From the section of letters of a woman's magazine:

"Being myself of the feminine gender, I suppose..."

Can we say a person is of "the feminine gender" ?
Shouldn't we say "the feminine sex"? Or "the female sex?" Or "Being myself a woman...?"

To quote the whole sentence:

"Being myself of the feminine gender, I suppose I should be favorably disposed towards any proposal which would place women on an equal footing with men."

  • 2
    Don't try to be a man trying to correct a woman who starts a statement like that. It will end badly. :) Ostensibly, gender is only related to words (eg, languages that have gender-nouns) and sex is related to humans. Or not, because people consider sex/gender interchangeable usage and it's generally understood what the term is regarding. Further, once you start talking about sexual self-identity (LGBT), it gets even more tricky to step into that minefield. Even if there's a proper English answer, it's not worth the "right" answer being in opposition to one's opinion in this case. – SrJoven Aug 25 '14 at 0:40
  • If you want to avoid the gender/sex terminology issue that SrJoven and bib have pointed out, you can always instead say "… of the female persuasion" – user0721090601 Aug 25 '14 at 1:46
  • @SrJoven "...sex is related to humans." What about monkeys, macaws and whales ? – Centaurus Aug 25 '14 at 12:50
  • @Luis, if monkeys, macaws and whales were being referenced in the OQ or the woman's magazine, I'm sure it should apply to them, or any organism that has sex organs, for that matter. – SrJoven Aug 25 '14 at 13:19
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    The irony of the full quote is that it would be extremely rare for a man to say, "Being myself of the masculine gender,..." let alone the rest of the statement. Even should a man be completely on board with gender equality, he'd say, "As a man, I agree with men and women having equal chances at accomplishing goals." The full quote sounds pretentious bordering on noncommittal. – SrJoven Aug 25 '14 at 14:05

Being of the feminine gender myself, I am struggling to see what the problem is with using that phrase. I might instead say - being female, or being a woman. But I doubt if I would say "being of the feminine sex" or "being of the female sex".

Other answers open up the whole can of worms of transgender issues, but sticking to the original question, yes it is perfectly OK in my humble opinion to say that a person is of the feminine gender.

  • Would you, personally, more likely say, "As a woman," or "Being of the feminine gender,"? – SrJoven Aug 25 '14 at 15:54
  • In some languages like German, and most Romance Languages, inanimate objects have a gender. They are either of the masculine or the feminine gender. In German, for instance, an eagle is a word of the masculine gender, irrespective of an individual eagle's sex. – Centaurus Aug 25 '14 at 16:14
  • @SrJoven personally, I would be most likely to say "as a woman", but if I was the writer, and wanted to use the word woman later in the sentence (as she does) then I would probably say "being female". As dwjohnston said in his answer, the writer is using (in dw's word) and "airy" or flowery way of saying the same thing. – Purple Helen Aug 26 '14 at 15:00

The distinctions between gender and sex are complex and controversial (to say nothing of the issues of sexual orientation).

A discussion of these issues can be found in this article in Wikipedia. The article suggests that there is a differentiation between

sex, the biological makeup of an individual's reproductive anatomy or secondary sex characteristics, from gender, social roles based on the sex of the person (culturally learned) or personal identification of one's own gender based on an internal awareness (gender identity).

Many would disagree, and the article points out some of those areas of disagreement.

In any event, the terms are often used interchangeably to refer to either self identification or societal ascription of male and female identity or roles.

It is likely to come down to how the term is being used, and whether there will be an explication of the import of the term to the issue being addressed .

  • edited question with complete sentence. – Centaurus Aug 25 '14 at 12:47

You can say that someone is of the feminine gender, or even a woman, but it doesn't necessarily mean the person is biolologically female.

This distinction between biology and social role is not entirely new. Simone de Beauvoir went there in 1949 in The Second Sex ('one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman') and it was expanded on by Judith Butler in Gender Trouble.

The argument is basically that wearing skirts, putting on lipstick, etc are not genetic but socially driven behaviour so while female (sex) is a matter of biology, being feminine or 'woman' (gender) is a social behaviour or performance in Butlers terms.

  • edited question with complete sentence – Centaurus Aug 25 '14 at 12:48

Firstly, let's acknowledge that a lot of people don't make any distinction between sex and gender, that is - when they say 'My gender is female', they also mean that their sex is female and vice versa.

That may be the case in the context you've given; the writer is simply using an airy way to saying 'As a woman myself...'.

However, 'my gender is feminine' would have specific meaning, when the person doesn't have an obviously female sex - eg. transvestite, transexual, intersex, or a man.

  • In the context of a woman's magazine, per the OQ, are you making a distinction between my gender is feminine and of the feminine gender? – SrJoven Aug 25 '14 at 12:08
  • edited question with complete sentence. – Centaurus Aug 25 '14 at 12:48

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