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Androgyny is a term derived from the Greek words άνδρας (andras, meaning man) and γυνή (gyné, meaning woman) and refers to the mixing of masculine and feminine characteristics, as in fashion or hermaphroditism.[1]

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Gender identity

An androgyne in terms of gender identity, is a person who does not fit cleanly into the typical masculine and feminine gender roles of their society. They may also use the term ambigender to describe themselves. Many androgynes identify as being mentally "between" woman and man, or as entirely genderless. They may class themselves as non-gendered, genderneutral, agendered, between genders, intergendered, bigendered,"pangender' or genderfluid[citation needed]

Androgyne was once used as a synonym for hermaphrodite, although the term intersex is now widely used.[citation needed]

The Bem Sex Role Inventory

The Bem Sex Role Inventory is one of the most widely used gender measures and was constructed by the early leading proponent of androgyny, Sandra Bem (1977).[2] Based on their responses to the items in the Bem Sex-Role Inventory, individuals are classified as having one of four gender-role orientations: masculine, feminine, androgynous, or undifferentiated.

The androgynous individual is simply a female or male who has a high degree of both feminine (expressive) and masculine (instrumental) traits. A feminine individual is high on feminine (expressive) traits and low on masculine (instrumental) traits. A masculine individual is high on instrumental traits and low on expressive traits. An undifferentiated person is low on both feminine and masculine traits.[2]

Gender roles

According to Sandra Bem, androgynous men and women are more flexible and more mentally healthy than either masculine or feminine individuals; undifferentiated individuals are less competent.[2] To some degree, though, context influences which gender role is most adaptive. In close relationships, a feminine or androgynous gender role may be more desirable because of the expressive nature of close relationships. However, a masculine or androgynous gender role may be more desirable in academic and work settings because of their demands for action and assertiveness.

One study found that masculine and androgynous individuals had higher expectations for being able to control the outcomes of their academic efforts than feminine or undifferentiated individuals.[3]


Medieval representation of an androgynous person from Nuremberg Chronicle

Androgynous traits are those that either have no gender value, or have some aspects generally attributed to the opposite gender. Physiological androgyny (compare intersex), which deals with physical traits, is distinct from behavioral androgyny which deals with personal and social anomalies in gender, and from psychological androgyny, which is a matter of gender identity.[citation needed]

To say that a culture or relationship is androgynous is to say that it lacks rigid gender roles and that the people involved display characteristics or partake in activities traditionally associated with the other gender. The term androgynous is often used to refer to a person whose look or build make determining their gender difficult but is generally not used as a synonym for actual intersexuality, transgender or two-spirit people. Occasionally, people who do not actually define themselves as androgynes adapt their physical appearance to look androgynous. This outward androgyny has been used as a fashion statement, and some of the milder forms (women wearing men's trousers/men wearing skirts, for example) are not perceived as transgendered behavior.

Lesbians who do not define themselves as butch or femme may identify with various other labels including androgynous or andro for short. A few other examples include lipstick lesbian, tomboy, and 'tom suay' which is Thai for 'beautiful butch'. Some lesbians reject gender performativity labels altogether and resent their imposition by others. Note that androgynous and butch are often considered equivalent definitions, though less so in the butch/femme scene.

The recently coined word genderqueer is often used to refer to androgynes, but the terms genderqueer and androgyne (or androgynous) are neither equivalent nor interchangeable. Genderqueer is not specific to androgynes, does not denote gender identity, and may refer to any person, cisgender or transgender, whose behavior falls outside conventional gender norms. Furthermore, genderqueer, by virtue of its linkage with queer culture, carries sociopolitical connotations that androgyne does not carry. For these reasons, some androgynes may find the label genderqueer inaccurate, inapplicable, or offensive.

An androgyne may be attracted to people of any sex or gender, though many identify as pansexual or asexual. Terms such as bisexual, heterosexual, and homosexual have less meaning for androgynes who do not identify as men or women to begin with. Infrequently the words gynephilia and androphilia are used, which refer to the gender of the person someone is attracted to, and do not imply any particular gender on the part of the person who is feeling the attraction.


An alternative to androgyny is gender-role transcendence, the view that when an individual's competence is at issue, it should be conceptualized on a personal basis rather than on the basis of masculinity, femininity, or androgyny. [4]


Androgyne derives from two Greek words, but makes its first appearance as a compound word in Rabbinic Judaism (see, e.g., Genesis Rabba 8.1; Leviticus Rabba 14.1), most probably as an alternative to the Greek Pagan-related usage of hermaphrodite.

"Androgyne" was the first of "androgyny" and related words to enter the English language. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest cited use of "androgyne" was in 1552[5], with "androgynous" following in 1651[6], and "androgyny" finally appearing in the 18th century[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b "androgyny". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 2nd ed. 1989.
  2. ^ a b c Santrock, J. W. (2008). A Topical Approach to Life-Span Development. New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies.
  3. ^ Choi, N. (2004). Sex role group differences in specific, academic, and general self-efficacy. Journal of Psychology, 138, 149-159.
  4. ^ Pleck, J. H. (1995). The gender-role strain paradigm. In R. F. Levant & W. S. Pollack (Ed.s), A new psychology of men. New York: Basic Books.
  5. ^ "androgyne". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 2nd ed. 1989.
  6. ^ "androgynous". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 2nd ed. 1989.

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