The term ‘gender’ has etymologically evolved over time to assume duel meanings. The original use of the term was purely grammatical in its application to assign masculine, feminine or neuter status to linguistic terms 2. The use of gender with these masculine, feminine or neuter nouns and pronouns is determined by changing inflection of these words depending on the assigned gender7. Linguistic gender is also applied to adjectives and verbs in order to indicate the form of noun which should correctly follow7. This meaning associated with gender is used most commonly in Indo-European languages7.
The most popular use of gender emerged in the 20th century as the term ‘sex’ became increasingly used to exclusively describe sexual intercourse7. Gender began to be used to replace sex, in a misguided attempt at political correctness, in order to avoid the use of the term sex in reference to male or female1.
The acknowledgement of the differences between men and women is ancient, but it is only in the 19th century that these contrasts became a subject for formal investigation within the scientific and medicinal worlds2. In Victorian science, there was a distinct emphasis placed on the supposedly “weaker” biological composition of women2. Freud also went so far as to comment on the lack of mental toughness of the female population, referring to the state of female “hysteria”, characterized by a complex weaving of physical and mental disorders2. It was only in the 20th century that the terms sex and gender were clearly distinguished from one another2. Margret Mead challenged the idea of female inferiority and the woman’s ‘natural’ maternal role when she defined sex as a biological and gender as a social phenomenon2,5. It is the biological differences indicated by the term sex which are often used as a basis for defining gender differences, and leads to the misunderstanding that the traditional role of woman in society is also a natural state,6. Gender has therefore become a sociocultural construct of male and female identity and has led to the creation of stereotypes falsely differentiating masculine and feminine roles, traits, values, discourse, practices and behaviours1.
The common misconceptions concerning gender have led to the grouping of the term with “race and “social class”, which together form a triad used for analyzing the hierarchical structures of power and inequality present in modern society4. The notion of gender emerged as a prominent component in the second wave of feminism which occurred in the 1970s3. The goal was to undermine and challenge the determinist notion which directly correlated societal standards with biological differences3. French philosopher and feminist, Simone de Beauvoir, famously claimed that one is not “born a woman”3. In this bold statement, she alludes to the fact that females are suppressed and restrained by societal standards of femininity, and therefore gender is something that one adopts through experience rather than biology3,5. In more recent gender studies, Judith Butler argues that one cannot choose to be genderless, therefore sex used as an apparatus to make gender roles seem ‘natural’ is incorrect, proving that gender is in fact an ambivalent category3.
The misunderstanding and controversy related to the term gender and its implications can be loosely tracked through its etymology7. The term gender originated with the Anglo-Norman and Middle French word “gendre”, meaning kind. In about 1125, the term developed to mean “sort” in Old French7. In the 2nd half of the 12 century the meaning shifted to sex, or the quality of being male or female7. Gender was more generally referred to as meaning race or people around 1200 in Anglo-Norman and Old French, stemming from Middle French “humaine genre”, roughly translating to Mankind. Gender used in the grammatical context can be traced to approximately 12257. In classical Latin, “gener” or “genus”, indicates race or kind and also alludes to the grammatical application of gender7.
2. Blakemore, Colin, inasdf and Sheila Jennett. "gender." In The Oxford Companion to the Body, Oxford University Press. (, n.d.). Retrieved 18 Nov. 2012, from http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780198524038.001.0001/ acref-9780198524038-e-410
3.Buchanan, Ian. "gender." In A Dictionary of Critical Theory, Oxford University Press.(, n.d.). Retrieved 18 Nov. 2012, from http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/ 9780199532919.001.0001/acref-9780199532919-e-284
4.DuBois, Ellen C.. "Gender.." In The Oxford Companion to United States History, Oxford University Press. (, n.d.). Retrieved 18 Nov. 2012, from http://www.oxfordreference.com/ view/10.1093/acref/9780195082098.001.0001/acref-9780195082098-e-0596
5."gender." In , . (, n.d.). Retrieved 18 Nov. 2012, from http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20111018151124466
6."gender." In Dictionary of the Social Sciences, Oxford University Press. (, n.d.). Retrieved 18 Nov. 2012, from http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/ 9780195123715.001.0001/acref-9780195123715-e-677
7."gender, n.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press.
http://oed.com/view/Entry/77468?rskey=6VGv3f&result=1&isAdvanced=false (accessed November 18, 2012).