Re: sex or gender?

Subject: Re: sex or gender?
From: Bill Burns <WBURNS -at- VAX -dot- MICRON -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 9 Feb 1995 14:58:58 MDT

Tammy (tammyh -at- fgm -dot- com) wrote:

>> Websters 9th and Meriam-Webster indicate that gender has to do with
grammatical articles in languages (feminine, masculine, neuter), and
that sex is the categories of male and female that people are divided
into (based on their reproductive roles).

The usage note in my online Am. Heritage Dictionary responds:

>> Traditionally, gender has been used primarily to refer to the
grammatical categories of "masculine," "feminine," and "neuter";
but in recent years the word has become well established in its use
to refer to sex-based categories, as in such as "gender gap" and "the
politics of gender." This usage is supported by the practice of many
anthropologists, who reserve sex for reference to biological categories,
while using gender to refer to social or cultural categories. According
to this rule, one would say "The effectiveness of the medication appears
to depend on the sex (not gender) of the patient," but "In peasant
societies, gender (not sex) roles are likely to be more clearly
defined." This distinction is useful in principle, but it is by no
means widely observed, and considerable variation in usage occurs at
all levels.

I've found this distinction beneficial in my academic writing. However, this
usage is a matter of register or dialect. If you're writing to an audience
of linguists, you would have to be very careful in which choice you used. If
you're writing to an audience of sociologists, chances are they'd be more
familiar with the biology-vs-cultural-category connotation (allow me the
ostentatious alliteration). For English speakers who have NOT studied a
language with gender distinctions, the term "gender" might merely be a way to
avoid using the term "sex"--or a way to sound more politically correct (gender
issues being such hot topics and such).

Bill Burns *
Assm. Technical Writer/Editor * "Purgamentum init,
Micron Technology, Inc. * exit purgamentum."
Boise, ID *
WBURNS -at- VAX -dot- MICRON -dot- COM * Henricus Barbatus

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