Gender identity is referred to as "an individual's self-conception as being male or female, as distinguished from actual biological sex."Gender Identity. Although gender is commonly used interchangeably with sex, within the Social Sciences it often refers to specifically social differences, known as gender roles in the biological sciences. Historically, feminism has posited that many gender roles are socially constructed, and lack a clear biological explanation. People whose gender identity feels incongruent with their physical bodies may call themselves transgender or genderqueer.
Many languages have a system of grammatical gender, a type of noun class system — nouns may be classified as masculine or feminine (for example Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic and French) and may also have a neuter grammatical gender (for example Sanskrit, German, Polish, and the Scandinavian languages). In such languages, this is essentially a convention, which may have little or no connection to the meaning of the words. Likewise, a wide variety of phenomena have characteristics termed gender, by analogy with male and female bodies or due to societal norms.
Etymology and usage
The word gender in English
The word gender comes from the Middle English gendre, a loanword from Norman-conquest-era Old French. This, in turn, came from Latin :la:genus. Both words mean 'kind', 'type', or 'sort'. They derive ultimately from a widely attested Proto-Indo-European root gen-, 'gen', 'genə-', in 'Appendix I: Indo-European Roots', to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition which is also the source of kin, kind, king, and many other English words. Your Dictionary.com, 'Gen', reformatted from AHD. It appears in Modern French in the word genre (type, kind, also :fr:genre sexuel) and is related to the Greek root gen- (to produce), appearing in gene, genesis, and oxygen. As a verb, it means breed in the King James Bible:
- 1616: Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind — Leviticus 19:19.
Most uses of the root gen in Indo-European languages refer either directly to what pertains to birth or, by extension, to natural, innate qualities and their consequent social distinctions (for example gentry, generation, gentile, genocide and eugenics). 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. 1604 — Oth. I. iii. 326 Supplie it with one gender of Hearbes, or distract it with many. 1643 and so on.
As masculinity or femininity
- 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 gender — Charles 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 gender — Henry James, [https://cdl.library.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/moa/moa-cgi?notisid=ABK2934-0033-31 '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 — News Chronicle"
- c. 1900: Our most lively impression is that the sun is there assumed to be of the feminine gender — Henry James, Essays on Literature.
As a grammatical term
According to Aristotle, the Greek philosopher Protagoras used the terms "masculine", "feminine", and "neuter" to classify nouns, introducing the concept of grammatical gender.
- Polytonic - τὰ γένη τῶν ὀνομάτων ἄρρενα καὶ θήλεα καὶ σκεύη}}
- The classes (genē) of the nouns are males, females and things.
"A fourth rule is to observe Protagoras' classification of nouns into male, female and inanimate." Aristotle, Rhetoric, translated by William Rhys Roberts (1858–1929), (reprinted ISBN 9780486437934
- — Aristotle, The Technique of Rhetoric III v
The words for this concept are not related to gen- in all Indo-European languages (for example, rod in Slavic languages).
The usage of gender in the context of grammatical distinctions is a specific and technical usage. However, in English, the word became attested more widely in the context of grammar, than in making sexual distinctions.
This was noted in OED1, prompting Henry Watson Fowler to recommend this usage as the primary and preferable meaning of gender in English. "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."
The sense of this can be felt by analogy with a modern expression like "persons of the female persuasion." It should be noted, however, that this was a recommendation, neither the Daily News nor Henry James citations (above) are "jocular" nor "blunders." Additionally, patterns of usage of gender have substantially changed since Fowler's day (noun class above, and sexual stereotype below).
As a sexual stereotype
The word sex is sometimes used in the context of social roles of men and women — for example, the British Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 that ended exclusion of women from various official positions. Such usage was more common before the 1970s, over the course of which the feminist movement took the word gender into their own usage to describe their theory of human nature.
Early in that decade, gender was used in ways consistent with both the history of English and the history of attestation of the root.
However, by the end of the decade consensus was achieved among feminists regarding this theory and its terminology. 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.
- 1998: Today a return to separate single-sex schools may hasten the revival of separate gender roles. — Wendy Kaminer, 'The Trouble with Single-Sex Schools', The Atlantic Monthly (April).
The American Heritage Dictionary 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."difference" Usage note: Gender, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, (2000).
- 2000: The effectiveness of the medication appears to depend on the sex (not gender) of the patient.
- 2000: 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. David Haig, 'The Inexorable Rise of Gender and the Decline of Sex: Social Change in Academic Titles, 1945–2001', Archives of Sexual Behavior 33 (2004): 87–96. Online at PubMed and Questia. Frequently, but not exclusively, this indicates acceptance of the feminist theory of human nature. However, in many instances, the term gender still refers to sexual distinction generally without such an assumption.
- 2004: 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.
In fact, the ideological distinction between sex and gender is only fitfully observed.
The concept of gender in other languages
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 'male' and 'female' refer to animals as well as humans, but not to grammatical categories; however, 'masculine' and 'feminine' refer to grammatical categories as well as humans, but not properly to animals, except as anthropomorphism.
German and Dutch (no distinction in nouns — Geschlecht and geslacht)
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 or Dutch, use the same word, :de:Geschlecht or :nl: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. Both German and Dutch use a separate word, de:Genus, for grammatical gender.
Swedish (clear distinction in nouns — genus and kön)
In Swedish, 'gender' is translated with the linguistically cognate 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 Proto-Indo-European language gen-) is used. A common distinction is then made between kön (sex) and genus (gender), where the former refers only to biological sex. However, Swedish uses the words könsroller|sv:könsroll and :könsidentitet (literally 'sex role' and 'sex-identity') for the English terms 'gender role' and 'gender identity'.
French (sexe and 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, 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).
The historical meaning of gender is something like "things we treat differently because of their inherent differences".<ref> "In the Teutonic word, as in Latin genus and Greek γένος three main senses appear, (1) race or stock, (2) class or kind, (3) gender or sex ; the last, found in OE. and early ME., but not later, is the only sense in mod. Du., Da., and Sw." 'kin', in Oxford English Dictionary. It has three common applications in contemporary English. Most commonly it is applied to the general differences between men and women, without any assumptions regarding biology or sociology. Sometimes however, the usage is technical or assumes a particular theory of human nature, this is always clear from the context. Finally the same word, gender, is also commonly applied to the independent concept of distinctive word categories in certain languages. Grammatical gender has little or nothing to do with differences between men and women. 
Men and women need each other in their morontial and spiritual as well as in their mortal careers. The differences in viewpoint between male and female persist even beyond the first life and throughout the local and superuniverse ascensions. And even in Havona, the pilgrims who were once men and women will still be aiding each other in the Paradise ascent. Never, even in the Corps of the Finality, will the creature metamorphose so far as to obliterate the personality trends that humans call male and female; always will these two basic variations of humankind continue to intrigue, stimulate, encourage, and assist each other; always will they be mutually dependent on co-operation in the solution of perplexing universe problems and in the overcoming of manifold cosmic difficulties.
- See translation of Judith Butler's Gender Trouble