Updated: DECEMBER 23, 2019

Gender refers to an individual’s personal sexual identity, and the behaviors and attributes typically associated with this sexual identity. Gender is typically categorized as either masculine or feminine. The characteristics of gender can vary significantly between different societal groups.

Gender should not be confused with sex, which refers to the biological and physiological features of men and women. While in most cases a person’s gender and sex match, this is not always the case. For example, a transgender person may have been born a male, but decide to live life as a female. Whereas gender is a fluid notion, which can change according to time and place, one's sex is fixed.

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There are a variety of characteristics associated with gender, depending on context, culture, and country of origin. For example, in many parts of the Western world, women work for a lower wage than men. In Saudi Arabia, men drive while women do not, and in Vietnam, a woman is less likely to smoke than a man. Societal expectations such as these work in combination with personal views of masculinity and femininity to create an individual’s gender identity. This gender identity manifests as gender expression.

Simple labels such as "masculine" and "feminine" fail to take into account the complete spectrum of gender identity and expression. Our gender is shaped by a variety of influences, including our interaction with family and friends, the culture in which we live, our faith, and the media. So many aspects of society are gendered, from the toys children play with to the clothes adults wear.

Many individuals will gravitate towards the components of society associated with their expected gender, but this isn’t always the case. The term gender diversity recognizes that people’s preferences are sometimes situated outside gender norms.

An individual may also identify as gender fluid if they do not feel that masculine or feminine labels accurately communicate their gender, or if they shift between identifying as masculine or feminine.


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