Gender 101: Definitions & Terminology

Take a look at the common language and definitions the Gender Equity Center (GEC) uses when it comes to gender issues and social justice.

DISCLAIMER: We realize the following terms have various definitions and concepts. Please note the GEC utilizes the following words and definitions for the purposes of our center, and we are aware these are not the only definitions associated for the terms below.

Equality vs. Equity

Equality means everyone gets exactly the same outcome without regard to individual differences. Equality is about equal sharing and exact division.

Equity means everyone gets the same quality of outcome so that it meets the individual needs of each person. Equity refers to the qualities of justness and fairness between all genders and acknowledges the differences between individuals. The GEC strives for a world with equity, not sameness.

Here is an example that will give you a better understanding of the differences between equity and equality, and why we use equity in our work.

There is a dog owner with two dogs, one being an adult St. Bernard, and the other a small yorkie puppy. The owner believes in treating his dogs equally; he says he will love them, play with them, and feed them the exact same so they are treated equal. When it comes to feeding them, the St. Bernard requires 7 cups of dog food per day. Since he treats them equally, he also gives the small yorkie puppy 7 cups of food a day. However, 7 cups is too much food for the small yorkie, which will probably result in the puppy over eating, getting sick, or becoming unhealthy.

However, if the owner were to treat both dogs equitably, he would give the St. Bernard 7 cups of food per day, and the small yorkie puppy ½ a cup of food per day. By treating them equitably, the owner realizes they are different even though they are both dogs and need to eat - they are different sizes, different breeds, different needs, different ages, and require a different kind of care. With equity, even though the St. Bernard is getting more food than the yorkie, and is not an equal amount, they are getting an equitable amount of food that meets their needs, acknowledges their differences, and keeps them both happy and healthy.

Why Equity?

The Gender Equity Center uses the term equity because it acknowledges the differences between people, their identities, and expression. This acknowledgement allows for the opportunity for everyone, regardless of their gender, to have equitable rights, treatment, experiences, and quality of life.

Sex vs. Gender

Sex and gender are often used synonymously with each other, and are thought to mean the same thing. However they are very different from one another.

Sex is based on reproductive organs (anatomy) and sex chromosomes(biology). Your sex refers to the genitalia you are born with, categorizing you as male if you are born with a penis or a female if you are born with a vagina.

Gender is the behavioral, social, and physical traits not determined by one’s sex. Gender is how one chooses to identify regardless of their sex. Gender encompasses a wide range of identities. Gender has been viewed in a very limited lens in western culture, known as the gender binary.

Gender Binary

The gender binary is the idea that gender is limited to two distinct categories - male and female, which are correlated to being either a man or a woman with masculine or feminine characteristics. If you are a male you identify as a man and if you are female you identify as a woman. The gender binary discourages people from crossing or mixing gender roles, or being able to identify with their own gender identity.

Gender Identity

Gender identityis how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. Some people have a gender identity that connects to their biological sex, while others have an identity that does not correlate with their assigned sex. A person’s gender identity is fluid, and can change.

Some examples of gender identity include, but are not limited to: Women, men, transgendered, gender non-conforming, gender fluid, and general-neutral.


Don’t get scared of the “F” words. Feminism does not mean feminists hate men, burn bras, don’t shave their legs or armpits, or that only women can be feminists. This image is a common misconception of what feminism and feminist means, but is far from the truth – especially in the Gender Equity Center (GEC).

Feminism has many different definitions, but in a nutshell it means you want equity for all people. The GEC sees feminism as the belief and movement that all people should receive equitable rights regardless of their gender identity (men, women, transgender, intersex etc.). ANYONE can be a feminist and we hope you can bring your own idea of what it means to our center, even if you don’t want to use that label. You don’t have to be a feminist to come to the GEC; we welcome everyone, no matter how you identify.


Masculinity refers to typical traits and behavior our society associates with being a male.

Hegemonic Masculinity is a really fancy term, for the typical expectations and stereotypes of a “macho manly man”. It encourages men to be aggressive, strong, ambitious, self-reliant, and to dominate other men and women – and is not always the healthiest version of masculinity. It is usually the most commonly portrayed form of masculinity in our society (movies, music, expectations, stereotypes etc), but not the most commonly practiced.

Positive or Healthy Masculinity recognizes the negative aspects of hegemonic masculinity which emphasizes violence, anger, dominance, and privilege. It replaces typical risky and violent masculine attitudes and behavior with more inclusive and empathetic behavior and attitudes that benefit men and others. Positive masculinity supports gender equity and other forms of equity; it allows men and other genders to positively challenge unhealthy masculine behavior.

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