Sociolinguistics and gender
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Sociolinguistics is the descriptive study of the effect of any and all aspects of society,
including cultural norms, expectations, and context, on the way language is used, and the
effects of language use on society. Sociolinguistics differs from sociology of language in that
the focus of sociolinguistics is the effect of the society on the language, while the sociology of
language focuses on language's effect on the society. Sociolinguistics overlaps to a
considerable degree with pragmatics. It is historically closely related to linguistic
anthropology and the distinction between the two fields has even been questioned recently.
It also studies how language varieties differ between groups separated by certain social
variables, e.g., ethnicity, religion, status, gender, level of education, age, etc., and how
creation and adherence to these rules is used to categorize individuals in social or
socioeconomic classes. As the usage of a language varies from place to place, language usage
also varies among social classes, and it is these sociolects that sociolinguistics studies.
The social aspects of language were in the modern sense first studied by Indian and Japanese
linguists in the 1930s, and also by Louis Gauchat in Switzerland in the early 1900s, but none
received much attention in the West until much later. The study of the social motivation of
language change, on the other hand, has its foundation in the wave model of the late 19th
century. The first attested use of the term sociolinguistics was by Thomas Callan Hodson in
the title of his 1939 article "Sociolingistics in India" published in Man in India..
Sociolinguistics in the West first appeared in the 1960s and was pioneered by linguists such as
William Labov in the US and Basil Bernstein in the UK. In the 1960s, William Stewart and
Heinz Kloss introduced the basic concepts for the sociolinguistic theory of pluricentric
languages, which describes how standard language varieties differ between nations (e.g.
American/British/Canadian/Australian English; Austrian/German/Swiss German;
For example, a sociolinguist might determine through study of social attitudes that a particular
vernacular would not be considered appropriate language use in a business or professional
setting. Sociolinguists might also study the grammar, phonetics, vocabulary, and other aspects
of this sociolect much as dialectologists would study the same for a regional dialect.
The study of language variation is concerned with social constraints determining language in
its contextual environment. Code-switching is the term given to the use of different varieties
of language in different social situations.
William Labov is often regarded as the founder of the study of sociolinguistics. He is
especially noted for introducing the quantitative study of language variation and change,
making the sociology of language into a scientific discipline.
Traditional sociolinguistic interview
Sociolinguistic interviews are an integral part of collecting data for sociolinguistic studies.
There is an interviewer, who is conducting the study, and a subject, or informant, who is the
interviewee. In order to get a grasp on a specific linguistic form and how it is used in the
dialect of the subject, a variety of methods are used to elicit certain registers of speech. There
are five different styles, ranging from formal to casual. The most formal style would be
elicited by having the subject read a list of minimal pairs (MP). Minimal pairs are pairs of
words that differ in only one phoneme, such as cat and bat. Having the subject read a word list
(WL) will elicit a formal register, but generally not as formal as MP. The reading passage
(RP) style is next down on the formal register, and the interview style (IS) is when an
interviewer can finally get into eliciting a more casual speech from the subject. During the IS
the interviewer can converse with the subject and try to draw out of them an even more casual
sort of speech by asking him to recall childhood memories or maybe a near death experience,
in which case the subject will get deeply involved with the story since strong emotions are
often attached to these memories. Of course, the most sought after type of speech is the casual
style (CS). This type of speech is difficult if not impossible to elicit because of the Observer's
Paradox. The closest one might come to CS in an interview is when the subject is interrupted
by a close friend or family member, or perhaps must answer the phone. CS is used in a
completely unmonitored environment where the subject feels most comfortable and will use
their natural vernacular without overtly thinking about it.
Fundamental concepts in sociolinguistics
While the study of sociolinguistics is very broad, there are a few fundamental concepts on
which many sociolinguistic inquiries depend.
Main article: Speech community
Speech community is a concept in sociolinguistics that describes a distinct group of people
who use language in a unique and mutually accepted way among themselves. This is
sometimes referred to as a Sprechbund.
To be considered part of a speech community, one must have a communicative competence.
That is, the speaker has the ability to use language in a way that is appropriate in the given
situation. It is possible for a speaker to be communicatively competent in more than one
Speech communities can be members of a profession with a specialized jargon, distinct social
groups like high school students or hip hop fans, or even tight-knit groups like families and
friends. Members of speech communities will often develop slang or jargon to serve the
group's special purposes and priorities.
Community of Practice allows for sociolinguistics to examine the relationship between
socialization, competence, and identity. Since identity is a very complex structure, studying
language socialization is a means to examine the micro-interactional level of practical activity
(everyday activities). The learning of a language is greatly influenced by family but it is
supported by the larger local surroundings, such as school, sports teams, or religion. Speech
communities may exist within a larger community of practice.
High prestige and low prestige varieties
Main article: Prestige (sociolinguistics)
Crucial to sociolinguistic analysis is the concept of prestige; certain speech habits are assigned
a positive or a negative value, which is then applied to the speaker. This can operate on many
levels. It can be realised on the level of the individual sound/phoneme, as Labov discovered in
investigating pronunciation of the post-vocalic /r/ in the North-Eastern USA, or on the macro
scale of language choice, as realised in the various diglossias that exist throughout the world,
where Swiss-German/High German is perhaps most well known. An important implication of
sociolinguistic theory is that speakers 'choose' a variety when making a speech act, whether
consciously or subconsciously.
Understanding language in society means that one also has to understand the social networks
in which language is embedded. A social network is another way of describing a particular
speech community in terms of relations between individual members in a community. A
network could be loose or tight depending on how members interact with each other. For
instance, an office or factory may be considered a tight community because all members
interact with each other. A large course with 100+ students would be a looser community
because students may only interact with the instructor and maybe 1–2 other students. A
multiplex community is one in which members have multiple relationships with each other.
For instance, in some neighborhoods, members may live on the same street, work for the
same employer and even intermarry.
The looseness or tightness of a social network may affect speech patterns adopted by a
speaker. For instance, Sylvie Dubois and Barbara Horvath found that speakers in one Cajun
Louisiana community were more likely to pronounce English "th" [θ] as [t] (or [ð] as [d]) if
they participated in a relatively dense social network (i.e. had strong local ties and interacted
with many other speakers in the community), and less likely if their networks were looser (i.e.
fewer local ties).
A social network may apply to the macro level of a country or a city, but also to the interpersonal level of neighborhoods or a single family. Recently, social networks have been
formed by the Internet, through chat rooms, MySpace groups, organizations, and online
Internal vs. external language
In Chomskyan linguistics, a distinction is drawn between I-language (internal language) and
E-language (external language). In this context, internal language is linguistic knowledge that
a native speaker of language has. It applies to the study of syntax and semantics on the
abstract level. External language applies to language in social contexts, i.e. behavioral habits
shared by a community. Internal language analyses operate on the assumption that all native
speakers of a language are quite homogeneous in how they process and perceive
language. External language fields, such as sociolinguistics, attempt to explain
why this is in fact not the case. Many sociolinguists reject the distinction between I- and Elanguage on the grounds that it is based on a mentalist view of language. On this view,
grammar is first and foremost an interactional (social) phenomenon (e.g. Elinor Ochs,
Emanuel Schegloff, Sandra Thompson).
Differences according to class
Further information: Linguistic insecurity
Sociolinguistics as a field distinct from dialectology was pioneered through the study of
language variation in urban areas. Whereas dialectology studies the geographic distribution of
language variation, sociolinguistics focuses on other sources of variation, among them class.
Class and occupation are among the most important linguistic markers found in society. One
of the fundamental findings of sociolinguistics, which has been hard to disprove, is that class
and language variety are related. Members of the working class tend to speak less standard
language, while the lower, middle, and upper middle class will in turn speak closer to the
standard. However, the upper class, even members of the upper middle class, may often speak
'less' standard than the middle class. The looseness or tightness of a social network may affect
speech patterns adopted by a speaker. For instance, Sylvie Dubois and Barbara Horvath found
that speakers in one Cajun Louisiana community were more likely to pronounce English "th"
[θ] as [t] (or [ð] as [d]) if they participated in a relatively dense social network (i.e. had strong
local ties and interacted with many other speakers in the community), and less likely if their
networks were looser (i.e. fewer local ties) This is because not only class, but class
aspirations, are important.
Studies, such as those by William Labov in the 1960s, have shown that social aspirations
influence speech patterns. This is also true of class aspirations. In the process of wishing to be
associated with a certain class (usually the upper class and upper middle class) people who are
moving in that direction socio-economically will adjust their speech patterns to sound like
them. However, not being native upper class speakers, they often hypercorrect, which
involves overcorrecting their speech to the point of introducing new errors. The same is true
for individuals moving down in socio-economic status.
In any contact situation, there is a power dynamic, be it a teacher-student or employeecustomer situation, this power dynamic results in a hierarchical differentiation between
Social language codes
Basil Bernstein, a well-known British socio-linguist, devised in his book, 'Elaborated and
restricted codes: their social origins and some consequences,' a social code system he used to
classify the various speech patterns for different social classes. He claimed that members of
the middle class have ways of organizing their speech that are fundamentally very different
from the ways adopted by the working class.
In Basil Bernstein's theory, the restricted code was an example of the speech patterns used by
the working class. He stated that this type of code allows strong bonds between group
members, who tend to behave largely on the basis of distinctions such as 'male', 'female',
'older', and 'younger'. This social group also uses language in a way that brings unity between
people, and members often do not need to be explicit about meaning, as their shared
knowledge and common understanding often bring them together in a way that other social
language groups do not experience. The difference with the restricted code is the emphasis on
'we' as a social group, which fosters greater solidarity than an emphasis on 'I'. The time when
"restricted-code" matters is the day when children start school where the standard variety of
language is used. Moreover, the written form of a language is already very different from the
everyday form. Children with restricted-code, therefore, struggle at school more than those
who speak an "elaborated-code". The type of communication used by the working class
reminds Paivio's dual code theory. According to Paivio, there are two types of codes; verbal
and non-verbal. The dual coding theory proposed by Paivio attempts to give equal weight to
verbal and non-verbal processing. Paivio (1986) states: "Human cognition is unique in that it
has become specialized for dealing simultaneously with language and with nonverbal objects
and events. Moreover, the language system is peculiar in that it deals directly with linguistic
input and output (in the form of speech or writing) while at the same time serving a symbolic
function with respect to nonverbal objects, events, and behaviors. Any representational theory
must accommodate this dual functionality." (p. 53). The use of context by members of
working class to imply what they mean, therefore, may be a "non-verbal code". However, this
type of communicative skills may not be understood by other children who belong to other
classes. What's more, children with restricted-code may have difficulty in understanding the
teacher, the only source of information for them at school. Therefore, it is suggested that
working-class children should have pre-school training within their early childhood period.
Early schooling may provide them with opportunities to acquire the way of speaking valid at
Basil Bernstein also studied what he named the 'elaborated code' explaining that in this type
of speech pattern the middle and upper classes use this language style to gain access to
education and career advancement. Bonds within this social group are not as well defined and
people achieve their social identity largely on the basis of individual disposition and
temperament. There is no obvious division of tasks according to sex or age and generally,
within this social formation members negotiate and achieve their roles, rather than have them
there ready-made in advance. Due to the lack of solidarity the elaborated social language code
requires individual intentions and viewpoints to be made explicit as the 'I' has a greater
emphasis with this social group than the working class.
Deviation from standard language varieties
A diagram showing variation in the English language by region (the bottom axis) and by
social class (the side axis). The higher the social class, the less variation.
The existence of differences in language between social classes can be illustrated by the
Bristolian Dialect (lower class) ... Standard English (higher class)
I ain't done nothing
... I haven't done anything
I done it yesterday
... I did it yesterday
It weren't me that done it
... I didn't do it
Any native speaker of English would immediately be able to guess that speaker 1 was likely
of a different social class than speaker 2, namely from a lower social class, probably from a
working class pedigree. The differences in grammar between the two examples of speech is
referred to as differences between social class dialects or sociolects.
It is also notable that, at least in England and Australia, the closer to standard English a dialect
gets, the less the lexicon varies by region, and vice versa.
Main article: Prestige (sociolinguistics)
It is generally assumed that non-standard language is low-prestige language. However, in
certain groups, such as traditional working-class neighborhoods, standard language may be
considered undesirable in many contexts. This is because the working class dialect is a
powerful in-group marker, and especially for non-mobile individuals, the use of non-standard
varieties (even exaggeratedly so) expresses neighborhood pride and group and class
solidarity. There will thus be a considerable difference in use of non-standard varieties when
going to the pub or having a neighborhood barbecue (high), and going to the bank (lower) for
the same individual.
Main articles: Variation (linguistics), Dialectology, and Language and gender
Studies in the field of sociolinguistics typically take a sample population and interview them,
assessing the realisation of certain sociolinguistic variables.
A commonly studied source of variation is regional dialects. Dialectology studies variations in
language based primarily on geographic distribution and their associated features.
Sociolinguists concerned with grammatical and phonological features that correspond to
regional areas are often called dialectologists.
There are several different types of age-based variation one may see within a population.
They are: vernacular of a subgroup with membership typically characterized by a specific age
range, age-graded variation, and indications of linguistic change in progress.
Variation may also be associated with gender. Men and women, on average, tend to use
slightly different language styles. These differences tend to be quantitative rather than
qualitative. That is, to say that women use a particular speaking style more than men do is
akin to saying that men are taller than women (i.e., men are on average taller than women, but
some women are taller than some men).
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society: Sociolinguistics or linguistic anthropology?". Journal of Sociolinguistics
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Readings. Malden, Ma.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2003.
3. ^ T. C. Hodson and the Origins of British Socio-linguistics by John E. Joseph
Sociolinguistics Symposium 15, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, April 2004
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Sociolinguistics: Society and Identity. Page 44
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Gender is a range of physical, mental, and behavioral characteristics distinguishing between
masculinity and femininity. Depending on the context, the term may refer to biological
sex (i.e. the state of being male, female or intersex), social roles (as in gender roles), or gender
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.
The social sciences have a branch devoted to gender studies. Other sciences, such as
psychology, sexology and neuroscience, are also interested in the subject. 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,
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.
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.
ηὰ γένη ηῶν ὀνομάηων ἄρρενα καὶ θήλεα καὶ ζκεύη 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 grammarrelated meaning only:
"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."
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,
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
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, '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 gender—Henry 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
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
Analogous terms in other languages
Tamil has recently introduced terms for transgender and genderqueer people.
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
(αρζενικός), in distinction to sociological masculinity, which is denoted by andrikos
(ανδρικός). Likewise, female biology and feminine grammatical inflection are denoted by
thēlukos (θηλσκός); and sociological femininity is denoted by gunaikeios (γσναικείος,
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 <Geschlecht> 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
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
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
Main articles: Gender identity and Gender role
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[weasel words], in the definition of "woman". There
are qualitative analyses that explore and present the representations of gender; feminists[who?]
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.[clarification needed] 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 favor men,
creating an imbalance in power and gender inequalities in all countries.[better source needed]
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
See also: Sex assignment
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 behavior, 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
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.
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
ʃe]), found in the state of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, "beyond gay and
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 behavior available to individual
organisms with a given biological sex.[clarification needed]
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 masculinityfemininity—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".
Charles E. 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
behavior). 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.
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.
Political scientist Mary Hawkesworth addresses gender and feminist theory, noting that since
the 1970s the concept of gender has transformed and been used in significantly different ways
within feminist scholarship. Hawkesworth notes that a transition occurred when several
feminist scholars, such as Sandra Harding and Joan Scott, began to conceive of gender "as an
analytic category within which humans think about and organize their social activity".
Feminist scholars in Political Science began employing gender as an analytical category,
which highlighted "social and political relations neglected by mainstream accounts".
However, Hawkesworth notes "feminist political science has not become a dominant
paradigm within the discipline".
American political scientist Karen Beckwith addresses the concept of gender within political
science arguing that a "common language of gender" exists and that it must be explicitly
articulated in order to build upon it within the political science discipline. Beckwith describes
two ways in which the political scientist may employ 'gender' when conducting empirical
research: "gender as a category and as a process." Employing gender as a category allows for
political scientists "to delineate specific contexts where behaviours, actions, attitudes and
preferences considered masculine or feminine result in particular" political outcomes. It
may also demonstrate how gender differences, not necessarily corresponding precisely with
sex, may "constrain or facilitate political" actors. Gender as a process has two central
manifestations in political science research, firstly in determining "the differential effects of
structures and policies upon men and women," and secondly, the ways in which masculine
and feminine political actors "actively work to produce favorable gendered outcomes".
With regard to gender studies, Jacquetta Newman states that although sex is determined
biologically, the ways in which people express gender is not. Gendering is a socially
constructed process based on culture, though often cultural expectations around women and
men have a direct relationship to their biology. Because of this, Newman argues, many
privilege sex as being a cause of oppression and ignore other issues like race, ability, poverty,
etc. Current gender studies classes seek to move away from that and examine the
intersectionality of these factors in determining people's lives. She also points out that other
non-Western cultures do not necessarily have the same views of gender and gender roles.
Newman also debates the meaning of equality, which is often considered the goal of
feminism; she believes that equality is a problematic term because it can mean many different
things, such as people being treated identically, differently, or fairly based on their gender.
Newman believes this is problematic because there is no unified definition as to what equality
means or looks like, and that this can be significantly important in areas like public policy.
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 juridical
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' behavior 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
See also: Sexual differentiation and Sex determination and differentiation (human)
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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 behavioral 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
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.
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Main article: Sexual reproduction
Sexual differentiation demands the fusion of gametes that are morphologically
—Cyril Dean Darlington, Recent Advances in Cytology, 1937.
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
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 selffertilize (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.
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.
46xx, 46xy, 47xxy (Klinefelter syndrome), 45xo (Turner's syndrome), 47xyy, 47xxx,
48xxyy, 46xx/xy mosaic, other mosaic, and others
testicles, ovaries, one of each (hermaphrodites), ovotestes, or other gonadal dysgenesis
androgens including testosterone; estrogens—including estradiol, estriol, estrone;
antiandrogens and others
primary sexual characteristics (six class system)
secondary sexual characteristics
dimorphic physical characteristics, other than primary characteristics (most
prominently breasts or their absence)
special kinds of secondary characteristics, due to their influence on psychology and
psychological identification with either of the two main sexes
social conformity with expectations for either of the two main sexes
gynophilia, androphilia, bisexuality, asexuality and various paraphilias.
See also: Sexual differentiation, Sexual dimorphism, and Sex differences in humans
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 Ychromosome. 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
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
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
Main article: 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
Main article: XY sex-determination system
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-color 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, sexlimited 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.
"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:
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 behavioral
(and other) results are brain neurology and biological psychology. Cognitive science is
another important discipline in the field of brain research.
Society and behaviors
See also: Sex and psychology
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 behavioral
psychology collates evidence in an effort to discover correlations between behavior 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
A core research area within sociology is the way human behavior operates on itself, in other
words, how the behavior of one group or individual influences the behavior 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
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
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.[neutrality
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 selfconception approach (self-conception: gay versus straight) focuses on the different selfconceptions 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
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 oppositesex couples; in some countries, there are same-sex marriage laws.
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 intersex 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
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
Gender and poverty
Main article: Feminization of 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
Further information: Gender and religion
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.
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
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
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 favor 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
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.
Brain Sex, Anne Moir and David Jessel, 1989.
The Female Brain, Louann Brizendine, 2006.
List of animal names—Animal: female, male; horse: mare, stallion; human: woman,
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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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This article is about noun classes. For uses of language associated with men and
women, see Language and gender. For methods of minimizing the use of gendered
forms, see Gender-neutral language. For other uses, see Gender (disambiguation).
Diagrams roughly representing the noun distribution in some languages. The examples
1. masculine – feminine
2. masculine – feminine – neuter
3. animate – inanimate
Note: The example words given do not necessarily belong to the indicated genders in
the languages mentioned. Also, the sets are not necessarily of equal size.
In linguistics, grammatical gender is a system of noun classification present in
approximately one fourth of the world's languages. In these languages, every noun inherently
carries one value of the grammatical category called gender; the values present in a given
language (of which there are usually two or three) are called the genders of that language.
According to one definition: "Genders are classes of nouns reflected in the behaviour of
Common gender divisions include masculine and feminine; masculine, feminine and neuter;
or animate and inanimate. In a few languages, the gender assignation of nouns is solely
determined by their meaning or attributes, like biological sex, humanness, animacy. However,
in most languages, this semantic division is only partially valid, and many nouns may belong
to a gender category that contrasts with their meaning (e.g. the word "manliness" could be of
feminine gender). In this case, the gender assignation can also be influenced by the
morphology or phonology of the noun, or in some cases can be apparently arbitrary.
Grammatical gender manifests itself when words related to a noun like determiners, pronouns
or adjectives change their form (inflection) according to the gender of noun they refer to
(agreement). The parts of speech affected by gender agreement, the circumstances in which it
occurs, and the way words are marked for gender vary cross-linguistically. Gender inflection
may interact with other grammatical categories like number or case. In some languages the
declension pattern followed by the noun itself may be dependent on its gender.
Grammatical gender is found in many Indo-European languages (including Spanish, German,
Hindi and Russian, but not Persian, for example), Semitic languages (Arabic, Amharic,
Hebrew, etc.), and in other language families such as Afro-Asiatic, Dravidian and Northeast
Caucasian, as well as several Australian aboriginal languages like Dyirbal, and Kalaw Lagaw
Ya. Also, most Niger–Congo languages have extensive systems of noun classes, which can be
grouped into several grammatical genders. On the other hand, grammatical gender is usually
absent from the Altaic, Austronesian, Sino-Tibetan, Uralic and most Native American
language families. Modern English is not considered to have grammatical gender, although
Old English had it, and some remnants of a gender system exist, such as the distinct personal
pronouns he, she and it.
The grammatical gender of a noun affects the form of other words related to it. For
example, in Spanish, determiners, adjectives, and pronouns change their form
depending on the noun they refer to. Spanish has two genders: masculine and
feminine, represented here by the nouns gato and gata respectively.
In languages with grammatical gender, each noun is assigned to one of the classes called
genders, which form a closed set. Most such languages usually have from two to four
different genders, but some are attested with up to 20.
The division into genders usually correlates to some degree, at least for a certain set of nouns
(such as those denoting humans), with some property or properties of the things that particular
nouns denote. Such properties include animacy or inanimacy, "humanness" or nonhumanness, and biological sex. (Related to the correlation between sex and grammatical
gender in languages such as Latin is the use of the word gender outside linguistics, as an
alternative to "sex" or to denote sexual identity as a social construct. For details, see Gender:
Etymology and usage.)
Common systems of gender division include:
masculine–feminine: here nouns that denote specifically male persons (or animals)
are normally of masculine gender; those that denote specifically female persons (or
animals) are normally of feminine gender; and nouns that denote something that does
not have any sex, or do not specify the sex of their referent, have come to belong to one
or other of the genders, in a way that may appear arbitrary. Examples of languages
with such a system include most of the modern Romance languages, the surviving
Celtic languages, Hindustani, and the Afroasiatic languages.
masculine–feminine–neuter: this is similar to the masculine–feminine system,
except that there is a third available gender, so nouns with sexless or unspecified-sex
referents may be either masculine, feminine, or neuter. (The same applies to the
exceptional nouns whose gender does not follow the denoted sex, such as the German
Mädchen, meaning "girl", which is neuter.) Examples of languages with such a system
include later forms of Proto-Indo-European (see below), Sanskrit, Ancient Greek,
Latin, German, and the Slavic languages.
animate–inanimate: here nouns that denote animate things (humans and animals)
generally belong to one gender, and those that denote inanimate things to another
(although there may be some deviation from that principle). Examples include earlier
forms of Proto-Indo-European and the earliest family known to have split off from it,
the extinct Anatolian languages (see below). Modern examples include, to some extent,
Basque, and Ojibwe.
common–neuter: here a masculine–feminine–neuter system previously existed, but
the distinction between masculine and feminine genders has been lost (they have
merged into what is called common gender). Thus nouns denoting people are usually of
common gender, whereas other nouns may be of either gender. Examples include
Danish and Swedish, and to some extent Dutch (see Gender in Dutch grammar). The
merger of masculine and feminine in these languages can be considered a reversal of
the original split in Proto-Indo-European (see below).
Other types of division or subdivision may be found in particular languages. These may
sometimes be referred to as classes rather than genders; for some examples, see Noun class.
In some of the Slavic languages, for example, within the masculine and sometimes feminine
and neuter genders, there is a further division between animate and inanimate nouns – and in
Polish, also sometimes between nouns denoting humans and non-humans. (For details, see
below.) A human–non-human (or "rational–non-rational") distinction is also found in
Dravidian languages such as Tamil (see below).
Consequences of gender
The grammatical gender of a noun manifests itself in two principal ways: in the modifications
that the noun itself undergoes, and in modifications of other related words (agreement). These
are described in the following sections.
The gender of a noun may affect the modifications that the noun itself undergoes, particularly
the way in which the noun inflects for number and case. For example, a language like Latin,
German or Russian has a number of different declension patterns, and which pattern a
particular noun follows may depend (among other things) on its gender. For some instances of
this, see Latin declension. A concrete example is provided by the German word See, which
has two possible genders: when it is masculine (meaning "lake") its genitive singular form is
Sees, but when it is feminine (meaning "sea"), the genitive is See, because feminine nouns do
not take the genitive -s.
Sometimes, gender is reflected in more subtle ways. In Welsh, gender marking is mostly lost,
however, it has the peculiar feature of initial mutation, where the first consonant of a word
changes into another in certain conditions. Gender is one of the factors that can cause
mutation (soft mutation). For instance, the word merch "girl" changes into ferch after the
definite article. This only occurs with feminine singular nouns: mab "son" remains
unchanged. Adjectives are affected by gender in a similar way.
Masculine singular mab
After definite article
"son" y mab
Feminine singular merch "girl" y ferch
y mab mawr "the big son"
y ferch fawr "the big girl"
Additionally, in many languages, gender is often closely correlated with the basic unmodified
form (lemma) of the noun, and sometimes a noun can be modified to produce (for example)
masculine and feminine words of similar meaning. See Correlation between gender and the
form of a noun, below.
Agreement, or concord, is a grammatical process in which certain words change their form so
that values of certain grammatical categories match those of related words. Gender is one of
the categories which frequently require agreement. In this case, nouns may be considered the
"triggers" of the process, because they have an inherent gender, whereas related words that
change their form to match the gender of the noun can be considered the "target" of these
These related words can be, depending on the language: determiners, pronouns, numerals,
quantifiers, possessives, adjectives, past and passive participles, verbs, adverbs,
complementizers, and adpositions. Gender class may be marked on the noun itself, but can
also be marked on other constituents in a noun phrase or sentence. If the noun is explicitly
marked, both trigger and target may feature similar alternations.
As an example, we consider Spanish, a language with two genders: masculine and
feminine. Among other lexical items, the definite article changes its form according to the
gender of the noun. In the singular, the article is: el (masculine), and la (feminine).
Thus, nouns referring to male beings carry the masculine article, and female beings the
feminine article (agreement).
Masculine el abuelo "the grandfather"
Feminine la abuela "the grandmother"
However, every noun must belong to one of the two categories: nouns referring to sexless
entities must also be either masculine or feminine, even though this assignment may appear
Masculine el plato "the dish"
Feminine la canción "the song"
In the Spanish sentences Él es un buen actor "He is a good actor" and Ella es una buena
actriz "She is a good actress", almost every word undergoes gender-related changes. The noun
actor changes by replacing the masculine suffix -or with the feminine suffix -riz, the personal
pronoun él "he" changes to ella "she", and the feminine suffix -a is added to the article (un →
una) and to the adjective (buen → buena). Only the verb remains unchanged in this case.
The following (highly contrived) Old English sentence provides similar examples of gender
Seo brade lind wæs tilu and ic hire lufode.
Modern English gloss
That broad shield was good and I her loved.
Modern English translation That broad shield was good and I loved it.
The word hire "her" refers to lind "shield". Because this noun was grammatically feminine,
the adjectives brade "broad" and tilu "good", as well as the pronouns seo "the/that" and hire
"her", which referred to lind, must also appear in their feminine forms. Old English had three
genders, masculine, feminine and neuter, but gender inflections (like many other types of
inflection in English) were later greatly simplified by sound changes, and then completely
In modern English, by contrast, the noun shield takes the neuter pronoun it, because it
designates a sexless object. In a sense, the neuter gender has grown to encompass most nouns,
including many that were masculine or feminine in Old English. If one were to replace the
phrase "broad shield" above with brave man or brave woman, the only change to the rest of
the sentence would be in the pronoun at the end, which would become him or her
In the French language, countries can have masculine names (green) or feminine
(purple). Except for certain islands and Mexique, Mozambique, Cambodge and
Zimbabwe, the gender depends on whether the country name ends in -e.
There are three main ways by which natural languages categorize nouns into genders:
according to logical or symbolic similarities in their meaning (semantic), by grouping them
with other nouns that have similar form (morphological), and through apparently arbitrary
convention (lexical, possibly rooted in the language's history). In most languages that have
grammatical gender, a combination of these three types of criteria is found, although one type
may be more prevalent.
Strict semantic criteria
In some languages, the gender of a noun is directly determined by its physical attributes (sex,
animacy, etc.), and there are few or no exceptions to this rule. There are relatively few such
languages; however, they include the Dravidian languages, such as Tamil, as described below.
Another example is the Dizi language, which has two asymmetrical genders. The feminine
includes all living beings of female sex (e.g. woman, girl, cow...), and diminutives; the
masculine encompasses all other nouns (e.g. man, boy, pot, broom...). In this language,
feminine nouns are always marked with -e or -in.
Another African language, Defaka, has three genders: one for all male humans, one for all
female humans, and a third for all the remaining nouns. Gender is only marked in personal
pronouns. Standard English (see below) is very similar in this respect, although the English
gendered pronouns (he, she) are sometimes also used for domestic animals, and for certain
objects such as ships.
Mostly semantic criteria
In some other languages, the gender of nouns can again mostly be determined by physical
(semantic) attributes, although there remain some nouns whose gender is not assigned in this
way (Corbett calls this "semantic residue"). The world view (e.g. mythology) of the
speakers may influence the division of categories.
An example is the Zande language, which has four genders: male human, female human,
animal, and inanimate. However, there are about 80 nouns representing inanimate entities
which are nonetheless animate in gender: heavenly objects (moon, rainbow), metal objects
(hammer, ring), edible plants (sweet potato, pea), and non-metallic objects (whistle, ball).
Many have a round shape or can be explained by the role they play in mythology.
The Ket language has three genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter), and most gender
assignment is based on semantics, but there are many inanimate nouns outside the neuter
class. Masculine nouns include male animates, most fish, trees, the moon, large wooden
objects, most living beings and some religious items. Feminine nouns include female
animates, three types of fish, some plants, the sun and other heavenly objects, some body
parts and skin diseases, the soul, and some religious items. Words for part of a whole, as well
as most other nouns that do not fall into any of the aforementioned classes, are neuter. The
gender assignation of non-sex-differentiable animals in masculine and feminine is complex; in
general, those of no importance to the Kets are feminine, whereas objects of importance (e.g.
fish, wood) are masculine. Mythology is again a significant factor.
The Alamblak language has two genders, masculine and feminine. However, the masculine
also includes things which are tall or long and slender, or narrow (e.g. fish, snakes, arrows and
slender trees), whereas the feminine gender has things which are short, squat or wide (e.g.
turtles, houses, shields and squat trees).
Correlation between gender and the form of a noun
In many other languages, nouns are assigned to gender largely without any semantic basis –
that is, not based on any feature (such as animacy or sex) of the person or thing that a noun
represents. However in many languages there may be a correlation, to a greater or lesser
degree, between gender and the form of a noun (such as the letter or syllable with which it
For example, in Portuguese and Spanish, nouns that end in -o or a consonant are mostly
masculine, whereas those that end in -a are mostly feminine, regardless of their meaning.
(Nouns that end in some other vowel are assigned a gender either according to etymology, by
analogy, or by some other convention.) These rules may override semantics in some cases: for
example, the noun membro/miembro ("member") is always masculine, even when it refers to
a woman, and pessoa/persona ("person") is always feminine, even when it refers to a man. (In
other cases, though, meaning takes precedence: the noun comunista "communist" is masculine
when it refers or could refer to a man, even though it ends with -a.) In fact, nouns in Spanish
and Portuguese (as in the other Romance languages such as Italian and French) generally
follow the gender of the Latin words from which they are derived. When nouns deviate from
the rules for gender, there is usually an etymological explanation: problema ("problem") is
masculine in Spanish because it was derived from a Greek noun of the neuter gender, whereas
radio ("radio station") is feminine, because it is a shortening of estación de radio, a phrase
whose head is the feminine noun estación. (Spanish nouns in -ión are feminine; they derive
from Latin feminines in -o.)
Suffixes often carry a specific gender. For example, in German, diminutives with the suffixes
-chen and -lein (cognates of English -kin and -ling, meaning "little, young") are always neuter,
even if they refer to people, as with Mädchen ("girl") and Fräulein ("young woman") (see
below). Similarly, the suffix -ling, which makes countable nouns from uncountable nouns
(Teig "dough" → Teigling "piece of dough"), or personal nouns from abstract nouns (Lehre
"teaching", Strafe "punishment" → Lehrling "apprentice", Sträfling "convict") or adjectives
(feige "cowardly" → Feigling "coward"), always produces masculine nouns.
In Irish, nouns ending in -óir/-eoir and -ín are always masculine, whereas those ending -óg/eog or -lann are always feminine.
In Arabic, nouns whose singular form ends in a tāʾ marbū a (traditionally a [t], becoming [h]
in pausa) are of feminine gender, the only significant exceptions being the word
("caliph") and certain masculine personal names (e.g.
Usāmah). However, many
masculine nouns take a tāʾ marbū a in their plural; for example
professor") has the plural
usaatatha, which might be confused for a feminine singular
noun. Gender may also be predictable from the type of derivation: for instance, the verbal
nouns of Stem II (e.g.
faʾʾala, yufaʾʾil always
In French, nouns ending in -e tend to be feminine, whereas others tend to be masculine, but
there are many exceptions to this. Certain suffixes are quite reliable indicators, such as -age,
which when added to a verb (e.g. garer "to park" -> garage; nettoyer "to clean" -> nettoyage
"cleaning") indicates a masculine noun; however, when -age is part of the root of the word, it
can be feminine, as in plage ("beach") or image. On the other hand, nouns ending in -tion, sion and -aison are all feminine.
Nouns can sometimes vary their form to enable the derivation of differently gendered cognate
nouns; for example, to produce nouns with a similar meaning but referring to someone of a
different sex. Thus, in Spanish, niño means "boy", and niña means "girl". This paradigm can
be exploited for making new words: from the masculine nouns abogado "lawyer", diputado
"member of parliament" and doctor "doctor", it was straightforward to make the feminine
equivalents abogada, diputada, and doctora.
In the same way, personal names are frequently constructed with affixes that identify the sex
of the bearer. Common feminine suffixes used in English names are -a, of Latin or Romance
origin (cf. Robert and Roberta); and -e, of French origin (cf. Justin and Justine).
Although gender inflection may be used to construct nouns and names for people of opposite
sexes in languages that have grammatical gender, this alone does not constitute grammatical
gender. Distinct words and names for men and women are also common in languages which
do not have a grammatical gender system for nouns in general. English, for example, has
feminine suffixes such as -ess (as in actress, poetess, etc.), and also distinguishes male and
female personal names, as in the above examples.
Apparent absence of criteria
In some languages, any gender markers have been so eroded over time (possibly through
deflexion) that they are no longer recognizable. Many German nouns, for example, do not
indicate their gender through either meaning or form. In such cases a noun's gender must
simply be memorized, and gender can be regarded as an integral part of each noun when
considered as an entry in the speaker's lexicon. (This is reflected in dictionaries, which
typically indicate the gender of noun headwords where applicable.)
Second-language learners are often encouraged to memorize a modifier, usually a definite
article, in conjunction with each noun – for example, a learner of French may learn the word
for "chair" as la chaise (meaning "the chair"); this carries the information that the noun is
chaise, and that it is feminine (because la is the feminine singular form of the definite article).
Nouns with more than one gender
It is relatively uncommon for a noun to have more than one possible gender. When this
happens, it may be associated with a difference in the sex of the referent (as with nouns such
as comunista in Spanish, which may be either masculine or feminine, depending on whether it
refers to a male or a female), or with some other difference in the meaning of the word. For
example, the German word See meaning "lake" is masculine, whereas the identical word
meaning "sea" is feminine.
Sometimes a noun's gender can change between plural and singular, as with the French words
amour ("love"), délice ("delight") and orgue ("organ" as musical instrument), all of which are
masculine in the singular but feminine in the plural. These anomalies may have a historical
explanation (amour used to be feminine in the singular too) or result from slightly different
notions (orgue in the singular is usually a barrel organ, whereas the plural orgues usually
refers to the collection of columns in a church organ).
Further examples are the Italian words uovo ("egg") and braccio ("arm"), which are masculine
in the singular, but form the irregular plurals uova and braccia, which are feminine. (This is
related to the forms of the second declension Latin neuter nouns from which they derive:
ovum and bracchium, with nominative plurals ova and bracchia.)
Related linguistic concepts
Main article: Noun classes
A noun may belong to a given class because of characteristic features of its referent, such as
sex, animacy, shape, although in some instances a noun can be placed in a particular class
based purely on its grammatical behavior. Some authors use the term "grammatical gender" as
a synonym of "noun class", but others use different definitions for each.
Many authors prefer "noun classes" when none of the inflections in a language relate to sex,
such as when an animate–inanimate distinction is made. Note however that the word "gender"
derives from Latin genus (also the root of genre) which originally meant "kind", so it does not
necessarily have a sexual meaning.
Main article: Noun classifier
A classifier, or measure word, is a word or morpheme used in some languages together with a
noun, principally to enable numbers and certain other determiners to be applied to the noun.
They are not regularly used in English or other European languages, although they parallel the
use of words such as piece(s) and head in phrases like "three pieces of paper" or "thirty head
of cattle". They are a prominent feature of East Asian languages, where it is common for all
nouns to require a classifier when being quantified – for example, the equivalent of "three
people" is often "three classifier people". A more general type of classifier (classifier
handshapes) can be found in sign languages.
Classifiers can be considered similar to genders or noun classes, in that a language which uses
classifiers normally has a number of different ones, used with different sets of nouns. These
sets depend largely on properties of the things that the nouns denote (for example, a particular
classifier may be used for long thin objects, another for flat objects, another for people,
another for abstracts, etc.), although sometimes a noun is associated with a particular
classifier more by convention than for any obvious reason. However it is also possible for a
given noun to be usable with any of several classifiers; for example, the Mandarin Chinese
classifier 个 gè is frequently used as an alternative to various more specific classifiers.
Gender of pronouns
As noted above, pronouns may agree in gender with the noun or noun phrase to which they
refer (their antecedent). Sometimes, however, there is no antecedent – the referent of the
pronoun is deduced indirectly from the context. In such cases, the pronoun is likely to agree
with the natural gender of the referent. Examples of this can be in most European languages,
including English (the personal pronouns he, she and it are used depending on whether the
referent is male, female, or inanimate or non-human; this is in spite of the fact that English
does not generally have grammatical gender). A parallel example is provided by the object
suffixes of verbs in Arabic, which correspond to object pronouns, and which also inflect for
gender in the second person (though not in the first):
"I love you", said to a male: uħibbuka (
"I love you", said to a female: uħibbuki (
Not all languages have gendered pronouns. In languages that never had grammatical gender,
there is normally just one word for "he" and "she", like dia in Indonesian, ő in Hungarian and
o in Turkish. These languages might only have different pronouns and inflections in the third
person to differentiate between people and inanimate objects, but even this distinction is often
absent. (In written Finnish, for example, hän is used for "he" and "she" and se for "it", but in
the colloquial language se is usually used for "he" and "she" as well.)
For more on these different types of pronoun, see Gender-specific pronoun and Genderneutral pronoun. Issues may arise in languages with gender-specific pronouns in cases when
the gender of the referent is unknown or not specified; this is discussed under Gender-neutral
language, and in relation to English at Singular they.
In some cases the gender of a pronoun is not marked in the form of the pronoun itself, but is
marked on other words by way of agreement. Thus the French word for "I" is je, regardless of
who is speaking; but this word becomes feminine or masculine depending on the sex of the
speaker, as may be reflected through adjective agreement: je suis forte ("I am strong", spoken
by a female); je suis fort (the same spoken by a male).
In null-subject languages (and in some elliptical expressions in other languages), such
agreement may take place even though the pronoun does not in fact appear. For example, in
"[I am] very grateful", said by a male: muito obrigado
the same, said by a female: muito obrigada
The two sentences above mean literally "much obliged"; the adjective agrees with the natural
gender of the speaker, that is, with the gender of the first person pronoun which does not
appear explicitly here.
Indefinite and dummy pronouns
A dummy pronoun is a type of pronoun used when a particular verb argument (such as the
subject) is nonexistent, but when a reference to the argument is nevertheless syntactically
required. They occur mostly in non-pro-drop languages, such as English (because in pro-drop
languages the position of the argument can be left empty). Examples in English are the uses of
it in "It's raining" and "It's nice to relax."
When a language has gendered pronouns, the use of a particular word as a dummy pronoun
may involve the selection of a particular gender, even though there is no noun to agree with.
In languages with a neuter gender, a neuter pronoun is usually used, as in German es regnet
("it rains, it's raining"), where es is the neuter third person singular pronoun. (English behaves
similarly, because the word it comes from the Old English neuter gender.) In languages with
only masculine and feminine genders, the dummy pronoun may be the masculine third person
singular, as in the French for "it's raining": il pleut (where il means "he", or "it" when
referring to masculine nouns); although some languages use the feminine, as in the equivalent
Welsh sentence: mae hi'n bwrw glaw (where the dummy pronoun is hi, which means "she", or
"it" when referring to feminine nouns).
A similar, apparently arbitrary gender assignment may need to be made in the case of
indefinite pronouns, where the referent is generally unknown. In this case the question is
usually not which pronoun to use, but which gender to assign a given pronoun to (for such
purposes as adjective agreement). For example, the French pronouns quelqu'un ("someone"),
personne ("no-one") and quelque chose ("something") are all treated as masculine – this is in
spite of the fact that the last two correspond to feminine nouns (personne meaning "person",
and chose meaning "thing").
For other situations in which such a "default" gender assignment may be required, see Mixed
and indeterminate gender below.
Grammatical vs. natural gender
The natural gender of a noun, pronoun or noun phrase is a gender to which it would be
expected to belong based on relevant attributes of its referent. This usually means masculine
or feminine, depending on the referent's sex (or gender in the sociological sense).
The grammatical gender of a noun does not always coincide with its natural gender. An
example of this is the German word Mädchen ("girl"); this is derived from Magd
"maidservant" and the diminutive suffix -chen, and this suffix always makes the noun
grammatically neuter. Hence the grammatical gender of Mädchen is neuter, although its
natural gender is feminine (because it refers to a female person).
Other examples include:
Old English wīf (neuter) and wīfmann (masculine), meaning "woman"
German Weib (neuter), meaning "woman" (but the more common word Frau is
Irish cailín (masculine) meaning "girl", and stail (feminine) meaning "stallion"
Scottish Gaelic boireannach (masculine), meaning "woman"
Slovenian dekle (neuter), meaning "girl"
Spanish gente (feminine), meaning "people", even if referring to a group of men
Normally, such exceptions are a small minority. However, in some local dialects of German,
nouns and proper names for female persons have shifted to the neuter gender (presumably
further influenced by the standard word Weib), but the feminine gender remains
for words denoting objects.
When a noun with conflicting natural and grammatical gender is the antecedent of a pronoun,
it may not be clear which gender of pronoun to choose. There is a certain tendency to keep the
grammatical gender when a close back-reference is made, but to switch to natural gender
when the reference is further away. For example in German, the sentence "The girl has come
home from school. She is now doing her homework" can be translated in two ways:
Das Mädchen (n.) ist aus der Schule gekommen. Es (n.) macht jetzt seine (n.)
Das Mädchen (n.) ist aus der Schule gekommen. Sie (f.) macht jetzt ihre (f.)
Though the second sentence may appear grammatically incorrect, it is commonly heard in
speech. With one or more intervening sentences, the second form becomes more likely.
However, no number of adjectives put between the article and the noun (e.g. das schöne,
fleißige, langhaarige, blonde, [...] Mädchen) can license a switch from the neutral to the
feminine article, so it is always considered wrong to say something like die schöne [...]
In the case of languages which have masculine and feminine genders, the relation between
biological sex and grammatical gender tends to be less exact in the case of animals than in the
case of people. In Spanish, for instance, a cheetah is always un guepardo (masculine) and a
zebra is always una cebra (feminine), regardless of their biological sex. To specify the sex of
an animal, an adjective may be added, as in un guepardo hembra ("a female cheetah"), or una
cebra macho ("a male zebra"). Different names for the male and the female of a species are
more frequent for common pets or farm animals, e.g. English cow and bull, Spanish vaca
"cow" and toro "bull".
As regards the pronouns used to refer to animals, these generally agree in gender with the
nouns denoting those animals, rather than the animals' sex (natural gender). In a language like
English, which does not assign grammatical gender to nouns, the pronoun used for referring
to objects (it) is normally used for animals also. However, if the sex of the animal is known,
and particularly in the case of house pets, the gendered pronouns (he and she) may be used as
they would be for a person.
In Polish, a few general words such as zwierzę ("animal") or bydlę ("animal, one head of
cattle") are neuter, but most species names are masculine or feminine. When the sex of an
animal is known, it will normally be referred to using gendered pronouns consistent with its
sex; otherwise the pronouns will correspond to the gender of the noun denoting its species. If
the species name is neuter, the gender of a more generic word might be substituted; for
example a kiwi ("kiwi"; neuter) might be referred to using masculine pronouns, being
considered as a ptak ("bird"; masculine).
Mixed and indeterminate gender
There are certain situations where the assignment of gender to a noun, pronoun or noun
phrase may not be straightforward. This includes in particular:
groups of mixed gender;
references to people or things of unknown or unspecified gender.
In languages with masculine and feminine gender, the masculine is usually employed by
default to refer to persons of unknown gender, and to groups of people of mixed gender. Thus,
in French the feminine plural pronoun elles always designates an all-female group of people
(or stands for a group of nouns all of feminine gender), but the masculine equivalent ils may
refer to a group of males or masculine nouns, to a mixed group, or to a group of people of
unknown genders. In such cases, one says that the feminine gender is semantically marked,
whereas the masculine gender is unmarked.
In English, the problem of gender determination does not arise in the plural, because gender in
that language is reflected only in pronouns, and the plural pronoun they does not have
gendered forms. In the singular, however, the issue frequently arises when a person of
unspecified or unknown gender is being referred to. In this case it has been traditional to use
the masculine (he), but other solutions are now often preferred – see Gender-neutral language
and Singular they.
In languages with a neuter gender, such as Slavic and Germanic languages, the neuter is often
used for indeterminate gender reference, particularly when the things referred to are not
people. In some cases this my even apply when referring to people, particularly children. For
example, in English, one may use it to refer to a child, particularly when speaking generically
rather than about a particular child of known sex.
In Icelandic (which preserves a masculine–feminine–neuter distinction in both singular and
plural), the neuter is used for indeterminate or mixed gender reference even when talking
about people. For example, the greeting velkominn ("welcome") is altered depending on who
is being spoken to:
velkominn (masculine singular) – to one male person
velkomin (feminine singular) – to one female person
velkomið (neuter singular) – to someone whose gender is unknown
velkomnir (masculine plural) – to a group of males
velkomnar (feminine plural) – to a group of females
velkomin (neuter plural) – to a mixed or indeterminate group
Nevertheless, even in Icelandic, the feminine is considered somewhat more marked than the
In Swedish (which has an overall common–neuter gender system), masculinity may be argued
to be a marked feature, since in the weak adjectival declension there is a distinct ending (-e)
for naturally masculine nouns (as in min lillebror, "my little brother"). In spite of this, the
third person singular masculine pronoun han would normally be the default for a person of
unknown gender, although in practice the indefinite pronoun man and the reflexive sig or its
possessive forms sin/sitt/sina usually make this unnecessary.
In Polish, where a gender-like distinction is made in the plural between "masculine personal"
and all other cases (see below), a group is treated as masculine personal if it contains at least
one male person – or more exactly, if it contains at least one person, and something denoted
by a masculine noun (so kobieta i rower, "the woman and the bicycle", would be masculine
personal, because rower is masculine and kobieta is personal).
In languages which preserve a three-way gender division in the plural, the rules for
determining the gender (and sometimes number) of a coordinated noun phrase ("... and ...")
may be quite complex. Czech is an example of such a language, with a division (in the plural)
between masculine animate, masculine inanimate/feminine, and neuter. The rules for
gender and number of coordinated phrases in that language are summarized at Czech
declension: Gender and number of compound phrases.
Gender correspondence between languages
Nouns which have the same meanings in different languages need not have the same gender.
This is particularly so in the case of things with no natural gender, such as sexless objects.
There is nothing objective about a table, for example, which would cause it to be associated
with any particular gender, and different languages' words for "table" are found to have
various genders: feminine, as with the French table; masculine, as with German Tisch; or
neuter, as with Norwegian bord. (Even within a given language, nouns that denote the same
concept may differ in gender – for example, of two German words for "car", Wagen is
masculine whereas Auto is neuter.)
Cognate nouns in closely related languages are likely to have the same gender, since they tend
to inherit the gender of the original word in the parent language. For instance, in the Romance
languages, the words for "sun" are masculine, being derived from the Latin masculine noun
sol, whereas the words for "moon" are feminine, being derived from the Latin feminine luna.
(This contrasts with the genders found in German, where Sonne "sun" is feminine, and Mond
"moon" is masculine.) However, there are exceptions to this principle. For instance, arte
("art") is feminine in Italian, like the Latin word ars from which it stems, but in French, the
corresponding word art is masculine.
Some more examples of the above phenomena are given below. (These come mostly from the
Slavic languages, where gender largely correlates with the noun ending.)
The Russian word луна ("moon") is feminine, while месяц ("crescent moon",
also meaning "month") is masculine. In Polish, another Slavic language, the
word for moon is księżyc, which is masculine.
Russian also has two words for "potato": картофель which is masculine, and
картошка which is feminine.
In Polish the loanword tramwaj ("tram") is masculine, while the cognate
loanword in Czech, tramvaj, is feminine. In Romanian, tramvai is neuter.
The Polish word tysiąc ("thousand") is masculine, while the cognate in Russian,
тысяча, is feminine.
Gender in words borrowed from one language by another
Ibrihim identifies several processes by which a language assigns a gender to a newly
borrowed word; these processes follow patterns by which even children, through their
subconscious recognition of patterns, can often correctly predict a noun's gender.
1. If the noun is animate, natural gender tends to dictate grammatical gender.
2. The borrowed word tends to take the gender of the native word it replaces.
3. If the borrowed word happens to have a suffix that the borrowing language uses
as a gender marker, the suffix tends to dictate gender.
4. If the borrowed word rhymes with one or more native words, the latter tend to
5. The default assignment is the borrowing language's unmarked gender.
6. Rarely, the word retains the gender it had in the donor language.
Sometimes the gender of a word switches with time. For example the Russian modern
loanword виски (viski) "whisky" was originally feminine, then masculine, and today it
has become neuter.
Useful roles of grammatical gender
Ibrihim identified three possible useful roles of grammatical gender:
1. In a language with explicit inflections for gender, it is easy to express the natural
gender of animate beings.
2. Grammatical gender "can be a valuable tool of disambiguation", rendering
clarity about antecedents.
3. In literature, gender can be used to "animate and personify inanimate nouns".
Influence on culture
According to research by Lera Boroditsky, grammatical genders are among the aspects of
languages that shape how people think (a hypothesis called "linguistic relativity"). In one
study by Boroditsky, in which native speakers of German and Spanish were asked to describe
everyday objects in English, she found that they were more likely to use attributes
conventionally associated with the genders of the objects in their native languages.
For instance, German-speakers more often described German: Brücke, (f.) "bridge" with
words like 'beautiful', 'elegant', 'fragile', 'peaceful', 'pretty', and 'slender', whereas Spanishspeakers, which use puente (m.) used terms like 'big', 'dangerous', 'long', 'strong', 'sturdy', and
Also according to Boroditsky, the gender in which concepts are anthropomorphized in art is
dependent, in 85% of all cases, on the grammatical gender of the concept in the artist's
language. Therefore, in German art Tod (m.) "death" is generally portrayed as male, but in
Russian Смерть (f.) "death" is generally portrayed as a female.
A problem with such arguments is that, as argued by Adèle Mercier, in French and many
other languages the same class of objects can be referred to by words of different grammatical
See also: List of languages by type of grammatical genders
Grammatical gender is quite common phenomenon in the world's languages. A typological
survey of 174 languages revealed that over one fourth of them had grammatical gender.
Gender systems rarely overlap with numerical classifier systems. Gender and noun class
systems are usually found in fusional or agglutinating languages, whereas classifiers are more
typical of isolating languages. Thus, the main characteristics of gendered languages are:
location in an area with languages featuring noun classes;
preference for head-marking morphology;
moderate to high morphological complexity;
Many Indo-European languages, though not English, provide archetypical examples of
Research indicates that the earliest stages of Proto-Indo-European had two genders (animate
and inanimate), as did Hittite, the earliest attested Indo-European language. According to this
theory, the animate gender, which (unlike the inanimate) had an independent accusative form,
later split into masculine and feminine, thus originating the three-way classification into
masculine, feminine, and neuter.
Many Indo-European languages retained these three genders, including most Slavic
languages, Latin, Sanskrit, Ancient and Modern Greek, and German. In these languages, there
is a high but not absolute correlation between grammatical gender and declensional class.
Many linguists believe this to be true of the middle and late stages of Proto-Indo-European.
However, many languages reduced the number of genders to two. Some lost the neuter,
leaving masculine and feminine; these include most Romance languages (see Vulgar Latin:
Loss of neuter; a few traces of the neuter remain, such as the distinct Spanish pronoun ello),
as well as Hindustani and the Celtic languages. Others merged feminine and the masculine
into a common gender, but have retained neuter, as in Swedish (and to some extent Dutch; see
Gender in Dutch grammar). Finally, some languages, such as English and Afrikaans, have
nearly completely lost grammatical gender (retaining only some traces, such as the English
pronouns he, she and it), whereas Bengali, Persian, Armenian, Assamese, Oriya, Khowar, and
Kalasha have lost it entirely.
On the other hand, some Slavic languages can be argued to have added new genders to the
classical three (see below).
Main article: Gender in English
Although grammatical gender was a fully productive inflectional category in Old English,
Modern English has a much less pervasive gender system, primarily based on natural gender,
and reflected essentially in pronouns only.
There are a few traces of gender marking in Modern English:
Some words take different derived forms depending on the sex of the referent,
such as actor/actress and widow/widower.
The third person singular personal pronouns (and their possessive forms) are
gender specific: he/him/his (masculine gender, used for males), she/her(s)
(feminine gender, for females), and it/its (neuter gender, mainly for objects,
abstractions and sometimes animals). (There are also distinct personal and nonpersonal forms – though no differentiation by sex – in the case of certain
interrogative and relative pronouns: who/whom for persons, corresponding to
he and she; and which corresponding to it.)
However, these are relatively insignificant features compared with a typical language with full
grammatical gender. English nouns are not generally considered to belong to gender classes in
the way that French, German or Russian nouns are. There is no gender agreement in English
between nouns and their modifiers (articles, other determiners, or adjectives – with the
occasional exception such as blond/blonde, a spelling convention borrowed from French).
Gender agreement applies in effect only to pronouns, and here the choice of pronoun is
determined based on semantics (perceived qualities of the thing being referred to) rather than
on any conventional assignment of particular nouns to particular genders.
It should also be noted that only a relatively small number of English nouns have distinct
male and female forms; many of them are loanwords from non-Germanic languages (the
suffixes -ress and -rix in words such as actress and aviatrix, for instance, derive from Latin rix, in the first case via the French -rice). English has no live productive gender markers. An
example of such a marker might be the suffix -ette (of French provenance), but this is seldom
used today, surviving mostly in either historical contexts or with disparaging or humorous
The gender of an English pronoun, then, typically coincides with the sex (natural gender) of
its referent, rather than with the grammatical gender of its antecedent. The choice between
she, he and it comes down to whether the pronoun is intended to designate a female, a male,
or something else. There are certain exceptions, however:
With animals, it is usually used, although when the sex of the animal is known,
it may be referred to as he or she (particularly when expressing emotional
connection with the animal, as with a pet). See also Animals above.
Certain non-human things are referred to with the pronoun she (her, hers),
particularly countries and ships, and sometimes other vehicles or machines. See
Gender-specific pronoun: Ships and countries. This usage is considered an
optional figure of speech; it is also in decline, and advised against by most
journalistic style guides.
Problems arise when selecting a personal pronoun to refer to someone of unspecified or
unknown gender (see also Mixed and indeterminate gender above). Traditionally the
masculine has been used as the "default" gender in English, but this is now often not
considered acceptable. The use of the plural pronoun they with singular reference is common
in practice. The neuter it may be used of a child, but not normally of an adult. (Other
genderless pronouns exist, such as the impersonal pronoun one, but these are not generally
substitutable for a personal pronoun.) For more information see Gender-neutral language and
The Slavic languages mostly continue the Proto-Indo-European system of three genders,
masculine, feminine and neuter. (Gender correlates largely with noun endings – masculine
nouns typically end in a consonant, feminines in -a and neuters in -o – although there are
many exceptions to this, particularly in the case of nouns whose stems end in a soft
consonant.) However some of the languages, including Russian, Czech, Slovak and Polish
also make certain additional grammatical distinctions between animate and inanimate nouns –
and in the case of Polish, in the plural, between human and non-human nouns.
In Russian the different treatment of animate nouns involves their accusative case (and that of
adjectives qualifying them) being formed identically to the genitive, rather than to the
nominative. In the singular this applies to masculine nouns only, but in the plural it applies in
all genders. See Russian declension.
A similar system applies in Czech, although the situation is somewhat different in the plural
(only masculine nouns are affected, and the distinctive feature is a distinct inflective ending
for masculine animate nouns in the nominative plural, and for adjectives and verbs agreeing
with those nouns). See Czech declension.
Polish might be said to distinguish five genders: personal masculine (referring to male
humans), animate non-personal masculine, inanimate masculine, feminine, and neuter. The
animate–inanimate opposition for the masculine gender applies in the singular, whereas the
personal–impersonal opposition – which classes animals along with inanimate objects –
applies in the plural. (A few nouns denoting inanimate things are treated grammatically as
animate, and vice versa.) The manifestations of these differences are as follows:
In the singular, masculine animates (in the standard declension) have an
accusative form identical to the genitive, whereas masculine inanimates have
accusative identical to the nominative. The same applies to adjectives qualifying
these nouns – this is all the same as in Russian and Czech. (Also, Polish
masculine animates always form their genitive in -a, whereas in the case of
inanimates some use -a and some -u.) For example:
animate: dobry klient ("good customer"; nominative); dobrego klienta (accusative and
animate: dobry pies ("good dog"; nominative); dobrego psa (accusative and genitive)
inanimate: dobry ser ("good cheese"; nominative and accusative); dobrego sera (genitive only)
In the plural, masculine personal nouns (but not other animate nouns) take
accusatives that are identical to the genitives; they also typically take different
endings (e.g. -i rather than -y) in the nominative – such endings also appear on
adjectives and past tense verbs. These two features are analogous to features of
Russian and Czech respectively, except that those languages make an
animate/inanimate (not personal/impersonal) distinction. Examples of the
personal: dobrzy klienci ("good customers"; nominative); dobrych klientów (accusative and
impersonal: dobre psy ("good dogs"; nominative and accusative); dobrych psów (genitive only)
impersonal: dobre sery ("good cheeses"; nominative and accusative); dobrych serów (genitive
A few nouns have both personal and impersonal forms, depending on meaning (for example,
klient may behave as an impersonal noun when it refers to a client in the computing sense).
For more information on the above inflection patterns, see Polish morphology. For certain
rules concerning the treatment of mixed-gender groups, see Mixed and indeterminate gender
In the Dravidian languages, which include Tamil, nouns are classified primarily on the basis
of their semantic properties. The highest-level classification of nouns is often described as
being between "rational" and "non-rational". Here nouns representing humans and deities
are considered rational, whereas other nouns (those representing animals and objects) are
treated as non-rational. Within the rational class there are further subdivisions between
masculine, feminine and collective nouns. For further information, see Tamil grammar.
In Basque there are two classes, animate and inanimate; however, the only difference is in the
declension of locative cases (inessive, locative genitive, adlative, terminal adlative, ablative
and directional ablative). There are a few words with both masculine and feminine forms,
generally words for relatives (cousin: lehengusu (m)/lehengusina (f)) or words borrowed from
Latin ("king": errege, from the Latin word regem; "queen": erregina, from reginam). In
names for familiar relatives, where both genders are taken into account, either the words for
each gender are put together ("son": seme; "daughter": alaba; "children"(meaning son(s) and
daughter(s)): seme-alaba(k)) or there is a noun that includes both: "father": aita; "mother":
ama; "father" (both genders): guraso.
Auxiliary and constructed languages
Many constructed languages have natural gender systems similar to that of English. Animate
nouns can have distinct forms reflecting natural gender, and personal pronouns are selected
according to natural gender. There is no gender agreement on modifiers. The first three
languages below fall into this category.
Esperanto features the female suffix -in-. Although it differentiates a small
number of male and female nouns such as patro (father) and patrino (mother),
most nouns are gender-neutral and the use of it is not necessary. For instance,
hundo means either a male or female dog, virhundo means a male dog, and
hundino means a female dog. The personal pronouns li (he) and ŝi (she) and
their possessive forms lia (his) and ŝia (her) are used for male and female
antecedents, whereas ĝi (it) and its possessive form ĝia (its) are used to refer to
a non-personal antecedent, or as an epicene pronoun.
Ido has the masculine infix -ul and the feminine infix -in for animate beings.
Both are optional and are used only if it is necessary to avoid ambiguity. Thus:
kato "a cat", katulo "a male cat", katino "a female cat". There are third person
singular and plural pronouns for all three genders: masculine, feminine, and
neuter, but also gender-free pronouns.
Interlingua has no grammatical gender. It indicates only natural gender, as in
matre "mother" and patre "father". Interlingua speakers may use feminine
endings. For example, -a may be used in place of -o in catto, producing catta
"female cat". Professora may be used to denote a professor who is female, and
actrice may be used to mean "actress". As in Ido, inflections marking gender are
optional, although some gender-specific nouns such as femina, "woman",
happen to end in -a or -o. Interlingua has feminine pronouns, and its general
pronoun forms are also used as masculine pronouns.
The fictional Klingon language has three classes: capable of speaking, body part
The Dothraki language divides nouns into two broad classes referred to as
animate and inanimate.
See also Gender-neutrality in languages with grammatical gender: International auxiliary
languages, and Gender-specific pronoun: Constructed languages.
1. ^ a b c Hockett, Charles (1958). A course in modern linguistics. Macmillan. p. 231.
2. ^ Corbett 1991, p. 4.
3. ^ It is in Spanish (hombría, virilidad, masculinidad), Latin (virtūs), German
(Männlichkeit, Virilität), Russian (мужественность – múžestvennost’) or
– mardânegi), among others
4. ^ Corbett 1991, p. 2.
5. ^ Bradley 2004, p. 27, 52.
^ a b c Dixon, Robert (1968). Noun Classes. Lingua. pp. 105–111.
^ a b SIL: Glossary of Linguistic Terms: What is grammatical gender?
^ a b c Franceschina 2005, p. 72.
^ a b Franceschina 2005, p. 78.
^ Corbett 1991, pp. 20–21.
^ a b Bradley 2004, p. 18.
^ Exception: Feminine nouns beginning with stressed a-, like águila "eagle", also
take the article el despite their feminine gender (el águila "the eagle"). This does
not happen if the noun is preceded by an adjective (la bella águila "the beautiful
eagle"), or in the plural (las aguilas "the eagles").
13. ^ Bradley 2004, p. 27.
14. ^ These examples are based on an example in French from Merriam-Webster's
Dictionary of English Usage. Merriam-Webster Inc. 1994. p. 474. ISBN 0-87779132-5.
15. ^ López-Arias, Julio (1996). "10". Test Yourself: Spanish Grammar (1 ed.).
McGraw-Hill. p. 85. ISBN 0844223743 , 978-0844223742 Check |isbn= value
16. ^ Corbett 1991, p. 11.
17. ^ Corbett 1991, p. 12.
18. ^ Corbett 1991, p. 13.
19. ^ a b Corbett 1991, p. 32.
20. ^ a b Corbett 1991, p. 14.
21. ^ Corbett 1991, p. 19.
22. ^ Monique L'Huillier, Advanced French Grammar, Cambridge University Press,
1999, p. 401.
23. ^ Shoda přísudku s podmětem několikanásobným, Institute of the Czech
Language of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic
24. ^ Ibrihim 1973, p. 61.
25. ^ In a translation of Jack London stories, 1915
26. ^ In a song of Alexander Vertinsky, 1920s or 1930s
27. ^ Ibrihim 1973, pp. 27–28.
28. ^ Boroditsky, Lera (6.12.2009). "How does our language shape the way we
think?". Edge. Retrieved 29 October 2010.
29. ^ (see Mercier 2002, pp. 498-500.
30. ^ Foley & Van Valin 1984, p. 326.
31. ^ Nichols 1992.
32. ^ a b Franceschina 2005, p. 77.
33. ^ How did genders and cases develop in Indo-European?
34. ^ The Original Nominal System of Proto-Indoeuropean – Case and Gender
35. ^ The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, 2003, p. 356. ISBN 0-226-10403-6.
36. ^ Corbett 1991, pp. 8–11.
Craig, Colette G. (1986). Noun classes and categorization: Proceedings of a
symposium on categorization and noun classification, Eugene, Oregon, October
1983. Amsterdam: J. Benjamins.
Corbett, Greville G. (1991). Gender. Cambridge University Press.
Corbett, Greville (1994) "Gender and gender systems". In R. Asher (ed.) The
Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, Oxford: Pergamon Press, pp. 1347–
Greenberg, J. H. (1978) "How does a language acquire gender markers?" In J. H.
Greenberg et al. (eds.) Universals of Human Language, Vol. 4, pp. 47 – 82.
Hockett, Charles F. (1958) A Course in Modern Linguistics, Macmillan.
Iturrioz, J. L. (1986) "Structure, meaning and function: a functional analysis of
gender and other classificatory techniques". Función 1. 1–3.
Mercier, Adele (2002) "L'homme et la factrice: sur la logique du genre en
français". "Dialogue", Volume 41, Issue 03, 2002
Pinker, Steven (1994) The Language Instinct, William Morrow and Company.
Roscoe, W. (ed.) (1988) Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology. New
York: St. Martin's Griffin
Franceschina, Florencia (2005). Fossilized Second Language Grammars: The
Acquisition of Grammatical Gender. John Benjamins Publishing Company.
p. 299. ISBN 90 272 5298 X.
Bradley, Peter (2004). Spanish: An Essential Grammar (1 ed.). ISBN 0415286433,
978-0415286435 Check |isbn= value (help).
Ibrihim, Muhammad Hasan (1973). Grammatical gender: Its Origin and
This page was last modified on 26 May 2013 at 04:17.
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"Feminists" redirects here. For other uses, see Feminists (disambiguation).
International Women's Day rally in Dhaka, Bangladesh, organized by the National
Women Workers Trade Union Centre on 8 March 2005.
Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and
defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to
establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment.
The Utopian Socialist and French philosopher Charles Fourier is credited with having
originated the word "feminism" in 1837. The words "feminism" and "feminist" first
appeared in France and the Netherlands in 1872, Great Britain in the 1890s, and the United
States in 1910., and the Oxford English Dictionary lists 1894 as the year of the first
appearance of "feminist" and 1895 for "feminism". Today the Oxford English Dictionary
defines a feminist as "an advocate or supporter of the rights and equality of women".
Feminist theory, which emerged from these feminist movements, aims to understand the
nature of gender inequality by examining women's social roles and lived experience; it has
developed theories in a variety of disciplines in order to respond to issues such as the social
construction of sex and gender. Some of the earlier forms of feminism have been
criticized for taking into account only white, middle-class, educated perspectives. This led to
the creation of ethnically specific or multiculturalist forms of feminism.
Feminist activists campaign for women's rights – such as in contract law, property, and voting
– while also promoting bodily integrity, autonomy, and reproductive rights for women.
Feminist campaigns have changed societies, particularly in the West, by achieving women's
suffrage, gender neutrality in English, equal pay for women, reproductive rights for women
(including access to contraceptives and abortion), and the right to enter into contracts and own
property. Feminists have worked to protect women and girls from domestic violence,
sexual harassment, and sexual assault. They have also advocated for workplace
rights, including maternity leave, and against forms of discrimination against women.
Feminism is mainly focused on women's issues, but because feminism seeks gender equality,
bell hooks and other feminists have argued that men's liberation is a necessary part of
feminism, and that men are also harmed by sexism and gender roles.
Main article: Feminist theory
See also: Gynocriticism and écriture féminine
Feminist theory is the extension of feminism into theoretical or philosophical fields. It
encompasses work in a variety of disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, economics,
women's studies, literary criticism, art history, psychoanalysis and
philosophy. Feminist theory aims to understand gender inequality and focuses on gender
politics, power relations, and sexuality. While providing a critique of these social and political
relations, much of feminist theory also focuses on the promotion of women's rights and
interests. Themes explored in feminist theory include discrimination, stereotyping,
objectification (especially sexual objectification), oppression, and patriarchy.
In the field of literary criticism, Elaine Showalter describes the development of feminist
theory as having three phases. The first she calls "feminist critique", in which the feminist
reader examines the ideologies behind literary phenomena. The second Showalter calls
"gynocriticism", in which the "woman is producer of textual meaning". The last phase she
calls "gender theory", in which the "ideological inscription and the literary effects of the
sex/gender system are explored".
This was paralled in the 1970s by French feminists, who developed the concept of écriture
féminine (which translates as female, or feminine writing). Helene Cixous argues that
writing and philosophy are phallocentric and along with other French feminists such as Luce
Irigaray emphasize "writing from the body" as a subversive exercise. The work of the
feminist psychoanalyst and philosopher, Julia Kristeva, has influenced feminist theory in
general and feminist literary criticism in particular. However, as the scholar Elizabeth Wright
points out, "none of these French feminists align themselves with the feminist movement as it
appeared in the Anglophone world".
Movements and ideologies
For more details on the many feminist movements, see Feminist movements and
Many overlapping feminist movements and ideologies have developed over the years.
Some branches of feminism closely track the political leanings of the larger society, such as
liberalism and conservatism, or focus on the environment. Liberal feminism seeks
individualistic equality of men and women through political and legal reform without altering
the structure of society. Radical feminism considers the male-controlled capitalist hierarchy as
the defining feature of women's oppression and the total uprooting and reconstruction of
society as necessary. Conservative feminism is conservative relative to the society in which
it resides. Libertarian feminism conceives of people as self-owners and therefore as entitled to
freedom from coercive interference. Separatist feminism does not support heterosexual
relationships. Lesbian feminism is thus closely related. Other feminists criticize separatist
feminism as sexist. Ecofeminists see men's control of land as responsible for the oppression
of women and destruction of the natural environment; ecofeminism has been criticised for
focusing too much on a mystical connection between women and nature.
Rosemary Hennessy and Chrys Ingraham say that materialist feminisms grew out of western
marxist thought and have inspired a number of different (but overlapping) movements, all of
which are involved in a critique of capitalism and are focussed on ideology's relationship to
women. Marxist feminism argues that capitalism is the root cause of women's oppression,
and that discrimination against women in domestic life and employment is an effect of
capitalist ideologies. Socialist feminism distinguishes itself from Marxist feminism by
arguing that women's liberation can only be achieved by working to end both the economic
and cultural sources of women's oppression. Anarcha-feminists believe that class struggle
and anarchy against the state require struggling against patriarchy, which comes from
Black and postcolonial ideologies
Sara Ahmed argues that Black and Postcolonial feminisms pose a challenge "to some of the
organizing premises of Western feminist thought." During much of its history, feminist
movements and theoretical developments were led predominantly by middle-class white
women from Western Europe and North America. However women of other races
have proposed alternative feminisms. This trend accelerated in the 1960s with the civil
rights movement in the United States and the collapse of European colonialism in Africa, the
Caribbean, parts of Latin America, and Southeast Asia. Since that time, women in developing
nations and former colonies and who are of colour or various ethnicities or living in poverty
have proposed additional feminisms. Womanism emerged after early feminist
movements were largely white and middle-class. Postcolonial feminists argue that colonial
oppression and Western feminism marginalized postcolonial women but did not turn them
passive or voiceless. Third-world feminism is closely related to postcolonial feminism.
These ideas also correspond with ideas in African feminism, motherism, Stiwanism,
negofeminism, femalism, transnational feminism, and Africana womanism.
Social constructionist ideologies
In the late twentieth century various feminists began to argue that gender roles are socially
constructed, and that it is impossible to generalize women's experiences across cultures
and histories. Post-structural feminism draws on the philosophies of post-structuralism and
deconstruction in order to argue that the concept of gender is created socially and culturally
through discourse. Postmodern feminists also emphasize the social construction of gender
and the discursive nature of reality, however as Pamela Abbot et al. note, a postmodern
approach to feminism highlights "the existence of multiple truths (rather than simply men and
Riot grrrl (or riot grrl) is an underground feminist punk movement that started in the 1990s
and is often associated with third-wave feminism. It was grounded in the DIY philosophy of
punk values. Riot grrls took an anti-corporate stance of self-sufficiency and self-reliance.
Riot grrrl's emphasis on universal female identity and separatism often appears more closely
allied with second-wave feminism than with the third wave. The movement encouraged
and made "adolescent girls' standpoints central," allowing them to express themselves
fully. Lipstick feminism is a cultural feminist movement that attempts to respond to the
backlash of second-wave radical feminism of the 1960s and 1970s by reclaiming symbols of
"feminine" identity such as make-up, suggestive clothing and having a sexual allure as valid
and empowering personal choices. Dianic Wicca is alsoa feminist-centred movement.
Feminist Suffrage Parade in New York City, 6 May 1912.
Main article: History of feminism
See also: Protofeminist
Depending on historical moment, culture and country, feminists around the world have had
different causes and goals. Most western feminist historians assert that all movements that
work to obtain women's rights should be considered feminist movements, even when they did
not (or do not) apply the term to themselves. Other historians assert that the
term should be limited to the modern feminist movement and its descendants. Those
historians use the label "protofeminist" to describe earlier movements.
The history of the modern western feminist movements is divided into three "waves".
Each wave dealt with different aspects of the same feminist issues. The first wave comprised
women's suffrage movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, promoting
women's right to vote. The second wave was associated with the ideas and actions of the
women's liberation movement beginning in the 1960s. The second wave campaigned for legal
and social equality for women. The third wave is a continuation of, and a reaction to, the
perceived failures of second-wave feminism, beginning in the 1990s.
Nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
First-wave feminism was a period of activity during the nineteenth century and early
twentieth century. In the UK and US, it focused on the promotion of equal contract, marriage,
parenting, and property rights for women. By the end of the nineteenth century, activism
focused primarily on gaining political power, particularly the right of women's suffrage,
though some feminists were active in campaigning for women's sexual, reproductive, and
economic rights as well.
Louise Weiss along with other Parisian suffragettes in 1935. The newspaper headline
reads "The Frenchwoman Must Vote."
Women's suffrage began in Britain's Australasian colonies at the close of the 19th century,
with the self-governing colonies of New Zealand granting women the right to vote in 1893
and South Australia granting female suffrage (the right to vote and stand for parliamentary
office) in 1895. This was followed by Australia granting female suffrage in 1902.
In Britain the Suffragettes and the Suffragists campaigned for the women's vote, and in 1918
the Representation of the People Act was passed granting the vote to women over the age of
30 who owned houses. In 1928 this was extended to all women over twenty-one. In the
U.S., notable leaders of this movement included Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and
Susan B. Anthony, who each campaigned for the abolition of slavery prior to championing
women's right to vote. These women were influenced by the Quaker theology of spiritual
equality, which asserts that men and women are equal under God. In the United States,
first-wave feminism is considered to have ended with the passage of the Nineteenth
Amendment to the United States Constitution (1919), granting women the right to vote in all
states. The term first wave was coined retroactively to categorize these western movements
after the term second-wave feminism began to be used to describe a newer feminist movement
that focused as much on fighting social and cultural inequalities as political
During the late Qing period and reform movements such as the Hundred Days' Reform,
Chinese feminists called for women's liberation from traditional roles and Neo-Confucian
gender segregation. Later, the Chinese Communist Party created projects aimed at
integrating women into the workforce, and claimed that the revolution had successfully
achieved women's liberation.
According to Nawar al-Hassan Golley, Arab feminism was closely connected with Arab
nationalism. In 1899, Qasim Amin, considered the "father" of Arab feminism, wrote The
Liberation of Women, which argued for legal and social reforms for women. He drew links
between women's position in Egyptian society and nationalism, leading to the development of
Cairo University and the National Movement. In 1923 Hoda Shaarawi founded the
Egyptian Feminist Union, became its president and a symbol of the Arab women's rights
The Iranian Constitutional Revolution in 1905 triggered the Iranian women's movement,
which aimed to achieve women's equality in education, marriage, careers, and legal rights.
However, during the Iranian revolution of 1979, many of the rights that women had gained
from the women's movement were systematically abolished, such as the Family Protection
In France, women obtained the right to vote only with the Provisional Government of the
French Republic of 21 April 1944. The Consultative Assembly of Algiers of 1944
proposed on 24 March 1944 to grant eligibility to women but following an amendment by
Fernand Grenier, they were given full citizenship, including the right to vote. Grenier's
proposition was adopted 51 to 16. In May 1947, following the November 1946 elections,
the sociologist Robert Verdier minimized the "gender gap," stating in Le Populaire that
women had not voted in a consistent way, dividing themselves, as men, according to social
classes. During the baby boom period, feminism waned in importance. Wars (both
World War I and World War II) had seen the provisional emancipation of some, individual,
women, but post-war periods signaled the return to conservative roles.
French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir provided a Marxist solution and an existentialist
view on many of the questions of feminism with the publication of Le Deuxième Sexe (The
Second Sex) in 1949. The book expressed feminists' sense of injustice. Second-wave
feminism is a feminist movement beginning in the early 1960s and continuing to the
present; as such, it coexists with third-wave feminism. Second wave feminism is largely
concerned with issues of equality other than suffrage, such as ending discrimination.
Second-wave feminists see women's cultural and political inequalities as inextricably linked
and encourage women to understand aspects of their personal lives as deeply politicized and
as reflecting sexist power structures. The feminist activist and author Carol Hanisch coined
the slogan "The Personal is Political", which became synonymous with the second
Second and third-wave feminism in China has been characterized by a re-examination of
women's roles during the communist revolution and other reform movements, and new
discussions about whether women's equality has actually been fully achieved.
In 1956, President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt initiated "state feminism", which outlawed
discrimination based on gender and granted women's suffrage, but also blocked political
activism by feminist leaders. During Sadat's presidency, his wife, Jehan Sadat, publicly
advocated further women's rights, though Egyptian policy and society began to move away
from women's equality with the new Islamist movement and growing conservatism.
However, some activists proposed a new feminist movement, Islamic feminism, which argues
for women's equality within an Islamic framework.
In Latin America, revolutions brought changes in women's status in countries such as
Nicaragua, where feminist ideology during the Sandinista Revolution aided women's quality
of life but fell short of achieving a social and ideological change.
Late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries
In the early 1990s in the USA, third-wave feminism began as a response to perceived failures
of the second wave and to the backlash against initiatives and movements created by the
second wave. Third-wave feminism seeks to challenge or avoid what it deems the second
wave's essentialist definitions of femininity, which, they argue, over-emphasize the
experiences of upper middle-class white women. Third-wave feminists often focus on "micropolitics" and challenge the second wave's paradigm as to what is, or is not, good for women,
and tend to use a post-structuralist interpretation of gender and sexuality. Feminist
leaders rooted in the second wave, such as Gloria Anzaldua, bell hooks, Chela Sandoval,
Cherrie Moraga, Audre Lorde, Maxine Hong Kingston, and many other black feminists,
sought to negotiate a space within feminist thought for consideration of race-related
Since the 1980s standpoint feminists have argued that the feminist movement should address
global issues (such as rape, incest, and prostitution) and culturally specific issues (such as
female genital mutilation in some parts of Africa and the Middle East and glass ceiling
practices that impede women's advancement in developed economies) in order to understand
how gender inequality interacts with racism, homophobia, classism and colonization in a
"matrix of domination." Third-wave feminism also contains internal debates between
difference feminists, who believe that there are important differences between the sexes, and
those who believe that there are no inherent differences between the sexes and contend that
gender roles are due to social conditioning.
The term post-feminism is used to describe a range of viewpoints reacting to feminism since
the 1980s. While not being "anti-feminist", post-feminists believe that women have achieved
second wave goals while being critical of third wave feminist goals. The term was first used
to describe a backlash against second-wave feminism, but it is now a label for a wide range of
theories that take critical approaches to previous feminist discourses and includes challenges
to the second wave's ideas. Other post-feminists say that feminism is no longer relevant to
today's society. Amelia Jones has written that the post-feminist texts which emerged in the
1980s and 1990s portrayed second-wave feminism as a monolithic entity. The goddesscentred nature of Wicca has been associated with feminism.
Feminism and sexuality
Over the course of the 1970s, a large variety of influential women accepted lesbianism and
bisexuality as part of feminism. As a result, a significant proportion of feminists favoured
this view, however, others considered sexuality irrelevant to the attainment of other goals.
Feminist attitudes to female sexuality have taken a few different directions. In particular,
matters such as the sex industry, sexual representation in the media, and issues regarding
consent to sex under conditions of male dominance have been particular controversial among
feminists. This debate has culminated in the late 1970s and the 1980s, in what came to be
known as the Feminist Sex Wars, which pitted anti-pornography feminism against sexpositive feminism, and parts of the feminist movement were deeply divided by these
Main article: Sex industry
Opinions on the sex industry are diverse. Feminists are generally either critical of it (seeing it
as exploitative, a result of patriarchal social structures and reinforcing sexual and cultural
attitudes that are complicit in rape and sexual harassment) or supportive of at least parts of it
(arguing that some forms of it can be a medium of feminist expression and a means of women
taking control of their sexuality).
For more details on this topic, see Feminist sex wars.
See also: Anti-pornography#Feminist objections, Sex-positive feminism, and Feminist
views of pornography
Feminist views of pornography range from condemnation of pornography as a form of
violence against women, to an embracing of some forms of pornography as a medium of
feminist expression. Anti-pornography feminists argue that pornography is
dangerous for women and that sexually explicit images need to be controlled. They argue
that the pornographic industry contributes to violence against women, both in the production
of pornography (which they charge entails the physical, psychological, or economic coercion
of the women who perform in it, and where they argue that the abuse and exploitation of
women is rampant) and in its consumption (where they charge that pornography eroticizes the
domination, humiliation, and coercion of women, and reinforces sexual and cultural attitudes
that are complicit in rape and sexual harassment). Whereas sex-positive
feminists argue that sexual freedom is an essential component of women's freedom. As such,
sex-positive feminists oppose efforts to control sexual activities between consenting adults,
and they embrace sexual minority groups, endorsing the value of coalition-building with
members of groups targeted by sex-negativity.
Prostitution and trafficking
Main article: Feminist views on prostitution
Feminists' views on prostitution vary, but many of these perspectives can be loosely arranged
into an overarching standpoint that is generally either critical or supportive of prostitution and
sex work. Anti-prostitution feminists are strongly opposed to prostitution, as they see the
practice as a form of violence against and exploitation of women, and a sign of male
dominance over women. Feminists who hold such views on prostitution include Kathleen
Barry, Melissa Farley, Julie Bindel, Sheila Jeffreys, Catharine MacKinnon
and Laura Lederer; the European Women's Lobby has also condemned prostitution as "an
intolerable form of male violence".
Other feminists hold that prostitution and other forms of sex work can be valid choices for
women and men who choose to engage in it. In this view, prostitution must be differentiated
from forced prostitution, and feminists should support sex worker activism against abuses by
both the sex industry and the legal system. The disagreement between these two feminist
stances was particularly contentious, and may be comparable to the feminist sex wars of the
late twentieth century.
Affirming female sexual autonomy
For feminists, a woman's right to control her own sexuality is a key issue. Feminists such as
Catharine MacKinnon argue that women have very little control over their own bodies, with
female sexuality being largely controlled and defined by men in patriarchal societies.
Feminists argue that sexual violence committed by men is often rooted in ideologies of male
sexual entitlement. These belief systems grant women very few legitimate options to refuse
sexual advances. In many cultures, men often exclude the possibility that their
sexual advances towards a woman might be rejected, or that a woman has the right to make an
autonomous decision about participating in sex. Feminists argue that all cultures are, in one
way or another, dominated by ideologies that largely deny women the right to decide on their
own how to express their sexuality, and entitle men to sex on their terms. This situation can
take different forms, depending on culture. In conservative and religious cultures, this is
closely related to the way marriage is understood in those cultures. In many parts of the
world, marriage is regarded as entailing an obligation on women to be sexually available at
any time, virtually without limit; and forcing or coercing sex on a wife is not considered a
crime or even an abusive behavior. In more liberal cultures (in the West), this takes the
form of a general sexualization of the whole culture, and sexual objectification of women;
with pornography and other forms of sexual entertainment creating an ideology that all
women exist solely for men's sexual pleasure; with women always being portrayed as readily
available and desiring to engage in sex at any time, with any man, on men's terms, always
responding positively to any advances men make.
Feminism and science
For more details on this topic, see Feminist epistemology.
Sandra Harding says that the "moral and political insights of the women's movement have
inspired social scientists and biologists to raise critical questions about the ways traditional
researchers have explained gender, sex and relations within and between the social and
natural worlds." Some feminists, such as Ruth Hubbard and Evelyn Fox Keller, criticize
traditional scientific discourse as being historically biased towards a male perspective.
A part of the feminist research agenda is the examination of the ways in which power
inequities are created and/or reinforced in scientific and academic institutions. Physicist
Lisa Randall, appointed to a task force at Harvard by then-president Lawrence Summers after
his controversial discussion of why women may be underrepresented in science and
engineering, said, "I just want to see a whole bunch more women enter the field so these
issues don't have to come up anymore."
Lynn Hankinson Nelson notes that feminist empiricists argue that there are fundamental
differences between the experiences of men and women, thus they seek to obtain knowledge
through the examination of the experiences of women, and attempt to "uncover the
consequences of omitting, misdescribing, or devaluing them" for account of human
experience. Other feminist scientists eschew objectivity in favor of self-reflexivity and the
agenda of helping women. Also, part of the feminist research agenda is the uncovering of
ways in which power inequities are created and/or reinforced in society and in scientific and
academic institutions. Furthermore, despite calls for greater attention to be paid to social
structures in the academic literature - more specifically, the psychological research literature social structural analyses rarely appear in highly cited psychological journals, such as the
commonly studied area of personality.
One criticism of feminist epistemology is that it allows social and political values to influence
its findings. Susan Haack also points out that feminist epistemology reinforces traditional
stereotypes about women's thinking (as intuitive and emotional, etc.), Meera Nanda further
cautions that this may in fact trap women within "traditional gender roles and help justify
Biology and gender
For more details on this topic, see Gender essentialism and Sexual differentiation.
Modern feminist science challenges the biological essentialist view of gender.
However, it is increasingly interested in the study of biological sex differences and their effect
on human behavior. For example, Anne Fausto-Sterling's book, Myths of Gender, explores the
assumptions embodied in scientific research that purports to support a biologically essentialist
view of gender. In Delusions of Gender Cordelia Fine disputes all scientific evidence for
innate biological differences between men and women's minds, and that cultural and societal
beliefs result in all commonly perceived sex differences.
Main article: Feminism in culture
Gender-based inquiries into and conceptualization of architecture have also come about,
leading to feminism in modern architecture. Piyush Mathur coined the term "archigenderic".
Claiming that "architectural planning has an inextricable link with the defining and regulation
of gender roles, responsibilities, rights, and limitations", Mathur came up with that term "to
explore ... the meaning of 'architecture' in terms of gender" and "to explore the meaning of
'gender' in terms of architecture".
Main article: Feminist art movement
Corresponding with general developments within feminism, and often including such selforganizing tactics as the consciousness-raising group, the movement began in the 1960s and
flourished throughout the 1970s. Jeremy Strick, director of the Museum of Contemporary
Art in Los Angeles, described the feminist art movement as "the most influential international
movement of any during the postwar period", and Peggy Phelan says that it "brought about
the most far-reaching transformations in both artmaking and art writing over the past four
decades". Judy Chicago, who with a team of 129 created The Dinner Party, said in 2009
to ARTnews, "There is still an institutional lag and an insistence on a male Eurocentric
narrative. We are trying to change the future: to get girls and boys to realize that women's art
is not an exception—it's a normal part of art history."
Octavia Butler, award-winning feminist science fiction author.
Further information: Women's writing in English and Écriture féminine
The feminist movement produced both feminist fiction and non-fiction, and created new
interest in women's writing. It also prompted a general reevaluation of women's historical and
academic contributions in response to the belief that women's lives and contributions have
been underrepresented as areas of scholarly interest. Much of the early period of feminist
literary scholarship was given over to the rediscovery and reclamation of texts written by
women. Studies like Dale Spender's Mothers of the Novel (1986) and Jane Spencer's The Rise
of the Woman Novelist (1986) were ground-breaking in their insistence that women have
always been writing. Commensurate with this growth in scholarly interest, various presses
began the task of reissuing long-out-of-print texts. Virago Press began to publish its large list
of 19th and early-20th-century novels in 1975 and became one of the first commercial presses
to join in the project of reclamation. In the 1980s Pandora Press, responsible for publishing
Spender's study, issued a companion line of 18th-century novels by written by women.
More recently, Broadview Press continues to issue 18th- and 19th-century novels, many
hitherto out of print, and the University of Kentucky has a series of republications of early
The widespread interest in women's writing is related to a general reassessment and expansion
of the literary canon. Interest in post-colonial literatures, gay and lesbian literature, writing by
people of colour, working people's writing, and the cultural productions of other historically
marginalized groups has resulted in a whole scale expansion of what is considered
"literature," and genres hitherto not regarded as "literary," such as children's writing, journals,
letters, travel writing, and many others are now the subjects of scholarly interest.
Most genres and sub-genres have undergone a similar analysis, so that one now sees work on
the "female gothic" or women's science fiction.
According to Elyce Rae Helford "Science fiction and fantasy serve as important vehicles for
feminist thought, particularly as bridges between theory and practice." Feminist science
fiction is sometimes taught at the university level to explore the role of social constructs in
understanding gender. Notable texts of this kind are Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of
Darkness (1969), Joanna Russ' The Female Man (1970), Octavia Butler's Kindred (1979) and
Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale (1985).
Main article: Women's music
Women's music (or womyn's music or wimmin's music) is the music by women, for women,
and about women. The genre emerged as a musical expression of the second-wave
feminist movement as well as the labor, civil rights, and peace movements. The
movement was started by lesbians such as Cris Williamson, Meg Christian, and Margie
Adam, African-American women activists such as Bernice Johnson Reagon and her group
Sweet Honey in the Rock, and peace activist Holly Near. Women's music also refers to the
wider industry of women's music that goes beyond the performing artists to include studio
musicians, producers, sound engineers, technicians, cover artists, distributors, promoters, and
festival organizers who are also women.
Feminism became a principal concern of musicologists in the 1980s. Prior to this, in the
1970s, musicologists were beginning to discover women composers and performers, and had
begun to review concepts of canon, genius, genre and periodization from a feminist
perspective. In other words, the question of how women musicians fit into traditional music
history was now being asked.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, this trend continued as musicologists like Susan McClary,
Marcia Citron and Ruth Solie began to consider the cultural reasons for the marginalizing of
women from the received body of work. Concepts such as music as gendered discourse;
professionalism; reception of women's music; examination of the sites of music production;
relative wealth and education of women; popular music studies in relation to women's
identity; patriarchal ideas in music analysis; and notions of gender and difference are among
the themes examined during this time.
Relationship to political movements
Feminism had complex interactions with the major political movements of the twentieth
Main article: Social Progressivism and Counterculture
Since the late nineteenth century some feminists have allied with socialism, whereas others
have criticized socialist ideology for being insufficiently concerned about women's rights.
August Bebel, an early activist of the German Social Democratic Party, published his work
Die Frau und der Sozialismus, juxtaposing the struggle for equal rights between sexes with
social equality in general. In 1907 there was an International Conference of Socialist Women
in Stuttgart where suffrage was described as a tool of class struggle. Clara Zetkin of the Social
Democratic Party of Germany called for women's suffrage to build a "socialist order, the only
one that allows for a radical solution to the women's question".
In Britain, the women's movement was allied with the Labour party. In the U.S., Betty
Friedan emerged from a radical background to take leadership. Radical Women is the oldest
socialist feminist organization in the U.S. and is still active. During the Spanish Civil War,
Dolores Ibárruri (La Pasionaria) led the Communist Party of Spain. Although she supported
equal rights for women, she opposed women fighting on the front and clashed with the
anarcha-feminist Mujeres Libres.
Further information: Fascism and ideology
Fascism has been prescribed dubious stances on feminism by its practitioners and by women's
groups. Amongst other demands concerning social reform presented in the Fascist manifesto
in 1919 was expanding the suffrage to all Italian citizens of age 18 and above, including
women (accomplished only in 1946, after the defeat of fascism) and eligibility for all to stand
for office from age 25. This demand was particularly championed by special Fascist women's
auxiliary groups such as the fasci femminilli and only partly realized in 1925, under pressure
from Prime Minister Benito Mussolini's more conservative coalition partners.
Cyprian Blamires states that although feminists were among those who opposed the rise of
Adolf Hitler, feminism has a complicated relationship with the Nazi movement as well, which
saw several vocal female supporters as well as women's groups. While Nazis glorified
traditional notions of patriarchal society and its role for women, they claimed to recognize
women's equality in employment. However, Hitler and Benito Mussolini declared
themselves as opposed to feminism, and after the rise of Nazism in Germany in 1933,
there was a rapid dissolution of the political rights and economic opportunities that feminists
had fought for during the prewar period and to some extent during the 1920s. Georges
Duby et al. note that in practice fascist society was hierarchical and emphasized male virility,
with women maintaining a largely subordinate position. Blamires also notes that
Neofascism has since the 1960s been hostile towards feminism and advocates that women
accept "their traditional roles".
Civil rights movement and anti-racism
The civil rights movement has influenced and informed the feminist movement and vice
versa. Many Western feminists adapted the language and theories of black equality activism
and drew parallels between women's rights and the rights of non-white people. Despite the
connections between the women's and civil rights movements, some tension arose during the
late 1960s and early 1970s as non-white women argued that feminism was predominantly
white and middle class, and did not understand and was not concerned with race issues.
Similarly, some women argued that the civil rights movement had sexist elements and did not
adequately address minority women's concerns. These criticisms created new feminist
social theories about the intersections of racism, classism, and sexism, and new feminisms,
such as black feminism and Chicana feminism.
Main article: Feminist effects on society
The feminist movement has effected change in Western society, including women's suffrage;
greater access to education; more nearly equitable pay with men; the right to initiate divorce
proceedings; the right of women to make individual decisions regarding pregnancy (including
access to contraceptives and abortion); and the right to own property.
Participation in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
Signed and ratified
Acceded or succeeded
Unrecognized state, abiding by treaty
From the 1960s on, the campaign for women's rights was met with mixed results in the
U.S. and the U.K. Other countries of the EEC agreed to ensure that discriminatory laws would
be phased out across the European Community.
Some feminist campaigning also helped reform attitudes to child sexual abuse. The view that
young girls cause men to have sexual intercourse with them was replaced by that of men's
responsibility for their own conduct, the men being adults.
In the U.S., the National Organization for Women (NOW) began in 1966 to seek women's
equality, including through the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which did not pass,
although some states enacted their own. Reproductive rights in the U.S. centered on the court
decision in Roe v. Wade enunciating a woman's right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy
to term. Western women gained more reliable birth control, allowing family planning and
careers. The movement started in the 1910s in the U.S. under Margaret Sanger and elsewhere
under Marie Stopes. In the final three decades of the 20th century, Western women knew a
new freedom through birth control, which enabled women to plan their adult lives, often
making way for both career and family.
The division of labor within households was affected by the increased entry of women into
workplaces in the 20th century. Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild found that, in two-career
couples, men and women, on average, spend about equal amounts of time working, but
women still spend more time on housework, although Cathy Young responded by
arguing that women may prevent equal participation by men in housework and parenting.
Judith K. Brown writes, "Women are most likely likely to make a substantial contribution
when subsistence activities have the following characteristics: the participant is not obliged to
be far from home; the tasks re relatively monotonous and do not required rapt concentration;
and the work is not dangerous, can be performed in spite of interruptions, and is easily
resumed once interrupted."
In international law, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
Against Women (CEDAW) is an international convention adopted by the United Nations
General Assembly and described as an international bill of rights for women. It came into
force in those nations ratifying it.
For more details on this topic, see Gender-neutral language in English.
Proponents of gender-neutral language argue that the use of gender-specific language often
implies male superiority or reflects an unequal state of society. According to The
handbook of English linguistics, generic masculine pronouns and gender-specific job titles are
instances "where English linguistic convention has historically treated men as prototypical of
the human species."
See also: Feminist theology and Gender of God
Cmdr. Adrienne Simmons speaking at the 2008 ceremony for the only women's
mosque in Khost City, a symbol of progress for growing women's rights in the Pashtun
Feminist theology is a movement that reconsiders the traditions, practices, scriptures, and
theologies of religions from a feminist perspective. Some of the goals of feminist theology
include increasing the role of women among the clergy and religious authorities,
reinterpreting male-dominated imagery and language about God, determining women's place
in relation to career and motherhood, and studying images of women in the religion's sacred
texts. The Christian Bible refers to women in positions of authority in Judges 4:4 and
2 Kings 22:14.
Christian feminism is a branch of feminist theology which seeks to interpret and understand
Christianity in light of the equality of women and men, and that this interpretation is
necessary for a complete understanding of Christianity. While there is no standard set of
beliefs among Christian feminists, most agree that God does not discriminate on the basis of
sex, and are involved in issues such as the ordination of women, male dominance and the
balance of parenting in Christian marriage, claims of moral deficiency and inferiority of
women compared to men, and the overall treatment of women in the church.
Islamic feminists advocate women's rights, gender equality, and social justice grounded
within an Islamic framework. Advocates seek to highlight the deeply rooted teachings of
equality in the Quran and encourage a questioning of the patriarchal interpretation of Islamic
teaching through the Quran, hadith (sayings of Muhammad), and sharia (law) towards the
creation of a more equal and just society. Although rooted in Islam, the movement's
pioneers have also utilized secular and Western feminist discourses and recognize the role of
Islamic feminism as part of an integrated global feminist movement.
Jewish feminism is a movement that seeks to improve the religious, legal, and social status of
women within Judaism and to open up new opportunities for religious experience and
leadership for Jewish women. The main issues for early Jewish feminists in these movements
were the exclusion from the all-male prayer group or minyan, the exemption from positive
time-bound mitzvot, and women's inability to function as witnesses and to initiate divorce.
Secular or atheist feminists have engaged in feminist criticism of religion, arguing that many
religions have oppressive rules towards women and misogynistic themes and elements in
Main article: Patriarchy
Patriarchy is a social system in which society is organized around male authority figures. In
this system fathers have authority over women, children, and property. It implies the
institutions of male rule and privilege, and is dependent on female subordination. Most
forms of feminism characterize patriarchy as an unjust social system that is oppressive to
women. Carole Pateman argues that the patriarchal distinction "between masculinity and
femininity is the political difference between freedom and subjection." In feminist theory
the concept of patriarchy often includes all the social mechanisms that reproduce and exert
male dominance over women. Feminist theory typically characterizes patriarchy as a social
construction, which can be overcome by revealing and critically analyzing its
manifestations. Some radical feminists have proposed that because patriarchy is too
deeply rooted in society, separatism is the only viable solution. Other feminists have
criticized these views as being anti-men.
Men and masculinity
Main article: Men and feminism
Feminist theory has explored the social construction of masculinity and its implications for
the goal of gender equality. The social construct of masculinity is seen by feminism as
problematic because it associates males with aggression and competition, and reinforces
patriarchal and unequal gender relations. The patriarchal concept of masculinity is also
seen as harmful to men by narrowing their life choices, limiting their sexuality, and blocking
full emotional connections with women and other men. Some feminists are engaged with
men's issues activism, such as bringing attention to male rape and spousal battery and
addressing negative social expectations for men.
Male participation in feminism is encouraged by feminists and is seen as an important
strategy for achieving full societal commitment to gender equality. Many male
feminists and pro-feminists are active in both women's rights activism, feminist theory, and
masculinity studies. However, some argue that while male engagement with feminism is
necessary, it is problematic due to the ingrained social influences of patriarchy in gender
relations. The consensus today in feminist and masculinity theories is that both genders
can and should cooperate to achieve the larger goals of feminism.
Different groups of people have responded to feminism, and both men and women have been
among its supporters and critics. Among American university students, for both men and
women, support for feminist ideas is more common than self-identification as a
feminist. The US media tends to portray feminism negatively and feminists "are
less often associated with day-to-day work/leisure activities of regular women."
However, as recent research has demonstrated, as people are exposed to self-identified
feminists and to discussions relating to various forms of feminism, their own selfidentification with feminism increases.
Main article: Pro-feminism
Pro-feminism is the support of feminism without implying that the supporter is a member of
the feminist movement. The term is most often used in reference to men who are actively
supportive of feminism. The activities of pro-feminist men's groups include anti-violence
work with boys and young men in schools, offering sexual harassment workshops in
workplaces, running community education campaigns, and counseling male perpetrators of
violence. Pro-feminist men also are involved in men's health, activism against pornography
including anti-pornography legislation, men's studies, and the development of gender equity
curricula in schools. This work is sometimes in collaboration with feminists and women's
services, such as domestic violence and rape crisis centers.
Main article: Anti-feminism
Anti-feminism is opposition to feminism in some or all of its forms.
In the nineteenth century, anti-feminism was mainly focused on opposition to women's
suffrage. Later, opponents of women's entry into institutions of higher learning argued that
education was too great a physical burden on women. Other anti-feminists opposed women's
entry into the labor force, or their right to join unions, to sit on juries, or to obtain birth control
and control of their sexuality.
Some people have opposed feminism on the grounds that they believe it is contrary to
traditional values or religious beliefs. These anti-feminists argue, for example, that social
acceptance of divorce and non-married women is wrong and harmful, and that men and
women are fundamentally different and thus their different traditional roles in society should
be maintained. Other anti-feminists oppose women's entry into the workforce,
political office, and the voting process, as well as the lessening of male authority in
Writers such as Camille Paglia, Christina Hoff Sommers, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Elizabeth
Fox-Genovese and Daphne Patai oppose some forms of feminism, though they identify as
feminists. They argue, for example, that feminism often promotes misandry and the elevation
of women's interests above men's, and criticize radical feminist positions as harmful to both
men and women. Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge argue that the term "anti-feminist" is
used to silence academic debate about feminism.