Gender is often loosely described as the psychological parallel of sex. But this is more like a simile than a description. It is also often noted as being in the mind e.g. the genderbread man.

When you look for a more complete description results vary. It is sometimes described as:

  1. A person's expectation of their physical sex. This implies that we know in our heads what our secondary sexual characteristics ought to be, in the same way that we have an awareness of where our arms and legs are. This relates strongly to gender dysphoria. Under this definition of gender transgender people are defined by their feelings of gender dysphoria, which is to feel that your secondary sexual characteristics are somehow incorrect.

  2. Gender is also sometimes described as a personality label. Under this definition we associate different genders with different averaged personality. No real personality exactly fits a gender, but like the difference between a feminine face and a masculine face we identify ourselves by that which we are closer to. So for example having a larger nose is generally a masculine face trait but there would still be predominantly female faces with large noses, just as attention to detail is predominantly a female trait but there will still be male personalities that incorporate high attention to detail.

  3. Gender is also described as a set of socially constructed roles. There are behavior patterns and activities that are associated with different genders. The behavior of an individual defines their gender. This would make gender entirely a social construct.

This is probably not a complete list. I also suspect that multiple items might be 'true' (or perhaps useful is a better word) simultaneously. The word gender clearly has many different meanings to different people. I would like to know what meanings are out there and who uses each meaning. Please feel free to only add one definition.

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    $\begingroup$ @nocomprende when we say a persons 'sex' we really are abrevating the words "secondary sexual characteristics". There is normaly little chance of confusing this meaning with the activity. $\endgroup$
    – Jekowl
    Commented Oct 25, 2015 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ Physical gender is sort of a contridiction in terms. As mentioned in the question gender is psychological, (or possibly social) but never physical. This is quite a good summary. Over the last year my own understading of this has developed so I will update the question now. $\endgroup$
    – Jekowl
    Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 15:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ cogsci.stackexchange.com/q/10751/8698 $\endgroup$
    – Vakalate
    Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 20:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I added an answer to this question: cogsci.stackexchange.com/questions/9737/… $\endgroup$
    – user9634
    Commented Oct 31, 2015 at 1:28

1 Answer 1


According to the American Academy of Pediatrics the following is stated:

Sex is a biological construct, what is real:
Attributes that characterize biological maleness and femaleness including:

Gender is a social construct, or 'man-made':
Attitudes and feelings that a given culture associates with a persons biological sex such as:
Gender expression
Gender roles and behavioirs
Gender identity
This Varies by time and culture

I am not able to identify to what degree the AAP's views are accepted or rejected by other organizations.

Source: PDF, slide 7, from the AAP

Reference (Best attempt available for now)

Garofalo, R. (2013). Understanding Gender Nonconformity in Childhood and Adolescence
Webinar Video: https://www.aamc.org/initiatives/diversity/449804/aap2.html
Free Original Source PDF: https://www.aap.org/en-us/Documents/solgbt_webinar_transition_garofalo.pdf
Source PDF Bibliography [Free PDF]: http://www.pedsuniversity.org/Portals/2/biblios/Garofalo_Gender_biblio.pdf

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    $\begingroup$ I found a direct link on your answer here so I edited to suit. A full APA reference is still required please $\endgroup$ Commented May 24, 2018 at 4:14
  • $\begingroup$ For anyone interested, I found a video of the webinar in the pdf at aamc.org/initiatives/diversity/449804/aap2.html $\endgroup$ Commented May 24, 2018 at 5:06
  • $\begingroup$ I have been trying to find the original source of the PDF to help, but Google Scholar gives Garofalo, R. (2013). Understanding Gender Nonconformity in Childhood and Adolescence. Pediatrics, 132(1), e297-313. But, Pediatrics, 132(1), e297-313 is Levine, D. A. (2013). Office-based care for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth. Which incidentally is referenced in the bibliography for the PDF linked in the answer. Not Good $\endgroup$ Commented May 24, 2018 at 14:41
  • $\begingroup$ One point I’ve been exploring is we often passively adopt the terms “objectively real” vs. “socially constructed” since they are a common, seemingly intuitive way of differentiating between tangible physical forms and abstract social concepts. But I have considered it lacks justification. Every thing, concept, entity, etc first and foremost exists in the mind. “Sex” and “gender” are both mental constructs: a human mind lumping together experiential data based on similarity of patterns, into classes with generalized characteristics. They are both mental constructs. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ The primary difference I think is that mental constructs evolve partially as approximations or mirrors of perceived reality, but also by human-to-human direct transmission, you could even call it “injection” to emphasize how bluntly a person acquires concepts from other people in their culture’s discourse, media, etc. Concepts are molded by experience but they also mold experience by acting as “frames”. Experience gets filtered and organized and perceived through concepts, so we perceive the objects, the bounded conceptual regions or entities, around us that we have installed in our heads. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 13:48

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