The basics

Sex refers to a person’s biological status and is typically assigned at birth, usually on the basis of external anatomy. Sex is typically categorized as male, female or intersex.

Intersex is an umbrella term used to describe people with differences in reproductive anatomy, chromosomes or hormones that don’t fit typical definitions of male and female. Intersex can refer to a number of natural variations, some of them laid out by InterAct. Being intersex is not the same as being nonbinary or transgender, which are terms typically related to gender identity.

Gender is often defined as a social construct of norms, behaviors and roles that varies between societies and over time. Gender is often categorized as male, female or nonbinary.

Gender identity is one’s own internal sense of self and their gender, whether that is man, woman, neither or both. Unlike gender expression, gender identity is not outwardly visible to others. For most people, gender identity aligns with the sex assigned at birth, the American Psychological Association notes. For transgender people, gender identity differs in varying degrees from the sex assigned at birth.

Gender expression is how a person presents gender outwardly, through behavior, clothing, voice or other perceived characteristics. Society identifies these cues as masculine or feminine, although what is considered masculine or feminine changes over time and varies by culture.

Cisgender, or simply cis, is an adjective that describes a person whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Transgender, or simply trans, is an adjective used to describe someone whose gender identity differs from the cultural expectations of the sex assigned at birth. A transgender man, for example, is someone who was listed as female at birth but whose gender identity is male.

Cisgender and transgender have their origins in Latin-derived prefixes of “cis” and “trans” — cis, meaning “on this side of” and trans, meaning “across from” or “on the other side of.” Both adjectives are used to describe experiences of someone’s gender identity.

Nonbinary is a term that can be used by people who do not describe themselves or their genders as fitting into the categories of man or woman. A range of terms are used to refer to these experiences; nonbinary and genderqueer are among the terms that are sometimes used.

Sexual orientation refers to the enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to members of the same and/or other genders, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and straight orientations. People don’t need to have had specific sexual experiences to know their own sexual orientation. They need not have had any sexual experience at all. They need not be in a relationship, dating or partnered with anyone for their sexual orientation to be validated. For example, if a bisexual woman is partnered with a man, that does not mean she is not still bisexual. Sexual orientation is separate from gender identity. As GLAAD notes, “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. A person who transitions from female to male and is attracted solely to men would typically identify as a gay man.”

Feminism: Belief in and desire for equality between the sexes. As Merriam-Webster noted last month: “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” Of course, a lot of people tweak this definition to make it their own, and it can encompass social, political and economic equality. Feminist activist bell hooks calls it “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.”

Patriarchy: A hierarchical-structured society in which men hold more power.

Sexism: The idea that women are inferior to men.

Misogyny: Hatred of women.

Misandry: Hatred of men.

A little deeper

Agender is an adjective that can describe a person who does not identify as any gender.

Gender-expansive is an adjective that can describe someone with a more flexible gender identity than might be associated with a typical gender binary.

Gender transition is a process a person may take to bring themselves and/or their bodies into alignment with their gender identity. It’s not just one step. Transitioning can include any, none or all of the following: telling one’s friends, family and co-workers; changing one’s name and pronouns; updating legal documents; medical interventions such as hormone therapy; or surgical intervention, often called gender confirmation surgery.

Gender dysphoria refers to psychological distress that results from an incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity. Not all trans people experience dysphoria, and those who do may experience it at varying levels of intensity. Gender dysphoria is a diagnosis listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Some argue that such a diagnosis inappropriately pathologizes gender incongruence, while others contend that a diagnosis makes it easier for transgender people to access necessary medical treatment.

Hostile sexism: The one most people think about. Openly insulting, objectifying and degrading women.

Benevolent sexism: Less obvious. Kind of seems like a compliment, even though it’s rooted in men’s feelings of superiority. It’s when men say women are worthy of their protection (off the sinking boat first) or that they’re more nurturing than men (therefore should raise children). It’s restrictive.

Internalized sexism: When the belief in women’s inferiority becomes part of one’s own worldview and self-concept.

Misogynoir: Misogyny directed toward black women.

LGBTQ: The acronym for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.” Some people also use the Q to stand for “questioning,” meaning people who are figuring out their sexual or gender identity. You may also see LGBTQIA. I stands for intersex and A for asexual (sometimes also “allies“).

Gender fluidity: Not identifying with a single, fixed gender.

Women of color: Women who aren’t white. This term exists because of the social construction of race.

Title IX: Protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

Victim-blaming: When the victim of a crime or harmful act is held fully or partially responsible for it. If you hear someone questioning what a victim could have done to prevent a crime, that’s victim-blaming, and it makes it harder for people to come forward and report abuse. Groups working to eradicate abuse and sexual assault are clear: No woman is guilty for violence committed by a man.

Yes means yes: A paradigm shift in the way we look at rape, moving beyond “no means no” toward the idea that consent must be explicit.

Male gaze: A way of looking at the world through a masculine lens that views women as sexual objects.

Privilege: an unearned benefit based on an element of identity or positionality

On the Internet

Bropropriating: Stealing an idea from a woman and putting it into the world as your own.

Manterrupting: When a man interrupts a woman, especially excessively. Examples: During the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards when Kanye West grabbed the mic from Taylor Swift, who had just won an award and was trying her best to accept it, to let everyone know “Imma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time.” Or, during September’s presidential debate when Donald Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton 22 times in the first 26 minutes. Or when Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell interrupted Elizabeth Warren’s recitation of Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter against Jeff Sessions, but allowed Bernie Sanders to read it the next day.

Mansplain (verb) mansplainy (adjective): When a man explains something to a woman in a condescending way when he either 1) doesn’t know anything about it or 2) knows far less than the woman he is talking to. Sorry, if you already knew that.

Manspreading: When men take up excess space by sitting with their legs far apart. This is such an actual thing that in 2014 New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority launched a campaign to get guys to close their legs to make more room on the subway.

Feminazi: A derogatory term for a radical feminist.

Woke: Rooted in black activist culture, it means you’re educated and aware, especially about injustice. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Ca., has told young people to “stay woke.” If you’re thinking about it in the context of women’s rights, look at the #SayHerName campaign, which works to raise awareness for black women who are victims of police brutality.

Types of feminism

Intersectional feminism: If feminism is advocating for women’s rights and equality between the sexes, intersectional feminism is the understanding of how women’s overlapping identities — including race, class, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation — impact the way they experience oppression and discrimination.

Transfeminism: Defined as “a movement by and for trans women who view their liberation to be intrinsically linked to the liberation of all women and beyond.” It’s a form of feminism that includes all self-identified women, regardless of assigned sex, and challenges cisgender privilege. A central tenet is that individuals have the right to define who they are.

Women of color feminism: A form of feminism that seeks to clarify and combat the unique struggles women of color face. It’s a feminism that struggles against intersecting forms of oppression.

Empowerment feminism: Beyoncé’s Formation comes on at the club, and you and your friends hit the dance floor hard. Empowerment feminism puts the emphasis on “feeling,” though some feminists would argue feeling amazing is not a great gauge of how society is actually supporting your self-expression and flourishing. Sheryl Sandberg’s perpetually controversial Lean In, which focuses on how women can make changes to achieve greater success in the workplace, is another example of empowerment feminism.

Commodity feminism: A variety of feminism that co-opts the movement’s ideals for profit. Ivanka Trump has been accused of peddling this brand of feminism, using her #WomenWhoWork campaign to sell her eponymous lifestyle brand.

Equity feminism (conservative feminism): Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, is a champion of what she calls “equity feminism.” In her view, “equity feminism” is focused on legal equality between men and women, while “gender feminism” focuses on disempowering women by portraying them as perpetual victims of the patriarchy. In the words of President Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway: “I look at myself as a product of my choices, not a victim of my circumstances, and that’s really to me what conservative feminism, if you will, is all about.”

Waves of feminism

*Some feminist scholars are moving away from “waves” since it can give the appearance that feminists aren’t always actively fighting inequality. But if you see them, here’s generally what they’re referring to:

First wave feminism: Kicked off with the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention to discuss the “social, civil, and religious condition of woman” and continued into the early twentieth century. It culminated in 1920 with the passage of the 19th amendment — giving women the right to vote.

Second wave feminism: Began in the 1960s and bloomed in the 1970s with a push for greater equality. Think Gloria Steinem, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, Betty Friedan. It was marked by huge gains for women in legal and structural equality.

Third-wave feminism: Beginning in the 1990s, it looked to make feminism more inclusive, intersectional and to allow women to define what being a feminist means to them personally.

NPR Guide to Gender Identity Terms