Gender: Meaning and Definition of Gender-related Terms

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Gender is derived from the Middle English word “gendre”, from Middle French “genre”, and from Latin “genus”. The word means “kind”, “type”, or “sort”. This post is on the meaning of gender, as well as gender-related terms.

Gender is the range of characteristics pertaining to, and differentiating between, masculinity and femininity. Depending on the context, these characteristics may include biological sex (i.e. the state of being male, female or intersex), sex-based social structures (including gender roles and other social roles), or gender identity.

Some cultures have specific gender roles that can be considered distinct from male and female, such as the hijra (chhaka) of India and Pakistan.

Gender can also be define as the sociocultural phenomenon of the division of people into various categories such as “male” and “female” with each having associated clothing, role, stereotype, etc.

Gender is all around us like water surrounding creatures, in the sea, we are often unaware of its ever-present nature. Gender is actually taught to us from the moment we are born. Gender expectations and messages bombard us constantly. Upbringing, culture, peers, schools, community, media and religion are some of the many influences that shape our understanding of its core aspect of self.

See also: Gender as a factor that may influence the Performance of Small Scale Businesses

How you learn and interact with gender as a young child directly influences how you view the world today. Gendered interaction between parent and child began as soon as the sex of the baby is known. In short, many aspect of gender are socially constructed, particularly with regard to gender expression.

Gender and the Society: Gender as social construct

Like other social construct, gender is closely monitored and reinforced by society. Practically everything in the society is assigned a gender; toys, clothes, colours and behavior are just some of the many obvious example.

Through a combination of social conditioning and personal preference, by age are the three children most prefer activities and exhibited behaviours typically associated with their sex.

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Accepted social gender roles and expectations are entrenched in our culture that most people cannot imagine any other way. As a result, individuals fitting neatly into these expectations rarely if ever questioned what gender really means. They have never had to, because the system has worked for them.

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 concept of a 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.

Gender and Sex – Researchers’ Explanation: Meaning of Gender

Sociologists generally regard gender as a social construct, and various researchers, including many feminists, consider sex to only be a matter of biology and something that is not about social or cultural construction.

See also: Impact of Gender on Human Performance

For instance, sexologist John Money suggests the distinction between biological sex and gender as a role. Moreover, Ann Oakley, a professor of sociology and social policy, says “the constancy of sex must be admitted, but so also must the variability of gender.”

The World Health Organization states, “‘[s]ex’ refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women,” and “‘gender’ 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. Lynda Birke, a feminist biologist, 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.

Categorizing males and females into social roles creates a problem, because individuals feel they have to be at one end of a linear spectrum and must identify themselves as man or woman, rather than being allowed to choose a section in between.

Global view on Biological Differences

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, and power in society and health behaviors.

Although the specific nature and degree of these differences vary from one society to the next, they still tend to typically favor men, creating an imbalance in power and gender inequalities within most societies.

Many cultures have different systems of norms and beliefs based on gender, but there is no universal standard to a masculine or feminine role across all cultures. Social roles of men and women in relation to each other are based on the cultural norms of that society, which lead to the creation of gender systems.

The gender system is the basis of social patterns in many societies, which include the separation of sexes, and the primacy of masculine norms.

Although it is possible to define gender as “sex,” indicating that the term can be used when differentiating male creatures from female ones biologically, the concept of gender, a word primarily applied to human beings, has additional connotations—more rich and more amorphous—having to do with general behavior, social interactions, and most importantly, one’s fundamental sense of self.

For many people, the term “gender” and “sex” are used interchangeably and thus incorrectly.

Still on Explanation about the Meaning of Gender

This idea has become so common, particularly in western societies, that it is rarely questioned. We are born, assigned a sex, and sent out into the world. For many people, this cause for little, if any dissonance.

See also: Gender Differences in Human Capital

Yet biological sex and gender are different; gender is not inherently or solely connected to one physical anatomy. Biological gender (sex) includes physical attributes such as external genitalia, sex chromosome, and internal reproductive structures.

At birth, it is used to assign sex, that is, to identify individuals as male or female. Gender on the other hand is far more complicated. It is the complex interrelationship between an individual sex(gender biology), one’s internal sense of self as male, female, both or neither (gender identity) as well as one’s outward presentations and behaviours (gender expression) related to that perception, including their gender role.

Together, the intersection of these three dimension produces one’s authentic sense of gender, both in how people experience their own gender as well as how others perceive it.

Until recently, most people assumed that acknowledging one’s gender, or sex, was easy. You just checked the appropriate box on a standard form, choosing either “male” or “female,” according to the gender you had been assigned at birth based on visible anatomical evidence. But some people’s internal sense of who they are does not correspond with their assigned gender.

Gender Identity: Meaning of Gender

And in fact, we now recognize that a complex spectrum between male and female exists not only mentally, psychologically, and behaviorally. But also anatomically; there have always been biologically intersex people.

Gender identity is complicated. Some people, perhaps most, do not question their assigned gender. But others perceive themselves as belonging to the opposite sex.

Still others, some of whom identify themselves as genderqueer see themselves as neither male nor female, or perhaps as both, or as rotating between genders, or even as not belonging to any gender categorization at all.

Those who clearly see themselves as the opposite sex may or may not want to transition to it in some measure.

Of those who do, some may complete that transition, but others may be happy to stop partway on a path that can include dressing and behaving like the opposite sex, although the desire to cross-dress can exist quite apart from issues of gender identity.

More on the Meaning of Gender

Somewhere along the transitional path people may want to change their given names and adopt linguistic terms of their own choosing, including a variety of pronouns, as designations of themselves and others.

Some will have hormone treatments and opt for various kinds of surgery—perhaps facial, perhaps on their bodies, perhaps ultimately including sex “reassignment” surgery (genital reconstruction). At any point, they may welcome or reject a “transsexual” or “transgender” label.

This array of life experiences has resulted in a veritable explosion of new, or newly adapted, vocabulary. Particularly striking and useful is the word cis or prefix cis- as in cis male, cis female, and cisgender, designating those whose sense of self matches their assigned gender.

Using cis is a way to refer to these individuals without implying that “cis” people are the norm and all others a deviation from “normal.”

It is notable that choices of gender beyond male and female are even appearing on social-media sites. Clearly, gender is no longer a simple binary concept, if it ever was.

Definition of Gender-related Terms

Given the complexity of gender, it is not surprising that an increasing number of terms and phrases are developing to describe it. Below are some of the key terms you might encounter:

Biological/Anatomical Sex

The physical structure of one’s reproductive organs that is used to assign sex at birth. Biological sex is determined by chromosomes (XX for females; XY for males); hormones (estrogen/progesterone for females, testosterone for males); and internal and external genitalia (vulva, clitoris, vagina for assigned females, penis and testicles for assigned males).

Given the potential variation in all of these, biological sex must be seen as a spectrum or range of possibilities rather than a binary set of two options.

Gender Identity

One’s innermost concept of self as male or female or both or neither—how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different than the sex assigned at birth. Individuals are conscious of this between the ages 18 months and 3 years.

Most people develop a gender identity that matches their biological sex. For some, however, their gender identity is different from their biological or assigned sex.

Some of these individuals choose to socially, hormonally and/or surgically change their sex to more fully match their gender identity.

Gender Expression

Refers to the ways in which people externally communicate their gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, haircut, voice, and other forms of presentation.

Gender expression also works the other way as people assign gender to others based on their appearance, mannerisms, and other gendered characteristics. Sometimes, transgender people seek to match their physical expression with their gender identity, rather than their birth-assigned sex.

Gender expression should not be viewed as an indication of sexual orientation.

Gender Role

This is the set of roles, activities, expectations and behaviors assigned to females and males by society. Our culture recognizes two basic gender roles: Masculine (having the qualities attributed to males) and feminine (having the qualities attributed to females).

People who step out of their socially assigned gender roles are sometimes referred to as transgender. Other cultures have three or more gender roles.


Sometimes used as an umbrella to describe anyone whose identity or behavior falls outside of stereotypical gender norms.

More narrowly defined, it refers to an individual whose gender identity does not match their assigned birth gender.

Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation (attraction to people of a specific gender.) Therefore, transgender people may additionally identify with a variety of other sexual identities as well.

Sexual Orientation

Term that refers to being romantically or sexually attracted to people of a specific gender. Our sexual orientation and our gender identity are separate, distinct parts of our overall identity. Although a child may not yet be aware of their sexual orientation, they usually have a strong sense of their gender identity.

Gender Normative

Refers to people whose sex assignment at birth corresponds to their gender identity and expression.

Gender Fluidity

Gender fluidity conveys a wider, more flexible range of gender expression, with interests and behaviors that may even change from day to day. Gender fluid children do not feel confined by restrictive boundaries of stereotypical expectations of girls or boys. In other words, a child may feel they are a girl some days and a boy on others, or possibly feel that neither term describes them accurately.

And for other terms, the following are also seen to have contributed to the subject matter. This includes:


The act of performing; carrying into execution or action; execution; achievement; accomplishment; representation by action. That which is performed or accomplished; a thing done or carried through; an achievement; a deed; an act; a feat; especially, an action of an elaborate or public character.


A significant or strong influence; an effect. The striking of one body against another; collision. The force or energy of a collision of two objects.


The state of being associated with a partner. An association of two or more people to conduct a business.


A group of individuals, created by law or under authority of law, having a continuous existence independent of the existences of its members, and powers and liabilities distinct from those of its members.

Small Scale Businesses

Small scale businesses are privately owned corporations, partnerships, or sole proprietorships that have fewer employees and/or less annual revenue than a regular-sized business or corporation.


Small-scale enterprise is a business that employs a small number of workers and does not have a high volume of sales. Such enterprises are generally privately owned and operated sole proprietorships, corporations or partnerships. The legal definition of a small-scale enterprise varies by industry and country.


Contributor: Temiloluwa Olaposi



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