Gender is a range of characteristics of femininity and masculinity. Depending on the context, the term may refer to such concepts as sex (i.e. the state of being male or female), social roles (as in gender roles) or gender identity.
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), but in many contexts, even in some areas of social sciences, the meaning of gender has expanded 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.
Gender studies has become a branch of the social sciences.
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.
Famous quotes containing the word gender:
“Most women of [the WW II] generation have but one image of good motherhoodthe one their mothers embodied. . . . Anything done for the sake of the children justified, even ennobled the mothers role. Motherhood was tantamount to martyrdom during that unique era when children were gods. Those who appeared to put their own needs first were castigated and shunnedthe ultimate damnation for a gender trained to be wholly dependent on the acceptance and praise of others.”
—Melinda M. Marshall (20th century)
“... lynching was ... a womans issue: it had as much to do with ideas of gender as it had with race.”
—Paula Giddings (b. 1948)
“Anthropologists have found that around the world whatever is considered mens work is almost universally given higher status than womens work. If in one culture it is men who build houses and women who make baskets, then that culture will see house-building as more important. In another culture, perhaps right next door, the reverse may be true, and basket- weaving will have higher social status than house-building.”
—Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen. Excerpted from, Gender Grace: Love, Work, and Parenting in a Changing World (1990)