Gender definition


Gender is a bit of a difficult word to define in a biological context.

First there's the historical usage:

a. (in many languages) a set of classes that together include all nouns, membership in a particular class being shown by the form of the noun itself or by the form or choice of words that modify, replace, or otherwise refer to the noun, as, in English, the choice of he to replace the man, of she to replace the woman, of it to replace the table, of it or she to replace the ship. The number of genders in different languages varies from 2 to more than 20; often the classification correlates in part with sex or animateness. The most familiar sets of genders are of three classes (as masculine, feminine, and neuter in Latin and German) or of two (as common and neuter in Dutch, or masculine and feminine in French and Spanish).
b. one class of such a set.
c. such classes or sets collectively or in general.
d. membership of a word or grammatical form, or an inflectional form showing membership, in such a class.


I tend to sympathise with Ridley on this issue:

I make no apology for using the word gender when I mean sex (male or female); I know it is a word that originally referred only to grammatical categories, but meanings change and it is usefully unambiguous to have a word other than sex for males and females.

- Matt Ridley, TRQ, p.345.

The dictionary goes on to say:

genĚder (jndr) n.
The sex of an individual, male or female, based on reproductive anatomy.
Sexual identity, especially in relation to society or culture.


One problem I see with this is that it doesn't do much to tell us whether the 'mating types' of fungi qualify as different genders.

Tim Tyler | Contact |