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|Spectra and binaries|
Gender is the set of sociological, behavioural and cultural characteristics associated with each biological sex.
Use of terms
Like most terms used to define a person as man or woman (and/or as "male" or "female") gender can be confusing in application, and often inappropriately applied in non-technical or medical communications. Specifically, "sex" refers to the biological sex organs a person possesses that define them as a male, female, or intersex human. Largely, there are only two sexes, "male" and "female", but as medical advances provide more information, it appears that the world of human sex may not always be so easily binary.
Gender, on the other hand, refers more to the non-biological characteristics of "man" and "woman".  These are often rooted in stereotypical identifiers, including things like "women are caregivers and gatherers", "men are protectors and hunters"; "women feel and are intuitive", "men think and work things out" (though sometimes biologically influenced characteristics such as strength and build are included). Some of these roles have been noted to be historically contingent and differ depending on location, culture, and tradition. though cultural universals are noted to exist.
Gender and gender identity
Unlike biological sex, gender and more specifically, gender identity refer to an individual's self-conception and self-presentation. A person born with male sex organs may feel more comfortable taking on the role of a woman in a society, however they may perceive it. This person would claim a female gender, to the extent the society would allow it. Largely, these people would self-identify as transgender, however as the topic of gender identity has been studied and discussed in more depth both in and out of the medical arena, some individuals express a gender that is neither "man" or "woman", but some combination of both.
It is a fallacy to suggest that an individual person must want their biological sex to match their gender identity. Some, if not many individuals who express gender dysphoria ultimately come to terms with their body "as is", and request society to stop enforcing binary genders on people who do not fit into those categories.
Gender and feminism
Feminists and others genuinely concerned about sexual equality maintain that many of the concepts and traditions behind gender are socially constructed. A few fringe persons may try to claim that it is entirely a social construct, but the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community is that gender is a product of both biological as well as environmental factors. There are no peer-reviewed studies that have managed to provide any substantial evidence for claims that gender is primarily a social construct or a biological one. However, since claims of biologically based gender are sometimes used to support sexism or the supremacy of one gender over the other, bringing it up in certain feminist circles can solicit suspicion.
Importance of the concept
As the modern world begins to become more aware of people who exist outside of society's norms (people who have largely always been around, but were ignored, stigmatized, institutionalized, or who lived their own lives in hiding), we have to develop language to discuss them collectively and individually, in a manner that addresses the differences, but does so with some measure of respect. With major entertainment and news figures coming out as transgender, and with major news events happening around the issues of transgenderism, accurate terms matter more and more.
For our readers who live outside the English-speaking world...
Yes, we know that gender actually refers to the linguistic inflections of nouns, pronouns, adjectives and articles. But please understand that beginning with the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), English speakers became very uptight when it came to words that (they thought) implied sexuality.
Languages change, and over time, the English word "gender" has lost part of its focus on linguistic gender, and now points more commonly to a person's gender.
- The Genderbread Plagiarist
- The Genderbread Person Redux – When Activism Gets Problematic