What’s the Difference Between Sex and Gender?

During the last 12 months I’ve filled out hundreds of job applications. At the same time, I’ve also joined several paid survey sites, where I earn points for taking surveys that can be turned into Amazon gift certificates, so that I can keep myself in books. In both those places I’ve noticed a particular grammar mistake constantly repeated. Similarly, I’m increasingly seeing it in news articles all over the net, the most recent being a Yahoo story about the change of royal succession laws in England.

The mistake is using the word gender when the word sex is called for. The two words are not interchangeable.

Put simply, sex is male and female, gender is masculine and feminine. Sex is a biological fact, gender is cultural and refers to the variable and often stereotypical roles society assigns to people on the basis of sex.

On a job application, asking a person their gender is akin to asking whether they prefer football to cooking, rather than asking what variety of dangly bits they have. It’s wrong and it’s irrelevant.

Concerning seeing these words misused in news articles, it boggles my mind that so many journalists don’t know the difference between the two words. But, then again, nothing should surprise me these days.

But I suspect that many writers DO know the difference between the two, but that they think their readers are stupid and that if they see the word “sex”, they’ll think of “having sex”, rather than male or female. Thus, they write “gender” instead, thinking readers will be too stupid to know the difference and spot the mistake.

To read more visit this site.

~ by libertine58 on October 29, 2011.

4 Responses to “What’s the Difference Between Sex and Gender?”

  1. I do those survey things too. I’m always tempted to select “other” for race and enter “Human”
    I also want to enter “as often as possible” for the answer to sex 😉

    I forgot I even had this blog! I have to try to figure out how to get around.

  2. I’ve seen a number of people commenting on this lately. I think we use the terms more fluidly as gender identity becomes more fluid. I love the fact that we are grappling with “sex” vs “gender” for some people where the two are not necessarily aligned. I know life is still way too hard for transgendered youth, but it is better than it was when the transgendered people I know who are now in their 50s and 60s were young. There’s a transgendered girl in Leah’s school, and the only comments people make about her behind her back are about her lack of style. Leah doesn’t feel she knows her well enough to ask, but she says she wishes she could take the girl shopping. (Leah rocks at finding cute things on a tight budget.)

    If, as we progress in this, we get confused in even the most basic, straightforward use of the two words, I can live with it.

  3. You know, I wouldn’t be surprised if many people just don’t know that there’s a difference between the words, because they’re so often used interchangeably. I consider myself pretty bright, pretty well educated (and, for that matter, I was an English major and teacher), and I was only dimly aware of the distinction–when you mention it, I think “oh, of course,” but in daily life I would let the error pass. I’m 34 and I feel like through all the years since I might have noticed, the distinction has been blurred by such forms, applications and surveys as you mention that many–even educated people, including those journalists–don’t know know there’s a difference. And in the context of thinking the words are interchangeable, “gender” sounds more sophisticated than “sex.” Anyway, that’s my guess.

    Separate from the topic at hand, I’m glad to see you out and about in the blogging world!

  4. Thanks, John. I have a follow up post coming for this some time shortly.

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