What's the Difference Between Sex and Gender?

The IAAF has required Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya to take medication to lower her testosterone levels—a demand she has actively fought against.
The IAAF has required Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya to take medication to lower her testosterone levels—a demand she has actively fought against.
MARCO LONGARI/AFP via Getty Images

Though sex and gender are two words that are often used interchangeably, each one has distinct meanings and many different applications.

Biology vs. Society

In addition to the act of “having sex” (you would never say “having gender”), the word sex is used to define the biological designation given to a person at birth, based on things like visible body parts. So a baby born with a penis is labeled a male; a vulva means she is a female. Then there are cases of intersex individuals. According to NPR:

“In the area of 1 in 2000 people are born intersex. These individuals may have mixed genitalia, meaning some combination of ovaries and testes. This comes about either because ovarian and testicular tissue grow together in the same organ or because a ‘male side’ and a ‘female side’ develop in the body.

Other intersex individuals may have genetically inherited chromosomal abnormalities such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia, which may result in masculinization of the genitals in people born with XX chromosomes, or androgen insensitivity syndrome, when the body doesn't respond to testosterone and a person has XY chromosomes and feminized genitalia.”

So what makes sex and gender different? Sex is biological; gender is a social construct. Gender relates to the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a particular society associates with being male or female.

The Case of Caster Semenya

The Greek-derived word hermaphrodite, which is defined as an organism having external male genitalia and the reproductive organs of a female, is sometimes mistakenly used to describe intersex individuals like Caster Semenya.

Semenya, the Olympic gold medal-winning track star from South Africa, was designated a female at birth and has always identified as a woman. But Semenya is thought to have a condition known as hyperandrogenism, which means that she produces exceptionally high levels of testosterone. As such, the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) has required her to take medication to lower her testosterone levels and to prove she is not a "male" competing in a "female" sport—a rule that Semenya has actively fought against.

In June 2019, Semenya achieved a legal triumph when the Swiss Federal Supreme Court temporarily ruled against the IAAF and determined that the athlete did not need to submit to the organization's medication requirements, but the celebration was short-lived. In late July 2019, a second ruling sided with the IAAF's original regulation. Semenya issued a statement at the time, saying: "I am very disappointed to be kept from defending my hard-earned title, but this will not deter me from continuing my fight for the human rights of all of the female athletes concerned." While Caster continues to appeal her decision, she is now playing football in South Africa.

The Fluidity of Gender Identity

Many track and field fans believe Semenya has been targeted by jealous rivals and overzealous members of the IAAF because of her success. In an interview with Business Insider, Yale University cultural anthropologist Katrina Karkazis expressed concern that the issue in Semenya's case goes far beyond sports and highlights problematic understandings about gender identity.

"It relies on folksy ideas about who's really a woman and what traits make you a woman," Karkazis said.

Gender identity exists on a continuum. According to The Beyond the Spectrum Campaign, a group aimed at raising awareness about the LGBTQ community and enforcing laws relating to gender identity and sexual orientation, there are many gender expressions humans will inhabit. On one end of the range is cisgender, a person whose gender identity aligns with the biological sex they were designated at birth. A bigender person, on the other hand, identifies with both genders and/or has a tendency to move between what are deemed masculine and feminine behaviors.

Gender fluid refers to someone whose gender is not fixed and fluctuates between having a gender and not having a gender or identifying with more than one gender. Gender-fluid individuals often reject gender-specific pronouns and prefer to be referred to as “they” or “them." A pangender person prefers not to be identified as one gender, as they relate to many or all gender affinities and expressions, often at the same time. Writer and musician Chaz Bono, actress and LGBTQ+ advocate Laverne Cox, author Janet Mock, and Olympian Caitlyn Jenner are all well-known transgender people. When it comes to gender, it is the individual who can best determine their true identity.

Ultimately, the best way to distinguish between sex and gender is to remember that the former is biological and the latter is more personal. With greater understanding and acceptance of various gender expressions and sexual classifications, language and societal attitudes will eventually catch up.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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Who Were the Actual Brooks Brothers?

Phillip Pessar, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Phillip Pessar, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Brooks Brothers has been a mainstay of American formal wear for more than 200 years. The company’s suits have been worn by 40 U.S. presidents. They have supplied uniforms to the American armed forces and suits to regular people for their most important life events: going to the prom, attending their first job interview, getting married.

But in July 2020, the firm filed for bankruptcy, likely a victim of the working-from-home trend and the move towards more casual clothing. The Brooks Brothers’s name has been woven into the fabric of American fashion, yet a certain mystery surrounds the people behind the business. Who were the original Brooks Brothers, anyway?

The firm that would go on to be known as Brooks Brothers was established on April 7, 1818, by 45-year-old Henry Sands Brooks and his younger brother, David, as H & D. H. Brooks and Co. Before setting up the store, Henry Sands Brooks had been a provisioner for traders and seafarers, and likely did brisk business in New York City’s seaport. Their shop was situated on the corner of Catherine and Cherry streets in Lower Manhattan, a major shopping district that supported a number of clothing stores. It was said Brooks was something of a dandy with an eye for fashion.

Brooks Brothers ran a full-page ad celebrating its centenary in 1918.New York Evening Post // Public Domain

Henry Sands Brooks died in 1833, and the store passed to his eldest son, Henry Jr. When he died in 1850, Brooks Sr.’s four younger sons Daniel, John, Elisha, and Edward inherited the firm and renamed it Brooks Brothers. At this point, the store began to stand out from the crowd. The brothers adopted their familiar logo of a sheep suspended by a ribbon representing the Golden Fleece. This ancient symbol hearkened back to the Greek legend of Jason and the Argonauts, and was used by tailors and wool merchants across Europe as a sign of quality. By embracing this symbol, the brothers were announcing the caliber of their goods and aligning themselves with the prestige of European fashion.

While building a brand on traditional quality, the brothers also saw an opportunity to modernize. Brooks Brothers began specializing in ready-to-wear suits—an innovation that made “gentlemen’s clothing” accessible and affordable to ordinary Americans. An advertisement in New York’s Evening Post in June 1850 stated that Brooks Brothers ‘have on hand a large stock of ready-made clothing, suited to the tastes and wants of purchasers.’ Brooks Brothers also capitalized on the California Gold Rush by selling their ready-made suits to gold-seekers who didn’t have time to wait for a tailor to construct bespoke suits.

Business boomed in the years leading up to the Civil War, a time when the company benefited from slavery. Much of the cotton used by Brooks Brothers was picked by enslaved laborers in the South. The company also manufactured the types of uniforms worn by enslaved people forced to work as house servants.

Perhaps as a result of their experience making such clothing, Brooks Brothers was given a large contract by the Union government at the start of the Civil War to provide tens of thousands of uniforms for enlisted soldiers. A scandal blew up when the garments were delivered: it was obvious that the uniforms were of low quality, missing buttons or buttonholes, and made from cheap scraps of cloth glued instead of sewn together. When the outfits were exposed to wind and rain, they fell apart. In the rush to manufacture them for the war effort, Brooks Brothers had, in fact, substituted cheap and flimsy material instead of the usual grade of cloth—they were allowed to, according to the provisions written into their contract.

The New York state legislature launched an investigation, accusing the company of profiteering. When asked how much money the company had made by downgrading the cloth, Elisha Brooks prevaricated. “I think that I cannot ascertain the difference without spending more time than I can now devote to that purpose,” Brooks told lawmakers. Ultimately, Brooks Brothers agreed to replace 2350 of the substandard uniforms at a cost of $45,000.

An illustration of looters throwing trousers and other garments out of the Brooks Brothers store during New York City's draft riots appeared on the front page of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper on August 1, 1863.Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 19th Century American Newspapers, Gale Primary Sources // Public Domain

The company’s association with outfitting the Union Army got them into trouble again in July 1863. The casualties among members of New York regiments were increasing as the war showed no signs of resolution. In New York City, working class people protested against the draft, and the protests quickly turned into a riot of racist violence and looting. Brooks Brothers’s Cherry Street store was one of the establishments it targeted. Harper’s Weekly reported that “a large number of marauders paid a visit to the extensive clothing-store of Messrs. Brooks Brothers … there they helped themselves to such articles as they wanted, after which they might be seen dispersing in all directions, laden with their ill-gotten booty.”

Brooks Brothers’s reputation didn’t suffer for long, however. At his second presidential inauguration in March 1865, Abraham Lincoln wore a greatcoat made by the company. It featured an eagle embroidered into its lining with the motto “One Country, One Destiny.” Lincoln was wearing the same coat when, just two weeks later, he was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. After his death, Mary Todd Lincoln gave the coat to Alphonse Donn, a doorman at the White House, who kept it for the rest of his life. Donn’s family eventually sold the coat to the United States Capitol Historical Society, and it is now in the Ford’s Theatre museum's collection.

Brooks Brothers continued to grow and expand. The company introduced enduring fashions such as the button-down polo shirt in 1896, the sack suit in 1901, and their own version of a British regimental tie, the striped rep tie, in 1902.

For more than 200 years, the company has outfitted presidents, Wall Street traders, and businesspeople, becoming an iconic American brand with worldwide appeal. But today, their future may be less certain.