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Sociology of gender is a prominent subfield of sociology. Since 1950 an increasing part of the academic literature, and of the public discourse uses gender for the perceived or projected (self-identified) masculinity or femininity of a person. The terms was introduced by Money (1955):
- “The term gender role is used to signify all those things that a person says or does to disclose himself or herself as having the status of boy or man, girl or woman, respectively. It includes, but is not restricted to, sexuality in the sense of eroticism.”
A person's gender is complex, encompassing countless characteristics of appearance, speech, movement and other factors not solely limited to biological sex.
Societies tend to have binary gender systems in which everyone is categorized as male or female, but this is not universal. Some societies include a third gender role; for instance, the Native American Two-Spirit people and the hijras of India.
There is debate over to what extent gender is a social construct and to what extent it is a biological construct. At the extremes of these views you have social constructionism which suggests that it is entirely a social construct and essentialism which suggests that it's entirely a biological construct.
Gender associations are constantly changing as society changes. For example, the color pink was considered masculine in the early 1900s and is now seen as feminine. Pink and blue are often thought of in contemporary western society as symbolic of the genders.
During the 1970s there was no consensus about how the terms were to be applied. In the 1974 edition of Masculine/Feminine or Human, the author uses “innate gender” and “learned sex roles“, but in the 1978 edition, the use of sex and gender is reversed. By 1980, most feminist writings had agreed on using gender only for socioculturally adapted traits.
In English, both sex and gender are used in contexts where they could not be substituted ( sexual intercourse; anal sex; safe sex; sex worker; sex slave). Other languages, like German, use the same word Geschlecht to refer both to grammatical gender and to biological sex, making the distinction between sex and gender advocated by some anthropologists difficult. In some contexts, German has adopted the English loan-word gender to achieve this distinction. Sometimes 'Geschlechtsidentitaet' is used as gender (although it literally means gender identity) and 'Geschlecht' as sex (translation of Judith Butler's Gender Trouble). More common is the use of modifiers: biologisches Geschlecht for sex, Geschlechtsidentität for gender identity and Geschlechterrolle for gender role etc.
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