sex, not gender

Subject: sex, not gender
From: Merrilyn Serong <>
Date: Tue, 22 Jan 2013 17:56:25 +1100
Hi Philip,
The characteristics that you mention in your second paragraph and the start of the third are physical, sexual, biological features. This goes for humans as well as the other animals. You describe sexual differences, not gender differences. Bulls are male (not masculine) and cows are female (not feminine). The term 'gender' in this context is not relevant.

On 22/01/2013 2:45 PM, Philip Veerman wrote:
I will have another go. Of course as a biologist, I would always use the
word sex, not gender, in the context that Denise did. However I thought the
response that this was wrong, to be harsh and unnecessary. It is a
reasonable use and I believe not wrong.

The main point is: where do you draw the dividing line. If humans have
gender characteristics, surely the identical gender characteristics are
shown in gorillas and chimpanzees, then what about monkeys, that are almost
the same, then indeed most mammals. Who would deny that a bull is masculine
and a cow is feminine? Why not birds, indeed many insects and anything else
you would care to consider, such as the parts of plants that are different
between male and females, all these have fundamentally the same masculine
and feminine characteristics. Those are words about gender. These
characteristics are dictated as a consequence of the difference in size,
number and motility between eggs and sperm, or pollen and ova in plants. Yes
they are expressed in a myriad of ways, according to the lifestyle of the
species but all come back to the same start point. Of course there is the
peripheral complication of reversed sexual dimorphism in goshawks.

So yes normally we would us the word sex in that context. However these
gender characteristics occur throughout most living things and at their
fundamentals, they are remarkably consistent. Therefore I see nothing wrong
with referring to them as gender things, even though it is a minor use and
horribly confused with the complications of grammar use, such as that a ship
is of the female gender and a car is male, or by gender defined genus (and
family?) names or the female gender of a tropical cyclone. I even recall
that in one other language, the word for vagina is male gender but I have
forgotten the details. That just shows how silly this all is. Or the
complication of prudishness against using the word sex, (though I'm not sure
how important that is). Even though that gets messy, such as: "when did you
last have sex"? Well of course I have it right now (meaning I am still

It is not unusual for words to have various meanings, even the opposite of
what they should mean. Consider the word "temper": "He has a temper" should
mean he is a calm and actually temperate but it is used for the opposite.
And don't get me started on "decimate", now often used as though it means
devastate, instead of the trivial act of killing 10% of a population.



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