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The gender symbols often used to represent a female (left) or male (right)

Gender means 'type'. It is a word commonly used for a person's sex (male or female). When people use the word gender in this way, it is often because sex has many other meanings, making it hard to understand.

Definitions and history[change | change source]

"Gender" comes from the Latin word genus which meant "kind" or "type". In the few hundred years before the 1950s, the term 'gender' was used only in the field of grammar. In 1955, a scientist began to use the word gender in new ways when referring to people, in a way that was related to their 'sex' but not quite the same.

Grammar[change | change source]

Before the 1950s, the term 'gender' was used only in the field of grammar, and only to distinguish a category of words that are called 'feminine nouns' from other words that are 'masculine nouns'.[1][2] Early Indo-European languages~had three genders. Languages that come from Latin like Spanish, French, and Italian have lost one, and their nouns are either feminine or masculine in gender. For example, in Spanish, 'house' (casa) is feminine, and 'day' (día) is masculine. Some languages still have three genders, like German. Outside of their grammatical category, the word 'gender' was not used to refer to people. At that time, when one spoke about someone being either 'male' or 'female', the word used was sex.

Social science[change | change source]

In 1955, the meaning of the word gender began to change. A scientist studying the similarities and differences between men and women began to use the word gender in new ways, that referred to people's behavior. John Money created the term gender role and began to use it to mean something different from sex.

In social sciences, there is a difference between 'sex' and 'gender':

  • The word 'sex' describes the body. Sex organs and sex chromosomes show what sex someone is.
  • The word 'gender' describes someone's personality or character. It says if someone feels or acts more like a female (feminine) or more like a male (masculine).

References[change | change source]

Related pages[change | change source]