Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Sex. vs. Gender - more

In the never-ending (and admittedly futile) battle to get journalists to use the terms sex and gender correctly --and not as synonyms, I offer this "cheat sheet" on Sex vs. Gender from a course on gender and language at Indiana University. (Update December 2011 - thanks to the commenter below who reminded me that the Wayback Machine would probably have a copy, so I have updated the link. In addition, you might find this set of 1993 posts from a women's studies discussion group useful.)

Simply put: Sex is biologically based. Generally just male or female.

Gender: A social construct of what it means to be male or female. So we generally are not looking to determine a crime victim's "gender," as some reporter on TV said the other day. And while a case could be made that it's "gender discrimination" if it's based on a judgment that a person is too feminine or masculine (or not enough) -- generally we're talking about discrimination based on physical attributes. In other words, biologically based, or sex discrimination.

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At 2/13/08, 11:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, this post was very helpful! I always get the two meanings mixed up.

Oddly enough I am a journalism student studying at Ryerson University.

Cool blog!

At 1/26/09, 9:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gender is a linguistic term. It seems to be used these days as a synonym by writers afraid to use the word sex. Look at any writing from before, what, the nineties(?), and you never see the word gender used to describe a person's sex. Odd, because people these days like to think of themselves as less prudish than people were way back in the last century.

At 10/12/09, 2:28 PM, Anonymous McKnight said...

Ah, unfortunately you're only contributing to the confusion. When I see a person walking down the street and identify her as a woman, I'm basing that not on biology (I can not in fact see her sex organs) but on social constructions: the ways she chooses to present herself (dress, hair, movement, etc) that we as a culture generally identify as female. Not all physical attributes indicate sex--usually they indicate gender.

At 10/12/09, 2:41 PM, Blogger Doug said...

Good thought.

But what we usually report is based on biology - crime stories and the like -- where more often than not the biology is known. (I'll grant you there are cases where that is not true.)

And while there is gender discrimination, much of what we still see is directed toward the biological basis.


At 11/15/10, 9:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First can I thank you, and also apologies. Thank you, because this distinction hadn't occured to me before, and you've expanded my outlook a bit. Apologies because this distinction hadn't occured to me before, so I might inadvertently be displaying some prize ignorance here. I so, then, well, sorry. Maybe now knowing this, I'm more likely to obtain a greater understanding in the future.

So. In response to McKnight, I would say that if saw a person walking down the street wearing a dress, and also a beard, then I would identify them as a man dressed as a woman. Sex trumps gender.

Now it could be said that by growing a beard, this person isn't conforming to feminine gender roles, but really its a sex issue isn't it? Women don't grow beards because they're biologically incapable of doing so.

Stevie Hair (sorry about the anonymous posting)

At 1/18/11, 1:06 PM, Blogger Alejandro Moreno said...


I take it "sexual discrimination" is used when the victims are women and "gender discrimination" when they are gay/lesbian/bi/etc.?

In México we have sexo and género for sex and gender, respectively. And the phrase "discriminación sexual." I don't think I've ever heard it as "discriminación de género."

When the victim is female, "discriminación sexual" means the same as in English. When the victim is gay/lesbian, it means something in the vein of "discrimination of sexual preference, regardless of sexual biology".

I wonder if there's a social difference to accompany the linguistic one.

At 2/24/11, 3:07 AM, Anonymous Jennifer said...

I am a medical transcriptionist and when dictated incorrectly have typed incorrectly. I will now correct understanding completely the difference. Thank you.

At 12/21/11, 8:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can still get that cheat sheet via the Internet Archive :


Hope that helps!

At 12/22/11, 8:32 PM, Blogger Doug said...

D'oh and thanks - why didn't I think of that?

Great help, and I've updated the link.



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