Money et al., and she concludes that "they never questioned the fundamental assumption that there are only two sexes, because their goal in studying intersexuals was to find out more about 'normal' development." She also mentions the language the doctors use when they talk with the parents of the intersexuals. After describing how the doctors inform parents about the intersexuality, she claims that because the doctors believe that the intersexuals are actually male or female, they tell the parents of the intersexuals that it will take a little bit more time for the doctors to determine whether the infant is a boy or a girl. That is to say, the doctors' behaviour is formulated by the cultural gender assumption that there are only two sexes. Lastly, she maintains that the differences in the ways in which the medical professionals in different regions treat intersexual people also give us a good example of how sex is socially constructed. In her book, titled Sexing the body: gender politics and the construction of sexuality, she introduces the following example:

A group of physicians from Saudi Arabia recently reported on several cases of XX intersex children with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), a genetically inherited malfunction of the enzymes that aid in making steroid hormones. [...] In the United States and Europe, such children, because they have the potential to bear children later in life, are usually raised as girls. Saudi doctors trained in this European tradition recommended such a course of action to the Saudi parents of CAH XX children. A number of parents, however, refused to accept the recommendation that their child, initially identified as a son, be raised instead as a daughter. Nor would they accept feminizing surgery for their child. [...] This was essentially an expression of local community attitudes with [...] the preference for male offspring.

Thus it may be said that determining the sex of children is actually a cultural act, and the sex of children is in fact socially constructed. Therefore, it is possible that although sex seems fixed and only related to biology, it may be actually deeply related to historical and social factors as well as biology and other natural sciences.

Biological factors and views

The biology of gender became the subject of an expanding number of studies over the course of the late 20th century. One of the earliest areas of interest was what is now called gender identity disorder (GID). Studies in this, and related areas, inform the following summary of the subject by John Money, a pioneer and controversial sex and gender researcher. He stated:

The term "gender role" appeared in print first in 1955. The term "gender identity" was used in a press release, November 21, 1966, to announce the new clinic for transsexuals at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. It was disseminated in the media worldwide, and soon entered the vernacular. The definitions of gender and gender identity vary on a doctrinal basis. In popularized and scientifically debased usage, sex is what you are biologically; gender is what you become socially; gender identity is your own sense or conviction of maleness or femaleness; and gender role is the cultural stereotype of what is masculine and feminine. Causality with respect to gender identity disorder is subdivisible into genetic, prenatal hormonal, postnatal social, and postpubertal hormonal determinants, but there is, as yet, no comprehensive and detailed theory of causality. Gender coding in the brain is bipolar. In gender identity disorder, there is discordancy between the natal sex of one's external genitalia and the brain coding of one's gender as masculine or feminine.

Money refers to attempts to distinguish a difference between biological sex and social gender as "scientifically debased", because of our increased knowledge of a continuum of dimorphic features (Money's word is "dipolar") that link biological and behavioural differences. These extend from the exclusively biological "genetic" and "prenatal hormonal" differences between men and women, to "postnatal" features, some of which are social, but others have been shown to result from "postpubertal hormonal" effects.

Although causation from the biological—genetic and hormonal—to the behavioural has been broadly demonstrated and accepted, Money is careful to also note that understanding of the causal chains from biology to behaviour in sex and gender issues is very far from complete. For example, the existence of a " gay gene" has not been proven, but such a gene remains an acknowledged possibility.

There are studies concerning women who have a diagnosis called congenital adrenal hyperplasia, which leads to the overproduction of masculinizing sex hormones, androgens. These women usually have normal female appearances (though nearly all girls with CAH have corrective surgery performed on their genitals) but despite of hormone-balancing medication that they are given since birth, they are statistically more likely to be interested in activities traditionally linked to males than females. Psychology professor and CAH researcher Dr. Sheri Berenbaum attributes these differences to exposure to higher levels of male sex hormones in utero.

Sexual reproduction

Sexual differentiation demands the fusion of gametes that are morphologically different.
Cyril Dean Darlington, Recent Advances in Cytology, 1937.
Hoverflies mating

Sexual reproduction is a common method of producing a new individual within various species. In sexually reproducing species, individuals produce special kinds of cells (called gametes) whose function is specifically to fuse with one unlike gamete and thereby to 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 called female, and one that produces exclusively small gametes ( spermatozoa in humans) is called 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 (see Selfing), 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. Gynodioecy is also found in several species. Human hermaphrodites are typically, but not always, infertile.

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, notably among the Fungi Imperfecti. The blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus), flatworm ( Dugesia tigrina) and some other species can reproduce either sexually or asexually depending on various conditions.

Gender taxonomy

The following systematic list ( gender taxonomy) illustrates the kinds of diversity that have been studied and reported in medical literature. It is placed in roughly chronological order of biological and social development in the human life cycle. The earlier stages are more purely biological and the latter are more dominantly social. Causation is known to operate from chromosome to gonads, and from gonads to hormones. It is also significant from brain structure to gender identity (see Money quote above). Brain structure and processing (biological) that may explain erotic preference (social), however, is an area of ongoing research. Terminology in some areas changes quite rapidly to accommodate the constantly growing knowledge base.

  • chromosomes
46xx, 46xy, 47xxy ( Klinefelter syndrome), 45xo ( Turner's syndrome), 47xyy, 47xxx, 48xxyy, 46xx/xy mosaic, other mosaic, and others
  • gonads
testicles, ovaries, one of each ( hermaphrodites), ovotestes, or other gonadal dysgenesis
  • hormones
androgens including testosterone; estrogens—including estradiol, estriol, estrone; antiandrogens and others
  • genitals
primary sexual characteristics (six class system)
  • secondary sexual characteristics
dimorphic physical characteristics, other than primary characteristics (most prominently breasts or their absence)
  • brain structure
special kinds of secondary characteristics, due to their influence on psychology and behaviour
  • gender identity
psychological identification with either of the two main sexes
  • gender role
social conformity with expectations for either of the two main sexes
  • erotic preference
gynophilia, androphilia, bisexuality, asexuality and various paraphilias.

Sexual/gender dimorphism

Sexual differentiation in peafowl

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. 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 that results in a female. 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.

Gender studies

Gender studies is a field of interdisciplinary study and academic field devoted to gender, gender identity and gendered representation as central categories of analysis. This field includes Women's studies (concerning women, feminity, their gender roles and politics, and feminism), Men's studies (concerning men, masculinity, their gender roles, and politics), and LGBT studies. Sometimes Gender studies is offered together with Study of Sexuality. These disciplines study gender and sexuality in the fields of literature and language, history, political science, sociology, anthropology, cinema and media studies, human development, law, and medicine. It also analyses race, ethnicity, location, nationality, and disability.

General studies


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 might be found on the Y chromosome, which explains why only men tend to have hairy ears. However, sex-limited genes on any chromosome can be expressed and "say", for example, "if you are in a male body do X, otherwise do not." 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.


Human brain

"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". Richard J. Haier and colleagues at the universities of New Mexico and California (Irvine) found, using brain mapping, that men have more grey matter related to general intelligence than women, and women have more white matter related to intelligence than men – the ratio between grey and white matter is 4% higher for men than women.

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 produced by hormonal activity, ultimately derived from the Y chromosome and sexual differentiation. However, differences that arise directly from gene activity have also been observed.

A sexual dimorphism in levels of expression in brain tissue was observed by quantitative real-time PCR, with females presenting an up to 2-fold excess in the abundance of PCDH11X transcripts. We relate these findings to sexually dimorphic traits in the human brain. Interestingly, PCDH11X/Y gene pair is unique to Homo sapiens, since the X-linked gene was transposed to the Y chromosome after the human–chimpanzee lineages split.
Language areas of the brain:
   Angular gyrus
   Supramarginal gyrus
   Broca's area
   Wernicke's area
   Primary auditory cortex

It has also been demonstrated that brain processing responds to the external environment. Learning, both of ideas and behaviors, 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 female and male 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.

Society and behaviors

Many of the more complicated human behaviors are influenced by both innate factors and by environmental ones, which include everything from genes, gene expression, and body chemistry, through diet and social pressures. 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, gene regulation, access to food and vitamins, culture, gender, hormones, physical and social development, and physical and social environments.

A core research area within sociology is the way human behaviour operates on itself, in other words, how the behavior 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.

Spain's desperate situation when invaded by Napoleon enabled Agustina de Aragón to break into a closely guarded male preserve and become the only female professional officer in the Spanish Army of her time (and long afterwards).

Social theorists have sought to determine the specific nature of gender in relation to biological sex and sexuality, with the result being that culturally established gender and sex have become interchangeable identifications that signify the allocation of a specific 'biological' sex within a categorical gender. The second wave feminist view that gender is socially constructed and hegemonic in all societies, remains current in some literary theoretical circles, Kira Hall and Mary Bucholtz publishing new perspectives as recently as 2008.

Contemporary socialisation theory proposes the notion that when a child is first born it has a biological sex but no social gender. As the child grows, "...society provides a string of prescriptions, templates, or models of behaviors appropriate to the one sex or the other," which socialises the child into belonging to a culturally specific gender. There is huge incentive for a child to concede to their socialisation with gender shaping the individual’s opportunities for education, work, family, sexuality, reproduction, authority, and to make an impact on the production of culture and knowledge. Adults who do not perform these ascribed roles are perceived from this perspective as deviant and improperly socialised.

Some believe society is constructed in a way that splits gender into a dichotomy via social organisations that constantly invent and reproduce cultural images of gender. Joan Ackner (The Gendered Society Reader) believes gendering occurs in at least five different interacting social processes:

  • The construction of divisions along the lines of gender, such as those produced by labor, power, family, the state, even allowed behaviors and locations in physical space
  • The construction of symbols and images such as language, ideology, dress and the media, that explain, express and reinforce, or sometimes oppose, those divisions
  • Interactions between men and women, women and women and men and men that involve any form of dominance and submission. Conversational theorists, for example, have studied the way that interruptions, turn taking and the setting of topics re-create gender inequality in the flow of ordinary talk
  • The way that the preceding three processes help to produce gendered components of individual identity, i.e., the way they create and maintain an image of a gendered self
  • Gender is implicated in the fundamental, ongoing processes of creating and conceptualising social structures.

Looking at gender through a Foucauldian lens, gender is transfigured into a vehicle for the social division of power. Gender difference is merely a construct of society used to enforce the distinctions made between what is assumed to be female and male, and allow for the domination of masculinity over femininity through the attribution of specific gender-related characteristics. "The idea that men and women are more different from one another than either is from anything else, must come from something other than nature… far from being an expression of natural differences, exclusive gender identity is the suppression of natural similarities."

Gender conventions play a large role in attributing masculine and feminine characteristics to a fundamental biological sex. Socio-cultural codes and conventions, the rules by which society functions, and which are both a creation of society as well as a constituting element of it, determine the allocation of these specific traits to the sexes. These traits provide the foundations for the creation of hegemonic gender difference. It follows then, that gender can be assumed as the acquisition and internalisation of social norms. Individuals are therefore socialised through their receipt of society’s expectations of ‘acceptable’ gender attributes that are flaunted within institutions such as the family, the state and the media. Such a notion of ‘gender’ then becomes naturalised into a person’s sense of self or identity, effectively imposing a gendered social category upon a sexed body.

The conception that people are gendered rather than sexed also coincides with Judith Butler’s theories of gender performativity. Butler argues that gender is not an expression of what one is, but rather something that one does. It follows then, that if gender is acted out in a repetitive manner it is in fact re-creating and effectively embedding itself within the social consciousness. 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.

From the evidence, it can only be concluded that gender is socially constructed and each individual is unique in their gender characteristics, regardless of which biological sex they are, as every child is socialised to behave a certain way and have the ‘proper’ gender attributes. If individuals in society do not conform to this pressure, they are destined to be treated as abnormal; therefore it is personally greatly beneficial for them to cooperate in the determined ‘correct’ ordering of the world. In fact, the very construct of society is a product of and produces gender norms. There is bias in applying the word ‘gender’ to anyone in a finite way; rather each person is endowed with certain gender characteristics. The world cannot be egalitarian while there are ‘assigned’ genders and individuals are not given the right to express any gender characteristic they desire.

The difference between the sociological and popular definitions of gender involve a different dichotomy and focus. For example, the sociological approach to "gender" (social roles: female versus male) focuses on the difference in (economic/ power) position between a male CEO (disregarding the fact that he is heterosexual or homosexual) to female workers in his employ (disregarding whether they are straight or gay). However the popular sexual self-conception approach (self-conception: gay versus straight) focuses on the different self-conceptions and social conceptions of those who are gay/straight, in comparison with those who are straight (disregarding what might be vastly differing economic and power positions between female and male groups in each category). There is then, in relation to definition of and approaches to "gender", a tension between historic feminist sociology and contemporary homosexual sociology.

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 female or male. 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 deemed to exist but unknown from birth. Increasingly, jurisdictions also provide a procedure for changes of legal gender for transgendered 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 recognized 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 recognized 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.

The first person of "neutral" gender (that is, neither man or woman in legal terms) is Norrie May-Welby, from Australia, whose status was set on March, 2010.

Gender and economic development

Gender, and particularly the role of women is widely recognized as vitally important to international development issues. This often means a focus on gender-equality, ensuring participation, but includes an understanding of the different roles and expectation of the genders within the community.

In contemporary times, the study of gender and development has become a broad field that involves politicians, economists, and human rights activists. Gender and Development unlike previous theories concerning women in development includes a broader view of the effects of development on gender including economic, political, and social issues. The theory takes a holistic approach to development and its effects on women and recognizes the negative effects gender blind development policies have had on women. Prior to 1970, it was believed that development affected men and women in the same way and no gendered perspective existed for development studies. However, the 1970s saw a transformation in development theory that sought to incorporate women into existing development paradigms. When Ester Boserup published her book, Women’s Role in Economic Development Ester Boserup, there was a realization that development affected men and women differently and there began to be more of a focus on women and development. Boserup argued that women were marginalized in the modernization process and practices of growth, development, and development policy threatened to actually make women worse off. Boserup’s work translated into the beginning of a larger discourse termed Women in Development (WID) Women in Development coined by the Women’s Committee of the Washington DC Chapter of the Society for International Development; a network of female development professionals. Society for International Development The primary goal of WID was to include women into existing development initiatives. Since it was argued that women were marginalized and excluded from the benefits of development. In so doing, the WID approach pointed out that the major problem to women’s unequal representation and participation is the male biased and patriarch cal development policies. In short, the WID approach blamed patriarchy which did not consider women’s productive and reproductive work. In fact, women were tied to domestic work hence were almost invisible in development programs. The WID approach began to gain criticism as “ignoring how women’s economic marginalization was linked to the development model itself. Some feminists argued that the key concept for women and development should be subordination in the context of new capitalist forms of insecure and hierarchical job structures, but not marginalization as WID approaches emphasized. The rise of criticism in the WID approach led to a new theory to develop, that of Women and Development (WAD). However, Just as WID had its critics, so did WAD. Many critics of WAD argued that it failed to sufficiently address the differential power relations between women and men, and tended to overemphasize women’s productive as opposed to reproductive roles10. The rise of criticism of the exclusion of men in WID and WAD led to a new theory termed Gender and Development (GAD). Gender and development By drawing from insights developed in psychology, sociology, and gender studies, GAD theorists shifted from understanding women’s problems as based on their sex (i.e. their biological differences from men) to understanding them as based on gender – the social relations between women and men, their social construction, and how women have been systematically subordinated in this relationship. At their most fundamental, GAD perspectives link the social relations of production with the social relations of reproduction – exploring why and how women and men are assigned to different roles and responsibilities in society, how these dynamics are reflected in social, economic, and political theories and institutions, and how these relationships affect development policy effectiveness. According to proponents of GAD, women are cast not as passive recipients of development aid, but rather as active agents of change whose empowerment should be a central goal of development policy. In contemporary times, most literature and institutions that are concerned with women’s role in development incorporate a GAD perspective; with the United Nations having taken the lead of mainstreaming the GAD approach through its system and development policies.

Researchers at the Overseas Development Institute have highlighted that policy dialogue on the Millennium Development Goals needs to recognise that the gender dynamics of power, poverty, vulnerability and care link all the goals. The various United Nations International women’s conferences in Beijing, Mexico City, Copenhagen, and Nairobi, as well as the development of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000 have taken a GAD approach and holistic view of development.13 The Millennium Declaration signed at the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000 including eight goals that were to be reached by 2015, and although it would be a difficult task to reach them, they were all able to be monitored14. The eight goals are: 1. Halve the proportion of people living in extreme poverty at the 1990 level by 2015. 2. Achieve universal primary education 3. Promote gender equality and empower women 4. Reduce child mortality rates 5. Improve maternal health 6. Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases 7. Ensure environmental sustainability 8. Global partnership

The MDGs have three goals specifically focused on women: Goal 3, 4 and 5 but women’s issues also cut across all of the goals. These goals overall comprise all aspects of women’s lives including economic, health, and political participation.

Gender Equality is also strongly linked to education. The Dakar Framework for Action (2000) set out ambitious goals: to eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and to achieve gender equality in education by 2015. The focus was on ensuring girls’ full and equal access to and achievement in good quality basic education. The gender objective of the Dakar Framework for Action is somewhat different from the MDG Goal 3 (Target 1): “Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015”. MDG Goal 3 does not comprise a reference to learner achievement and good quality basic education, but goes beyond the school level. Studies demonstrate the positive impact of girls’ education on child and maternal health, fertility rates, poverty reduction and economic growth. Educated mothers are more likely to send their children to school.

Some organizations working in developing countries and in the development field have incorporated advocacy and empowerment for women into their work. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization adopted in November 2009 a 10-year strategic framework that includes the strategic objective of gender equity in access to resources, goods, services and decision-making in rural areas, and mainstreams gender equity in all FAO's programmes for agriculture and rural development. The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) has developed a Gender Evaluation Methodology for planning and evaluating development projects to ensure they benefit all sectors of society including women.

The Gender-related Development Index (GDI), developed by the United Nations (UN), aims to show the inequalities between men and women in the following areas: long and healthy life, knowledge, and a decent standard of living. United Nations Development program (UNDP) has introduced indicators designed to add a gendered dimension to the Human Development Index (HDI).Additionally, in 1995, the Gender-related Development Index (GDI) Gender-related Development Index and the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) Gender Empowerment Measure were introduced. More recently, in 2010 UNDP introduced a new indicator the Gender Inequality Index (GII) Gender Inequality Index which was designed to be a better measurement of gender inequality and to improve the shortcomings of GDI and GEM.

Gender and poverty

Gender inequality has a great impact especially on women and poverty. In poverty stricken countries it is more likely that men have more opportunities to have an income, have more political and social rights than women. Women experience more poverty than men do due to gender discrimination.

Gender and Development (GAD) is a holistic approach to give aid to countries where gender inequality has a great effect of not improving the social and economic development. It is to empower women and decrease the level of inequality between men and women.

In many countries, the financial sector largely neglects women even though they play an important role in the economy, as Nena Stoiljkovic pointed out in D+C Development and Cooperation


This topic includes internal and external religious issues such as gender of God and deities creation myths about human gender, roles and rights (for instance, leadership roles especially ordination of women, sex segregation, gender equality, marriage, abortion, homosexuality)

According to Kati Niemelä of the Church Research Institute, women are universally more religious than men. They believe that the difference in religiousity between genders is due to biological differences, for instance usually people seeking security in life are more religious, and as men are considered to be greater risk takers than women, they are less religious. Although religious fanaticism is more often seen in men than women.

yin and yang

In Taoism, yin and yang are considered feminine and masculine, respectively. The Taijitu and concept of the Zhou period reach into family and gender relations. Yin is female and yang is male. They fit together as two parts of a whole. The male principle was equated with the sun: active, bright, and shining; the female principle corresponds to the moon: passive, shaded, and reflective. Male toughness was balanced by female gentleness, male action and initiative by female endurance and need for completion, and male leadership by female supportiveness.

In Judaism, God is traditionally described in the masculine, but in the mystical tradition of the Kabbalah, the Shekhinah represents the feminine aspect of God's essence. However, Judaism traditionally holds that God is completely non-corporeal, and thus neither male nor female. Conceptions of the gender of God notwithstanding, traditional Judaism places a strong emphasis on individuals following traditional gender roles, though many modern denominations of Judaism strive for greater egalitarianism.

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

One of the several forms of the Hindu God Shiva, is Ardhanarishwar (literally half-female God). Here Shiva manifests himself so that the left half is Female and the right half is Male. The left represents Shakti (energy, power) in the form of Goddess Parvati (otherwise his consort) and the right half Shiva. Whereas Parvati is the cause of arousal of Kama (desires), Shiva is the killer. Shiva is pervaded by the power of Parvati and Parvati is pervaded by the power of Shiva.

While the stone images may seem to represent a half-male and half-female God, the true symbolic representation is of a being the whole of which is Shiva and the whole of which is Shakti at the same time. It is a 3-D representation of only shakti from one angle and only Shiva from the other. Shiva and Shakti are hence the same being representing a collective of Jnana (knowledge) and Kriya (activity).

Adi Shankaracharya, the founder of non-dualistic philosophy (Advaita–"not two") in Hindu thought says in his "Saundaryalahari"—Shivah Shaktayaa yukto yadi bhavati shaktah prabhavitum na che devum devona khalu kushalah spanditam api " i.e., It is only when Shiva is united with Shakti that He acquires the capability of becoming the Lord of the Universe. In the absence of Shakti, He is not even able to stir. In fact, the term "Shiva" originated from "Shva," which implies a dead body. It is only through his inherent shakti that Shiva realizes his true nature.

This mythology projects the inherent view in ancient Hinduism, that each human carries within himself both female and male components, which are forces rather than sexes, and it is the harmony between the creative and the annihilative, the strong and the soft, the proactive and the passive, that makes a true person. Such thought, leave alone entail gender equality, in fact obliterates any material distinction between the male and female altogether. This may explain why in ancient India we find evidence of homosexuality, bisexuality, androgyny, multiple sex partners and open representation of sexual pleasures in artworks like the Khajuraho temples, being accepted within prevalent social frameworks.


Natural languages often make gender distinctions. These may be of various kinds, more or less loosely associated by analogy with various actual or perceived differences between men and women.

  • Most languages include terms that are used asymmetrically in reference to men and women. Concern that current language may be biased in favour of men has led some authors in recent times to argue for the use of a more Gender-neutral vocabulary in English and other languages.
  • Several languages attest the use of different vocabulary by men and women, to differing degrees. See, for instance, Gender differences in spoken Japanese. The oldest documented language, Sumerian, records a distinctive sub-language only used by female speakers. Conversely, many Indigenous Australian languages have distinctive registers with limited lexis used by men in the presence of their mothers-in-law (see Avoidance speech).
  • Several languages such as Persian are gender-neutral. In Persian the same word is used in reference to men and women. Verbs, adjectives and nouns are not gendered. (See Gender-neutrality in genderless languages)
  • Grammatical gender is a property of some languages in which every noun is assigned a gender, often with no direct relation to its meaning. For example, the word for "girl" is muchacha (grammatically feminine) in Spanish, Mädchen (grammatically neuter) in German, and cailín (grammatically masculine) in Irish.
  • The term " grammatical gender" is often applied to more complex noun class systems. This is especially true when a noun class system includes masculine and feminine as well as some other non-gender features like animate, edible, manufactured, and so forth. An example of the latter is found in the Dyirbal language. A system traditionally called "gender" appears in the Ojibwe language, which distinguishes between animate and inanimate, but since this does not exhibit a masculine/feminine distinction it might be better described by "noun class." Likewise, Sumerian distinguishes between personal (human and divine) and impersonal (all other) noun classes, but these classes have traditionally been known as genders.
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