gender (noun) /ˈdʒɛndɚ/ LISTEN
Gender is a set of grammatical categories applied to nouns and any of the categories in such a set, masculine, feminine, neuter, or common. Outside grammar, gender is used to talk about either of the two sexes (male or female), especially when associated with cultural and social patterns rather than biological differences.
- French has two genders, masculine and feminine, while German has three, masculine, feminine, and neuter.
- This job vacancy is open to people of either gender.
- Some people think these differences are due to sex, others think they are due to gender.
Words often used with gender
gender equality: equality between men and women.
gender studies: an interdisciplinary field of study, looking at gender identity and gendered representation and analyzing texts and other works from the point of view of gender.
gender-based violence: violence towards someone because of their gender.
In pop culture
Today is International Women’s Day, an event that is held on March 8 every year to celebrate women’s achievements and to continue to fight against gender inequality. You can read more about International Women’s Day here. There are many other movements fighting for women’s rights, some of which you may have heard of, including the #MeToo movement that is currently fighting against sexual harassment (you can read more about that here, and the Argentine feminist movement #NiUnaMenos, which you can read more about here. There’s also a video you can watch, made for last year’s International Women’s Day:
Gender can also be a verb, meaning ‘to bring forth or produce,’ but it is rarely used nowadays. You may come across it in old books.
Did you know?
To talk about men and women, gender is primarily used as a way of distinguishing social and cultural characteristics of being male or female from the biological characteristics of being male or female, which belong to the category of sex. Sometimes, the distinctions are a little blurred, not least because gender is also often used in place of sex because sex is more commonly used to mean ‘sexual intercourse,’ so if you are filling in a form and it asks for your gender, it’s just asking if you are a man or a woman. The impact of considering some characteristics as arising from social or cultural conditioning, rather than as a result of biology, has led to big differences in the way people think about masculinity and femininity, and this is not limited just to how we think of men and women. Some people feel that their gender does not correspond to their biological sex. People who feel this way are known as transgender. Some of them (but not all of them) may undergo hormone therapy and/or surgery to bring their physical appearance and sexual characteristics more into line with their gender identity. There are also people who do not identify as either gender and they are known as non-binary or genderqueer. Non-binary people may prefer others to refer to them using gender-neutral pronouns. The most popular pronoun in this case is they, which is often used informally to refer to a person when you don’t know what sex they are. For example, you might say, “The boss is interviewing candidates for that job vacancy next week. Whoever he picks, I hope they’re better than the last guy!” or “Look, someone’s left their phone behind on that table. I hope they realize and come back for it.” Because the pronoun is already used in this way, many non-binary people find it an obvious choice, but there are also some new pronouns that have been created, such as ze and hir, and some people prefer to use those.
Gender, meaning ‘a kind, sort or class of something,’ as well as ‘a class or sort of persons sharing certain traits,’ dates back to around the year 1300. The late Middle English noun gendre, which soon changed its spelling to gender, came from the Middle French gendre, and the Old French gendre or genre. It can be traced back to the Latin noun genus, which could mean ‘race stock or family,’ ‘species,’ ‘order, kind or rank,’ or ‘male or female sex,’ from the Proto-Indo-European root gene (to beget or give birth). It is related to many similar words in other European languages, as well as the English words generate, generation and genre (the latter was directly borrowed from the French). While this was not its original Latin meaning, it was used to translate the Greek word genos, which Aristotle used to describe gender in grammar, though this sense has been used in English only since the late 14th century. The ‘male or female sex’ sense first appeared in English in the 15th century, but it wasn’t commonly used this way until the early 20th century, when the word sex took on more erotic qualities. In the 1960s, gender began to be used to refer to cultural and social aspects, rather than the mere biological aspect, especially in feminist writings. The verb, meaning ‘to bring forth,’ dates back to the late 14th century. The Middle English verb gendren or genderen came into English the same way as the noun did, from the Middle French gendren and the Latin generāre. It is rarely used today in the original sense, but may sometimes be found meaning ‘to assign gender.’