Gender symbol

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Image depicted on the left is the Venus (female) symbol. Image depicted on the right is the Mars (male) symbol.

A gender symbol is a pictogram or glyph used to represent either biological sex or sociological gender (a terminological distinction originating in 1950s sociology) in either biology, medicine, genealogy or selective breeding, or in sociology, gender politics, LGBT subculture and identity politics.

Pictograms used to indicate male and female public toilets became widely used beginning in the 1960s.[1]

Biology and medicine[edit]

The two standard sex symbols are the Mars symbol ♂ (often considered to represent a shield and spear) for male and Venus symbol ♀ (often considered to represent a bronze mirror with a handle) for female,[2] derived from astrological symbols, denoting the classical planets Mars and Venus, respectively, and the elements iron and copper by alchemists.[3] They were first used to denote the effective sex of plants (i.e. sex of individual in a given crossbreed, since most plants are hermaphroditic) by Carl Linnaeus in 1751.[3] They are still used in scientific publications to indicate the sex of an individual, for example of a patient.[4] However, pedigree charts published in scientific papers now more commonly use a square for male and a circle for female.[5]

The use of shapes as gender symbols may have originated from kinship diagrams in anthropology,[6] where a circle represents a female, a triangle represents a male, and a square represents a person who is neither or both.[7] The earliest form of kinship diagram that displays this is from 1871: Morgan’s System of Consanguinity and Affinity of Human Family.[8] W. H. R River's system migrated to big letters for male, small letters for female, while in algebreic-type equations, the numerator denotes male and the denominator female.[9] Later, in C. G. Seligman's 1910 Dance Diagram, outlined circles illustrated females and shaded circles indicated males.[10]

♂ Mars symbol (U+2642 ). The symbol for a male organism or man.
♀ Venus symbol (U+2640 ). The symbol for a female organism or woman.
□ Square symbol (U+25A1 □). The symbol for a male family member in a pedigree chart.[5] A triangle is also often used.
○ Circle symbol (U+25CB ○). The symbol for a female family member in a pedigree chart.[5]
☿ From the symbol of Mercury (U+263F ). This symbol is used as a unisex symbol since intersex Hermaphroditus was a child of Hermes and Aphrodite (Mercury and Venus).[11]


Gender pictograms are frequently used to mark public toilets.

Since the 1970s, variations of gender symbols have also been used to express sexual orientation and political ideology. The first instance of this was the use of two interlocking male symbols to represent male homosexuality.[12] Since the 2000s, numerous such variants have been introduced in the context of LGBT culture and politics. Some of these symbols have been adopted into Unicode (in the Miscellaneous Symbols block) beginning with version 4.1 (2005):

Unicode name hex dec Meaning
MALE AND FEMALE SIGN[14] U+26A5 ⚥ Male and Female
DOUBLED MALE SIGN[15] U+26A3 ⚣ Male homosexuality
DOUBLED FEMALE SIGN[16] U+26A2 ⚢ Female homosexuality
MALE WITH STROKE SIGN[17] U+26A6 ⚦ Transgender

Symbols and Stereotypes[edit]

The binary ways of indicating gender are ♂️(male) and ♀️(female).

Male Sign (♂️)[edit]

The male sign (♂️) is linked to Mars, the Roman god of war[20]whose Greek equivalent is Ares. The sign signifies the spear and shield that the god of war would wield[21]. The spear and shield are artifacts that signify a mighty warrior and protector, commonly related to men. Historically, men were expected to be the protector[22] of the household.

In relation to alchemy[edit]

In its origin, the Mars symbol is an iron shield with a spear or arrow coming from it. Iron is associated with the weapons of war by the Ancient Romans. This strong, red metal is depicted with connection to Mars the god of war, the most masculine of the seven classical planets.[23]

Female Sign (♀️)[edit]

The female sign (♀️) is connected to Venus, the Roman goddess of love[24], whose Greek equivalent is Aphrodite[25]. The female symbol depicts a hand mirror[26]. The hand mirror depicts a tool used for view pride and looks, a common stereotype attributed to women. Historically, women were expected to be soft and play the role of caregiver.

In relation to alchemy[edit]

In its origin, the Venus symbol is depicted as a bronze mirror with a handle. Venus is considered to be the most feminine of the classic planets (other than the moon). Copper was very popular in the making of mirrors in antiquity.[27]

Popular culture[edit]

The Da Vinci Code[edit]

The pagan symbols for male and female were popularized by Dan Brown in his novel, The Da Vinci Code.[28]

In the novel, the pagan symbol for male, resembling a rudimentary phallus, is depicted as the original icon for male, known as the blade, it represents aggression and manhood and is used on modern military uniforms to denote rank.[28]

The pagan symbol for female, resembling a cup, vessel, or the shape of a woman's womb, is also depicted as the original icon for female, known as the chalice, it represents femininity, womanhood, and fertility.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sex-segregated public bathrooms existed since at least the 1880s, originally labelled in writing. The stick-figure pictograms were popularized with their introduction by British Rail in the 1960s. The genius behind the stick figure toilet signs, BBC Future (2014): "One of the best early examples of intuitive global signs for public lavatories was that created for British Rail in the mid-1960s. [...] In the 1970s, the British example was developed on a more comprehensive basis in the United States. In 1974, the US Department of Transportation commissioned the American Institute of Graphic Arts to create a set of pictograms to be used throughout public transport networks whether road, rail, air or sea." "In Poland, meanwhile, you can come across lavatories indicating 'gents' with a triangle and 'ladies' with a circle, while in Lithuania men are represented by an inverted pyramid and women by a pyramid standing the right way up."
  2. ^ Taylor, Robert B. (2016), "Now and Future Tales", White Coat Tales, Springer International Publishing, pp. 293–310, doi:10.1007/978-3-319-29055-3_12, ISBN 978-3-319-29053-9
  3. ^ a b Stearn, William T. (May 1962). "The Origin of the Male and Female Symbols of Biology". Taxon. 11 (4): 109–113. doi:10.2307/1217734. JSTOR 1217734.
  4. ^ Zhigang, Zhigang; et al. (25 September 2009). "A HIV-1 heterosexual transmission chain in Guangzhou, China: a molecular epidemiological study". Virology Journal. BioMed Central. 6 (148): Figure 1. doi:10.1186/1743-422X-6-148. PMC 2761389. PMID 19778458. (Mars male gender symbol) indicates male; (female Venus gender symbol) indicates female
  5. ^ a b c Schott, G D (24 Dec 2005). "Sex symbols ancient and modern: their origins and iconography on the pedigree". BMJ. British Medical Journal. 331 (7531): 1509–1510. doi:10.1136/bmj.331.7531.1509. PMC 1322246. PMID 16373733. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  6. ^ "Kin Diagrams". Retrieved 2019-12-02.
  7. ^ "Kin Diagrams". Retrieved 2019-12-02.
  8. ^ Morgan, Lewis Henry (1870). Systems of consanguinity and affinity of the human family. University of California Libraries. [Washington, Smithsonian Institution.
  9. ^ Wilson, Ara (2018-07-24). "Visual Kinship". History of Anthropology Review. Retrieved 2019-12-02.
  10. ^ "C. G. Seligman". Retrieved 2019-12-02.
  11. ^*
  12. ^ "Symbolism". LGBTQA+ WebCenter. Eastern Illinois University. Archived from the original on 12 February 2016. Retrieved 31 December 2015. Double interlocking female symbols are often been used [sic] to symbolize lesbianism, but some feminists have instead used the double female symbols to represent sisterhood among women and three interlocking female symbols to denote lesbianism. In the 1970’s, some lesbian feminists used three interlocking female symbols to represent their rejection of male standards of monogamy.
  13. ^ "Unicode Utilities: Character Properties". Unicode Codepoint 26A4. Retrieved 2018-08-01.
  14. ^ "Unicode Utilities: Character Properties". Unicode Codepoint 26A5. Retrieved 2018-08-01.
  15. ^ "Unicode Utilities: Character Properties". Unicode Codepoint 26A3. Retrieved 2018-08-01.
  16. ^ "Unicode Utilities: Character Properties". Unicode Codepoint 26A2. Retrieved 2018-08-01.
  17. ^ "Unicode Utilities: Character Properties". Unicode Codepoint 26A6. Retrieved 2018-08-01.
  18. ^ "Unicode Utilities: Character Properties". Unicode Codepoint 26A7. Retrieved 2018-08-01.
  19. ^ "Unicode Utilities: Character Properties". Unicode Codepoint 26AA. Retrieved 2018-08-01.
  20. ^ "What Do Our Gender Symbols Really Mean? | UMKC Women's Center". Retrieved 2019-04-29.
  21. ^ "What Do Our Gender Symbols Really Mean? | UMKC Women's Center". Retrieved 2019-04-29.
  22. ^ "Gender Identity & Roles | Feminine Traits & Stereotypes". Retrieved 2019-04-29.
  23. ^ "Planet symbols", Wikipedia, 2019-04-07, retrieved 2019-04-29
  24. ^ "What Do Our Gender Symbols Really Mean? | UMKC Women's Center". Retrieved 2019-04-29.
  25. ^ "Venus". Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2019-04-29.
  26. ^ "What Do Our Gender Symbols Really Mean? | UMKC Women's Center". Retrieved 2019-04-29.
  27. ^ "Venus", Wikipedia, 2019-04-16, retrieved 2019-04-29
  28. ^ a b c Brown, Dan (18 Mar 2003). The Da Vinci Code: Featuring Robert Langdon - Chapter 56. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 9780385504218 – via Google Books.

External links[edit]