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A woman is an adult female human, as contrasted with a man (an adult male), a girl, (a female child), and a boy (a male child). The term woman (irregular plural: women) is used to indicate biological sex distinctions, cultural gender role distinctions, or both.


The English term "man" (from Proto-Germanic mannaz "man, person") and words derived therefrom can designate any or even all of the human race regardless of their gender or age. This is indeed the oldest usage of "man". In Old English the words wer and wyf (also wæpman and wifman) were what was used to refer to "a man" and "a woman" respectively, and "man" was gender neutral. In Middle English man displaced wer as term for "male human", whilst wyfman (which eventually evolved into woman) was retained for "female human". "Man" does continue to carry its original sense of "Human" however, resulting in an asymmetry sometimes criticized as sexist. [1]

Biology and sex

Biological factors are not the sole determinants of whether persons are considered, or consider themselves, women. Some women can have abnormal hormonal or chromosomal differences (such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia, complete or partial androgen insensitivity syndrome or other intersex conditions), and there are women who may be without, at least for an earlier part of their lives, typical female physiology (trans, transgendered or transsexual women). (See gender identity.)

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 attracting a mate. 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.

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, and among the oldest, there are only 53 men for every 100 women. Women have a lower death rate than men, even in the uterus, living on average five years longer 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 population there are 101.3 men for every 100 women (source: 2001 World Almanac).

In general, women suffer from the same illnesses as men; however there are some sex-related illnesses that are found more commonly or exclusively in women.

Culture and gender roles

In many prehistoric cultures, women assumed a particular cultural role. In hunter-gatherer societies, women were generally the gatherers of plant foods, while men hunted meat. Because of their intimate knowledge of plant life, most anthropologists argue that it was women who led the Neolithic Revolution and became history's first pioneers of agriculture.

In more recent history, the gender roles of women have changed greatly. Traditional gender roles for middle-class women typically involved domestic tasks emphasizing child care, and did not involve entering employment for wages. For poorer women, especially among the working classes, this often remained an ideal, for economic necessity has long compelled them to seek employment outside the home, although the occupations traditionally open to working-class women were lower in prestige and pay than those open to men. Eventually, restricting women from wage labor came to be a mark of wealth and prestige in a family, while the presence of working women came to mark a household as being lower-class.

The women's movement is in part a struggle for the recognition of equality of opportunity with men, and for equal rights irrespective of sex, even if special relations and conditions are willingly incurred under the form of partnership involved in marriage. The difficulties of obtaining this recognition are due to historical factors combined with the habits and customs history has produced. Through a combination of economic changes and the efforts of the feminist movement in recent decades women in most societies now have access to careers beyond the traditional one of "homemaker". Despite these advances, modern women in Western society still face challenges in the workplace as well as with the topics of education, violence, health care, and motherhood to name a few.

These changes and struggles are among the foci of the academic field of women's studies.


*Some information provided in whole or in part by http://en.wikipedia.org/