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When and why did we start using the word gender instead of sex

(18 Posts)
BlueBrush Sat 04-Jul-20 13:17:46

When and why did we start talking about "gender" rather than "sex"? Before the whole notion of gender identity became prominent, I get that we used "gender" to mean a set of social expectations placed on people of different sexes.

Is it fair to say that "gender" began to be used when maybe it should have been "sex"? E.g. "gender pay-gap". It doesn't feel like that all those uses were intended in a trans-inclusionary sense, so why not "sex"? It feels like a long time since forms have asked for "gender" rather than "sex", and I'm not sure when and why it started. Can someone help me unpick this?

OP’s posts: |
feetfreckles Sat 04-Jul-20 13:35:37

Too many people writing yes please on forms that asked about sex

formerbabe Sat 04-Jul-20 13:37:56

I'm absolutely convinced that the word gender has been embraced so fully is because so many people hate saying the word 'sex' and find it embarrassing.

EmbarrassingAdmissions Sat 04-Jul-20 13:42:59

I agree that the puerile responses probably influenced it.

I doubt anyone could have foreseen that we'd end up having to ask the authors of scientific papers if they mean sex or gender when it's clinically relevant. shock I'm fed up of needing to do this, particularly because it matters so much for some conditions.

wellbehavedwomen Sat 04-Jul-20 13:47:36

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg brought gales of laughter at her old law school Friday when she explained why she started using the term gender discrimination instead of sex discrimination.

“I owe it all to my secretary at Columbia Law School, who said, ‘I’m typing all these briefs and articles for you and the word sex, sex, sex is on every page,’ ” Ginsburg said.

“Don’t you know that those nine men (on the Supreme Court)--they hear that word, and their first association is not the way you want them to be thinking? Why don’t you use the word gender? It is a grammatical term and it will ward off distracting associations.’ ”

LA Times, 1993.

Falleninwiththewrongcrowd Sat 04-Jul-20 13:54:43

Gender and sex
Sex is biological (male or female) while gender has connotations of upbringing and choice (feminine or masculine). People can choose which gender to be, irrespective of their biological sex.

Always use the word “sex” except for the following:

specifically discussing people’s gender (social construct) as opposed to their sex (biological)
you are reporting on a survey that specifically asked about “gender” rather than “sex”
commonly used and recognised terms, such as “gender pay gap”
There are two sexes that children can be born into: male and female.
The “gender pay gap” has decreased over the last five years.

Man or men and woman or women
A population made up of only adult males should be described as “men”. If it includes children, use “males”. If it is only children, use “boys”.

The over-18 football team was a group of men.
The football team was a group of males.
The under-10s football team was a group of boys.

A population that is made up of adult women only should be described as “women”. If it includes children, use “females”. If it is children only, use “girls”.

The over-18 football team was a group of women.
The football team was a group of females.
The under-10s football team was a group of girls

This is the reasonable advice given in the style guide of the Office for National Statistics

transdimensional Sat 04-Jul-20 13:59:14

Etymologically, the word "gender" originally meant kind/type/division - it's closely related to the word "genre" and also "genus".

In English, the first use of "gender" was to refer to the grammatical classifications in various languages - often masculine/feminine/neuter (as in Latin, ancient Greek, proto-Germanic and modern German), in some languages masculine/feminine (as in French) or common/neuter (as in Swedish). It's believed that proto-Indo-European originally distinguished based on animate/inanimate, but at some point this evolved into M/F/N. Animacy distinctions are still used in some languages.

Almost as old, or possibly equally old, in English, according to the OED, was the use of "gender" in its original etymological sense of type/kind, but this died out. For example, in 1662 a writer used the phrase "diseases of this gender" to mean "diseases of this type/kind" - nothing to do with gender as we understand it today. More "genre".

Then, from the late 15th century onwards, we have the use of "gender" to mean biological sex ("males or females as a group; = sex" - OED). So in 1474 a document referred to "his heyres of the masculine gender of his body lawfully begoten", i.e. someone's lawfully begotten male heirs. The OED calls this sense 3(a) and it comments "Originally extended from the grammatical use.. In the 20th cent., as sex came increasingly to mean sexual intercourse... gender began to replace it (in early use euphemistically) as the usual word for the biological grouping of males and females. It is now often merged with or coloured by sense 3b."

So then we get to sense 3b ("Psychology and Sociology (originally U.S.). The state of being male or female as expressed by social or cultural distinctions and differences, rather than biological ones; the collective attributes or traits associated with a particular sex, or determined as a result of one's sex.")

3b is first attested in 1945 in the American Journal of Psychology: " In the grade-school years, too, gender (which is the socialized obverse of sex) is a fixed line of demarkation, the qualifying terms being ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’." Five years later, another article in the same journal states that a recent book "informs the reader upon ‘gender’ as well as upon ‘sex’, upon masculine and feminine rôles as well as upon male and female and their reproductive functions."

BlueBrush Sat 04-Jul-20 15:06:26

Thanks all. I did wonder if gender had been used as a euphemism for sex, but wasn't sure if I was being simplistic. What a mess!

OP’s posts: |
DickKerrLadies Sat 04-Jul-20 15:26:50

social or cultural distinctions and differences

collective attributes or traits associated with a particular sex

I sometimes wonder if I wouldn't mind this shift towards gender half as much if the people advocating for it just admitted that they mean stereotypes rather than trying to talk about some undefinable, indescribable internal 'feeling'.

HappyPunky Sat 04-Jul-20 15:31:20

I remember chat rooms 20 or so years ago people used to ask a/s/l meaning age /sex/location. I think there was probably a long cross over period and now it's gender everywhere. I had to give DD's gender when applying for school.

stumbledin Sat 04-Jul-20 17:04:37

It is very recent ie in my life time. If you read older newspapers articles you will see they reference people's sex and dont forget we have the Sex Discrimination Act (1975?)

It start with the male backlash against Women's Liberation which in universities was influenced by Queer Politics. ie they got rid of Women's Studies and made them Gender Studies.

Listen or read the speach by Selina Todd at WPUK meeting - as some have said it was gratifying to have a socialist feminist say based on "research" what radical feminist had been saying at the time!

This indoctrinated the students of that time who then moved into positions of influence eg female editor of the Guardian saying everything I do is guided by queer politics. Dont forget newspapers have "style" sheets that dictate which words journalists can and cant use.

And then transactivists weaponised it.

It has nothing whatsoever to do with being embarrassed. Maybe very young people who have no other lived experience that today's trans culture think sex can only mean having sex.

What is baffling is how the medical profession has succumbed to this lie.

But that is why it is important to challenge everytime the word gender is substituted for the word sex.

But it does show that even a small group, so long as they getinto position of power and influence can redirect whole generations.

(Another example of queer politics weaponising words is the instance - also now adopted by the media - to say sex work, rather than prostitute.)

ErrolTheDragon Sat 04-Jul-20 17:16:55

* Another example of queer politics weaponising words is the instance - also now adopted by the media - to say sex work, rather than prostitute*

And that term is one of the reasons why it's hard to ditch 'gender pay gap' in favour or the more accurate 'sex pay gap' (most of the gap being down to biologically determined structural sexism) - 'sex pay gap' sounds like it relates to pay for 'sex work'.

merrymouse Sat 04-Jul-20 17:23:28

Jane Austen talked about sex, not gender.

Northanger Abbey - 1803

The advantages of natural folly in a beautiful girl have been already set forth by the capital pen of a sister author; -- and to her treatment of the subject I will only add, in justice to men, that though to the larger and more trifling part of the sex, imbecility in females is a great enhancement of their personal charms, there is a portion of them too reasonable and too well informed themselves to desire anything more in woman than ignorance. But Catherine did not know her own advantages -- did not know that a good-looking girl, with an affectionate heart and a very ignorant mind, cannot fail of attracting a clever young man, unless circumstances are particularly untoward.

ErrolTheDragon Sat 04-Jul-20 17:31:11

I can't offhand remember coming across the word 'gender' in any classic literature.
Recently we were watching an episode of Poirot; he used the word 'gender', it jarred as an anachronism. Maybe somewhere in her many books Christie used the word but I'm dubious.

Packingsoapandwater Sun 05-Jul-20 09:59:26

I remember the word "gender" suddenly appearing on documentation sometime in the early to mid 00s.

It certainly wasn't common in the 90s because I remember that, in 1997, my only exposure to the word "gender" was as a specific academic term to describe performative behaviour and, even then, it was a kind of "new" concept in a sense (ie. I remember the first postgraduate taught programme with "gender" in the course title being launched about 1996, I think).

I definitely remember that it was still "women's studies" in the UK in the 90s as well, and feminism was still very grounded in the principles of women's lib. I remember academics exploring the reality of biology and the falsity of Western femininity, and how western femininity, as a valid set of behaviours, was not a universalist or coherent concept.

And then gender suddenly appeared everywhere on forms, maybe around 2004 or so? I remember noticing it around then, and being a bit weirded out by it, but thinking it was because they didn't want to use the word sex anymore because it was so awkward.

Packingsoapandwater Sun 05-Jul-20 10:18:27

I'll also pop something else here, which I think warrants thought.

Gender ideology had always been a very niche set of concepts in the British academy. Compared to the wider discipline of sociology and social policy etc, there are very few academics devoted to the subject, very little research published, the postgraduate courses do not recruit well, and I can only think of a handful of people, if that, whom have completed a PhD in the discipline (and I worked in HE for a lonnnnng time).

It is extremely perplexing to me that, out of all the trends and themes in British academic circles, that gender is the one that has exploded in the public consciousness in the way it has over the last six years. The interest is just not there in British academia.

7Days Sun 05-Jul-20 10:45:02

It got popular because no one wants to type 'sex' into the internet at work or with kids around or whatever.

Another thing we can thank porn for.

stumbledin Sun 05-Jul-20 15:45:25

I think what Packingsoadandwater has said it right.

The backlash started in the mid 80s ie popular culture turned feminism into ladettes and girl power.

Some women's studies were ended earlier than others, but the influence of the attack on Women's Studies, the politics of Women's Liberation had those 10 to 15 years to take hold in universities.

And for the students who got caught up in queer politics (another "valid" reason to attack old women with reactionary ideas!) to have time after graduating to move into news papers, media and advertising. I am sure some didn't sit there thinking lets get the old (substitute which ever work you like)! They just thought we are the new vanguard and cutting edge and so we use the word gender.

And this then tied into the growth in trans politics and the political networking that was able to get the GRA passed in 2004.

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