World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article
 

Women

This article is about adult human females. For other uses, see Woman (disambiguation).
"Women" redirects here. For other uses, see Women (disambiguation).
"Womanhood" redirects here. For the Tammy Wynette song, see Womanhood (song).
Woman
Florence Owens Thompson

A woman /ˈwʊmən/, pl: women /ˈwɪmɨn/ is a female human. The term woman is usually reserved for an adult, with the term girl being the usual term for a female child or adolescent. However, the term woman is also sometimes used to identify a female human, regardless of age, as in phrases such as "Women's rights". Women are typically capable of giving birth, though older women who have gone through menopause and some intersex women cannot. Throughout history women have assumed various social roles in occupation. In some cultures, a majority of women have adopted specific appearances, such as wearing long hair.[1]

Etymology

The spelling of woman in English has progressed over the past millennium from wīfmann[2] to wīmmann to wumman, and finally, the modern spelling woman.[3] In Old English, wīfmann meant "female human", whereas wēr meant "male human". Mann or monn had a gender-neutral meaning of "human", corresponding to Modern English "person" or "someone", however subsequent to the Norman Conquest, man began to be used more in reference to "male human", and by the late 1200s had begun to eclipse usage of the older term wēr.[4] The medial labial consonants f and m in wīfmann coalesced into the modern form "woman", while the initial element, which meant "female," underwent semantic narrowing to the sense of a married woman ("wife"). It is a popular misconception that the term "woman" is etymologically connected with "womb", which is from a separate Old English word, wambe meaning "stomach" (of male or female). Nevertheless, such a false derivation of "woman" has appeared in print.[5]

A very common Indo-European root for woman, *gwen-, is the source of modern English "queen" (Old English cwēn had primarily meant woman, highborn or not; this is still the case in Danish, with the modern spelling kvinde, as well as in Swedish kvinna). The word gynaecology is also derived from the Ancient Greek cognate γυνή gynē, woman. Other English words traceable to the same Indo-European root include banshee "fairy woman" (from Irish bean "woman" and "fairy") and zenana (from Persian زن zan).[6]

The Latin fēmina, whence female, is likely from the root in fellāre (to suck), in reference to breastfeeding. [7]

Biological symbol

The symbol for the planet Venus is the sign also used in biology for the female sex. It is a stylized representation of the goddess Venus's hand-mirror or an abstract symbol for the goddess: a circle with a small equilateral cross underneath. The Venus symbol also represented femininity, and in ancient alchemy stood for copper. Alchemists constructed the symbol from a circle (representing spirit) above an equilateral cross (representing matter).

Terminology

Further information: girl, virgin, mother, wife, goodwife, lady, maid, maiden and widow

Womanhood is the period in a female's life after she has passed through childhood and adolescence, generally around the age 18.


The word woman can be used generally, to mean any female human, or specifically, to mean an adult female human as contrasted with girl. The word girl originally meant "young person of either sex" in English;[8] it was only around the beginning of the 16th century that it came to mean specifically a female child.[9] The term girl is sometimes used colloquially to refer to a young or unmarried woman, however during the early 1970s feminists challenged such use because the use of the word to refer to a fully grown woman may cause offence. In particular, previously common terms such as office girl are no longer widely used. Conversely, in certain cultures which link family honor with female virginity, the word girl is still used to refer to a never-married woman; in this sense it is used in a fashion roughly analogous to the obsolete English maid or maiden. Referring to an unmarried female human as a woman may, in such a culture, imply that she is sexually experienced, which would be an insult to her family.

There are various words used to refer to the quality of being a woman. The term "womanhood" merely means the state of being a woman, having passed the menarche; "femininity" is used to refer to a set of typical female qualities associated with a certain attitude to gender roles; "womanliness" is like "femininity", but is usually associated with a different view of gender roles; "femaleness" is a general term, but is often used as shorthand for "human femaleness"; "distaff" is an archaic adjective derived from women's conventional role as a spinner, now used only as a deliberate archaism; "muliebrity" is a neologism (derived from the Latin) meant to provide a female counterpart of "virility", but used very loosely, sometimes to mean merely "womanhood", sometimes "femininity" and sometimes even as a collective term for women.

Menarche, the onset of menstruation, occurs on average at age 12-13. Many cultures have rites of passage to symbolize a girl's coming of age, such as confirmation in some branches of Christianity, bat mitzvah in Judaism, or even just the custom of a special celebration for a certain birthday (generally between 12 and 21), like the Quinceañera of Latin America.

History

The earliest women whose names are known through archaeology include:

  • Neithhotep (circa 3,200 B.C.E.), the wife of Narmer and the first queen of ancient Egypt.[10][11]
  • Merneith (circa 3,000 B.C.E.), consort and regent of ancient Egypt during the first dynasty. She may have been ruler of Egypt in her own right.[12][13]
  • Merit-Ptah (circa 2,700 B.C.E.), also lived in Egypt and is the earliest known female physician and scientist.[14]
  • Peseshet (circa 2,600 B.C.E.), a physician in Ancient Egypt.[15][16]
  • Puabi (circa 2,600 B.C.E.), or Shubad – queen of Ur whose tomb was discovered with many expensive artifacts. Other known pre-Sargonic queens of Ur (royal wives) include Ashusikildigir, Ninbanda, and Gansamannu.[17]
  • Kugbau (circa 2,500 B.C.E.), a taverness from Kish chosen by the Nippur priesthood to become hegemonic ruler of Sumer, and in later ages deified as "Kubaba"
  • Tashlultum (circa 2,400 B.C.E.), Akkadian queen, wife of Sargon of Akkad and mother of Enheduanna.[18][19]
  • Baranamtarra (circa 2,384 B.C.E.), prominent and influential queen of Lugalanda of Lagash. Other known pre-Sargonic queens of the first Lagash dynasty include Menbara-abzu, Ashume'eren, Ninkhilisug, Dimtur, and Shagshag, and the names of several princesses are also known.
  • Enheduanna (circa 2,285 B.C.E.), [20][21] the high priestess of the temple of the Moon God in the Sumerian city-state of Ur and possibly the first poet and first named author of either gender.[22]

Biology and gender


In terms of biology, the female sex organs are involved in the reproductive system, whereas the secondary sex characteristics are involved in nurturing children or, in some cultures, attracting a mate. The ovaries, in addition to their regulatory function producing hormones, produce female gametes called eggs which, when fertilized by male gametes (sperm), form new genetic individuals. The uterus is an organ with tissue to protect and nurture the developing fetus and muscle to expel it when giving birth. The vagina is used in copulation and birthing (although the word vagina is often colloquially and incorrectly used for the vulva or external female genitalia, which also includes the labia, the clitoris, and the female urethra). The breast evolved from the sweat gland to produce milk, a nutritious secretion that is the most distinctive characteristic of mammals, along with live birth. In mature women, the breast is generally more prominent than in most other mammals; this prominence, not necessary for milk production, is probably at least partially the result of sexual selection. (For other ways in which men commonly differ physically from women, see man.)

During early fetal development, embryos of both sexes appear gender-neutral. As in cases without two sexes, such as species that reproduce asexually, the gender-neutral appearance is closer to female than to male. A fetus usually develops into a male if it is exposed to a significant amount of testosterone (typically because the fetus has a Y chromosome from the father). Otherwise, the fetus usually develops into a female, typically when the fetus has an X chromosome from the father, but also when the father contributed neither an X nor Y chromosome. Later at puberty, estrogen feminizes a young woman, giving her adult sexual characteristics.

An imbalance of maternal hormonal levels and some chemicals (or drugs) may alter the secondary sexual characteristics of fetuses. Most women have the karyotype 46,XX, but around one in a thousand will be 47,XXX, and one in 2500 will be 45,X. This contrasts with the typical male karotype of 46,XY; thus, the X and Y chromosomes are known as female and male, respectively. Because humans inherit mitochondrial DNA only from the mother's ovum, genetic studies of the female line tend to focus on mitochondrial DNA.

Whether or not a child is a female does not always determine whether or not the child later will identify themselves that way (see gender identity). For instance, intersex individuals, who have mixed physical and/or genetic features, may use other criteria in making a clear determination. At birth, babies may be assigned a gender based on their genitalia. In some cases, even if a child had XX chromosomes, if they were born with a penis, they were raised as a male.[23] There are also transgender or transsexual women, who were born or physically assigned as male at birth, but identify as women; there are varying social, legal and individual definitions with regard to these issues (see trans woman.)


Although fewer females than males are born (the ratio is around 1:1.05), due to a longer life expectancy there are only 81 men aged 60 or over for every 100 women of the same age. Women typically have a longer life expectancy than men.[24] This is due to a combination of factors: genetics (redundant and varied genes present on sex chromosomes in women); sociology (such as not being expected in most countries to perform military service); health-impacting choices (such as suicide or the use of cigarettes, and alcohol); the presence of the female hormone estrogen, which has a cardioprotective effect in premenopausal women; and the effect of high levels of androgens in men. Out of the total human population, there are 101.3 men for every 100 women (source: 2001 World Almanac).

Girls' bodies undergo gradual changes during puberty. Puberty is the process of physical changes by which a child's body matures into an adult body capable of sexual reproduction to enable fertilisation. It is initiated by hormonal signals from the brain to the gonads. In response to the signals, the gonads produce hormones that stimulate libido and the growth, function, and transformation of the brain, bones, muscle, blood, skin, hair, breasts, and sexual organs. Physical growth—height and weight—accelerates in the first half of puberty and is completed when the child has developed an adult body. Until the maturation of their reproductive capabilities, the pre-pubertal, physical differences between boys and girls are the genitalia, the penis and the vagina. Puberty is a process that usually takes place between the ages 10-16, but these ages differ from girl to girl. The major landmark of girls' puberty is menarche, the onset of menstruation, which occurs on average between ages 12–13.[25][26][27][28]


Most girls go through menarche and are then able to become pregnant and bear children.[29] This generally requires internal fertilization of her eggs with the sperm of a man through sexual intercourse, though artificial insemination or the surgical implantation of an existing embryo is also possible (see reproductive technology). The study of female reproduction and reproductive organs is called gynaecology.

There are some diseases that primarily affect women, such as lupus. Also, there are some sex-related illnesses that are found more frequently or exclusively in women, e.g., breast cancer, cervical cancer, or ovarian cancer. Women and men may have different symptoms of an illness and may also respond differently to medical treatment. This area of medical research is studied by gender-based medicine.

Culture and gender roles

Main article: Gender role


In many prehistoric cultures, women assumed a particular cultural role. In hunter-gatherer societies, women were generally the gatherers of plant foods, small animal foods and fish, while men hunted meat from large animals.

In more recent history, the gender roles of women have changed greatly. Traditionally, middle class women were involved in domestic tasks emphasizing child care. For poorer women, especially working class women, although this often remained an ideal,[specify] economic necessity compelled them to seek employment outside the home. The occupations that were available to them were, however, lower in pay than those available to men.

As changes in the labor market for women came about, availability of employment changed from only "dirty", long hour factory jobs to "cleaner", more respectable office jobs where more education was demanded, women's participation in the U.S. labor force rose from 6% in 1900 to 23% in 1923. These shifts in the labor force led to changes in the attitudes of women at work, allowing for the revolution which resulted in women becoming career and education oriented.


In the 1970s, many academic women, including scientists, avoided having children. However, throughout the 1980s, institutions tried to equalize conditions for men and women in the workplace. However, the inequalities at home stumped women's opportunities to succeed as far as men. Professional women are still responsible for domestic labor and child care. As people would say, the have a "double burden" which does not allow then the time and energy to succeed in their careers. Furthermore, though there has been an increase in the endorsement of egalitarian gender roles in the home by both women and men, a recent research study showed that women focused on issues of morality, fairness, and well-being, while men focused on social conventions[30] Until the early twentieth century, U.S. women's colleges required their women faculty members to remain single, on the grounds that a woman could not carry on two full-time professions at once. According to Schiebinger, "Being a scientist and a wife and a mother is a burden in society that expects women more often than men to put family ahead of career. (pg. 93).[31]

Movements advocate equality of opportunity for both sexes and equal rights irrespective of gender. Through a combination of economic changes and the efforts of the feminist movement,[specify] in recent decades women in most societies now have access to careers beyond the traditional homemaker.

Although a greater number of women are seeking higher education, salaries are often less than those of men. CBS News claims that in the United States women who are ages 30 to 44 and hold a university degree make only 62 percent of what similarly qualified men do, a lower rate than in all but three of the 19 countries for which numbers are available. Some Western nations with greater inequity in pay are Germany, New Zealand and Switzerland.[32]

Violence against women


The phrase violence against women is a technical term used to collectively refer to violent acts that are primarily or exclusively committed against women.

The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines "violence against women" as:[33]

"any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life."

and identifies three forms of such violence: that occurring in the family, that occurring within the general community, and that perpetrated or condoned by the State.


Violence against women remains a widespread problem, fueled, especially outside the West, by patriarchal social values, lack of adequate laws, and lack of enforcement of existing laws. Social norms that exist in many parts of the world hinder progress in the area of protecting women from violence. For example, according to surveys by UNICEF, the percentage of women aged 15–49 who think that a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife under certain circumstances is as high as 90% in Afghanistan and Jordan, 87% in Mali, 86% in Guinea and Timor-Leste, 81% in Laos, 80% in Central African Republic.[34] A 2010 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that stoning as a punishment for adultery was supported by 82% of respondents in Egypt and Pakistan, 70% in Jordan, 56% Nigeria, 42% in Indonesia.[35]

Specific forms of violence that affect women include female genital mutilation, sex trafficking, forced prostitution, forced marriage, rape, sexual harassment, honor killings, acid throwing, dowry related violence. The State can be complicit in violence against women, for instance through practices such as stoning (as punishment for adultery).

Education

Main article: Female education

Literacy

Main article: Literacy

World literacy is lower for females than for males. Latest data from CIA World Factbook shows that 79.7% of women are literate, compared to 88.6% of men (aged 15 and over). Literacy rates are lowest in South and West Asia, and in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.[36]

OECD countries

Education

The educational gender gap in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries has been reduced over the last 30 years. Younger women today are far more likely to have completed a tertiary qualification: in 19 of the 30 OECD countries, more than twice as many women aged 25 to 34 have completed tertiary education than have women aged 55 to 64. In 21 of 27 OECD countries with comparable data, the number of women graduating from university-level programmes is equal to or exceeds that of men. 15-year-old girls tend to show much higher expectations for their careers than boys of the same age.[37]

While women account for more than half of university graduates in several OECD countries, they receive only 30% of tertiary degrees granted in science and engineering fields, and women account for only 25% to 35% of researchers in most OECD countries.[38]

There is a common misconception that women have still not advanced in achieving academic degrees. According to Margaret Rossiter, a historian of science, women now earn 54 percent of all bachelor's degrees in the United States. However, although there are more women holding bachelors degrees than men, as the level of education increases, the more men tend to fit the statistics instead of women. At the graduate level, women fill 40 percent of the doctorate degrees (31 percent of them being in engineering).[39]

While to this day women are studying at prestigious universities at the same rate as men, they are not being given the same chance to join faculty. Sociologist Harriet Zuckerman has observed that the more prestigious an institute is, the more difficult and time consuming it will be for women to obtain a faculty position there. In 1989, Harvard University tenured its first woman in chemistry, Cynthia Friend, and in 1992 its first woman in physics, Melissa Franklin. She also observed that women were more likely to hold their first professional positions as instructors and lecturers while men are more likely to work first in tenure positions. According to Smith and Tang, as of 1989, 65 percent of men and only 40 percent of women held tenured positions and only 29 percent of all scientists and engineers employed as assistant professors in four-year colleges and universities were women.[40]

Jobs

In 1992, women earned 9 percent of the Ph.D.'s awarded in engineering but only one percent made it to become a professor. In 1995, 11 percent of professors in science and engineering were women. In relation, only 311 deans of engineering schools were women, which is less than 1 percent of the total. Even in psychology, a degree in which women earn the majority of Ph.D.'s, they hold a significant amount of fewer tenured positions, roughly 19 percent in 1994.[41]

See also

Gender studies portal
Feminism portal

Medical:

Dynamics:

Political:

References

Further reading

  • ISBN 0-19-501785-4
  • Routledge international encyclopedia of women, 4 vls., ed. by Cheris Kramarae and Dale Spender, Routledge 2000
  • Women in world history : a biographical encyclopedia, 17 vls., ed. by Anne Commire, Waterford, Conn. [etc.] : Yorkin Publ. [etc.], 1999–2002

External links

History
  • Women's History in America
  • Medic@.
Religion
  • Women and Christianity: representations and practices
  • Women in Islam
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and USA.gov, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for USA.gov and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
 
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
 
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.
 



Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.