Gender equity report 2018/Defining gender

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Conversations with movement leaders

Defining gender

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When we refer to gender, we are employing a social and cultural concept, not a biological concept. Gender is subject to complex nuances in meaning and to multiple and sometimes contradictory definitions across different cultures. Even among Wikimedia's gender equity leaders, there is no established consensus about a common vocabulary for discussing gender. As one interview stated,

During this project, a lack of shared definitions around key terminology made it difficult--and sometimes impossible--to accurately interpret the meaning of the interview data. Because we did not establish a common vocabulary prior to the interviews, we could not always later discern the intended meaning of some of the statements.

For the purpose of clarity in this report, we are starting with explicit definitions in a short glossary provided below. These definitions are borrowed from the more comprehensive Glossary of Terms in the GLAAD Media Reference Guide, with slight changes for clarity within this context.

An underlying intent of this report is to promote diversity and inclusion, which includes respectfully recognizing that there are many variations in how gender is described and understood across the world. Consequently, we present these definitions to attempt to bring more clarity in this report, not to prescribe these terms to others, nor to describe how they were used by interviewees, who represent many different languages and cultural perspectives.

  • Gender Identity: A person's internal, deeply held sense of their gender. Unlike gender expression (see below), gender identity is not visible to others. For transgender people, their own internal gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth (see "Transgender" and "Sex" below). Most people have a gender identity of man or woman (or boy or girl). For some people, their gender identity does not fit neatly into one of those two choices (see "Non-binary" below.) Note that gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer. For example, a person who transitions from male to female and is attracted solely to men would typically identify as a straight woman.
  • Gender Expression: External manifestations of gender, expressed through a person's name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, behavior, voice, and/or body characteristics. Society identifies these cues as masculine and feminine, although what is considered masculine or feminine changes over time and varies by culture. Typically, transgender people seek to align their gender expression with their gender identity, rather than the sex they were assigned at birth.
  • Sex: The classification of a person as male or female. At birth, infants are assigned a sex, usually based on the appearance of their external anatomy. (This is what is written on the birth certificate.) A person's sex, however, is actually a combination of bodily characteristics including: chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs, and secondary sex characteristics.
  • Transgender (adj.): An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. People under the transgender umbrella may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms - including transgender. Use the descriptive term preferred by the person. Many transgender people are prescribed hormones by their doctors to bring their bodies into alignment with their gender identity. Some undergo surgery as well. But not all transgender people can or will take those steps, and a transgender identity is not dependent upon physical appearance or medical procedures.
  • Sexual Orientation: Describes a person's enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person. People may be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer.
  • Cisgender: A term used by some to describe people who are not transgender. "Cis-" is a Latin prefix meaning "on the same side as," and is therefore an antonym of "trans-." A more widely understood way to describe people who are not transgender is simply to say non-transgender people.
  • Non-binary (and/or genderqueer): Terms used by some people who experience their gender identity and/or gender expression as falling outside the categories of man and woman. They may define their gender as falling somewhere in between man and woman, or they may define it as wholly different from these terms. The term is not a synonym for transgender and should only be used if someone self-identifies as non-binary and/or genderqueer.


Additional vocabulary used in this report The following additional definitions are also useful for understanding this report.

  • Patriarchy: Patriarchy is a social system in which males hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property.
  • Systemic bias: Also called institutional bias, systemic bias is the inherent tendency of a process to support particular outcomes. As written in the Wikipedia:Systemic bias essay, "Systemic bias manifests on Wikipedia due to the shared social and cultural characteristics of most editors, and it results in an imbalanced coverage of subjects and perspectives on the encyclopedia. As a result of this systematic bias, some cultures, topics and perspectives tend to be underrepresented on Wikipedia. Some of the types of systematic bias that exist on Wikipedia include gender bias, racial bias, and social class bias."
  • Implicit bias: An implicit bias, or implicit stereotype, is the unconscious attribution of particular qualities to a member of a certain social group. Implicit stereotypes are influenced by experience, and are based on learned associations between various qualities and social categories, including race or gender. Individuals' perceptions and behaviors can be affected by implicit stereotypes, even without the individuals' intention or awareness
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  • Harassment: Harassment covers a wide range of offensive behaviors. It is understood as behavior that disturbs or upsets, and it is characteristically repetitive. Examples of harassment in the Wikimedia movement include, but are not limited to, the following:
    • Offensive comments related to gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, mental illness, neuro(a)typicality, physical appearance, body size, age, race, or religion.
    • Deliberate misgendering or use of ‘dead’ or rejected names.
    • Gratuitous or off-topic sexual images or behaviour.
    • Physical contact and simulated physical contact without consent or after a request to stop.
    • Threats of violence.
    • Deliberate intimidation.
    • Stalking or following.
    • Harassing photography or recording, including logging online activity for harassment purposes.
    • Sustained disruption of discussion.
    • Unwelcome sexual attention.
    • Pattern of inappropriate social contact.
    • Continued one-on-one communication after requests to cease.
    • Deliberate “outing” of any aspect of a person’s identity without their consent except as necessary to protect vulnerable people from intentional abuse.
    • Publication of non-harassing private communication.
  • Intersectionality: An analytic framework which attempts to identify how interlocking systems of power impact those who are most marginalized in society. Intersectionality considers that the various forms of what it sees as social stratification, such as class, race, sexual orientation, age, disability and gender, do not exist separately from each other but are complexly interwoven.
  • Wording/article bias: When the language or content of an article is biased to favor one gender over another. Examples: Only featuring male superheros on the superhero article or only including spouses in the biographies of men, but not women.