Gender symbol

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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 ♂ for male and Venus symbol ♀ for female, derived from astrological symbols, denoting the classical planets Mars and Venus, respectively. 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.[2]

They are still used in scientific publications to indicate the sex of an individual, for example of a patient.[3] Pedigree charts published in scientific papers now more commonly use a square for male and a circle for female.[4]

The shape of the Mars symbol has been likened to an iron-tipped spear (i.e. a weapon mainly used by men) and shape of the Venus symbol to a bronze mirror or a distaff (associated with women in the past).[citation needed]

♂ 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.[4] A triangle is also often used.
&#x25CB Circle symbol (U+25CB ○). The symbol for a female family member in a pedigree chart.[4]
☿ From the symbol of Mercury (U+263F ☿). Also used in botany to indicate flower with both male and female reproductive organs.


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. [5] 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
Doubled female sign U+26A2 ⚢ Female homosexuality
Doubled male sign U+26A3 ⚣ Male homosexuality
Interlocked female and male sign U+26A4 ⚤ Heterosexuality
Male and female sign U+26A5 ⚥ Transgender, hermaphrodite (in entomology)
Male with stroke sign U+26A6 ⚦ Transgender
Male with stroke and male and female sign U+26A7 ⚧ Transgender

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. ^ Stearn, William T. (May 1962). "The Origin of the Male and Female Symbols of Biology". Taxon. 11 (4): 109–113. doi:10.2307/1217734. 
  3. ^ 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. Retrieved 31 December 2015. (Mars male gender symbol) indicates male; (female Venus gender symbol) indicates female 
  4. ^ 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. Retrieved 31 December 2015. 
  5. ^ "Symbolism". LGBTQA+ WebCenter. Eastern Illinois University. 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. 

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