A woman is a female human. The term woman (irregular plural: women) usually is used 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".
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 English. It derives from Proto-Indo-European *mánu- 'man, human', cognate to Sanskrit manu, Old Church Slavonic mǫžĭ, 'man', 'husband'.
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". ("Wyf" also evolved into the word "wife".) "Man" does continue to carry its original sense of "Human" however, resulting in an asymmetry sometimes criticized as sexist. (See also Womyn.)
A very common Indo-European root for woman, *gwen-, is the source of English queen (Old English cwēn primarily meant woman, highborn or not; this is still the case in Danish, with the modern spelling kvinde), as well as gynaecology (from Greek gynē), banshee (from Old Irish ban) and zenana (from Persian zan). The Latin fēmina, whence female, is likely from the root in fellāre (to suck), referring to breastfeeding.
The symbol for the planet Venus is the sign also used in biology for the female gender. 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 (Unicode: ♀). 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).
Age and terminology
Womanhood is the period in a female's life after she has transitioned from girlhood, at least physically, having passed the age of menarche. Many cultures have rites of passage to symbolize a woman'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).
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; it was only around the beginning of the 16th century that it came to mean specifically a female child. Nowadays girl sometimes is used colloquially to refer to a young or unmarried woman. During the early 1970s feminists challenged such use, and 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 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 as a woman may, in such a culture, imply that she is sexually experienced, which would be an insult to her family.
In some settings, the use of girl to refer to an adult female is a vestigial practice (such as girls' night out), even among some elderly women. In this sense, girl may be considered to be the analogue to the British word bloke for a man, although it again fails to meet the parallel status as an adult. Gal aside, some feminists cite this lack of an informal yet respectful term for women as misogynistic; they regard non-parallel usages, such as men and girls, as sexist.
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 supposedly 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.
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.)
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. Unlike the Y chromosome, the X can come from either the mother or the father, thus genetic studies which focus on the female line use mitochondrial DNA.
Biological factors are not sufficient determinants of whether a person considers themselves a woman or is considered a woman. Intersexed men and women, who have mixed physical and/or genetic features, may use other criteria in making a clear determination. There are also transgendered or transsexual women, who were born or physically assigned as male at birth, but identify as a woman; there are varying social, legal, and individual definitions with regard to this issue. (See transwoman.)
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, and among the oldest populations, there are only 53 men for every 100 women.  Women typically have a longer life expectancy than men.  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).
Most women go through menarche and are then able to become pregnant and bear children. 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. Women generally reach menopause in their late 40s or early 50s, at which point their ovaries cease producing estrogen and they can no longer become pregnant.
To a large extent, women suffer from the same illnesses as men.  However, 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.
During early fetal development, embryos of both sexes appear gender neutral; the release of hormones is what changes physical appearance male or female. As in other cases without two sexes, such as species that reproduce asexually, the gender-neutral appearance is closer to female than to male.
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, small animal foods, fish, and learned to use dairy products, while men hunted meat from large animals.
Since the 13th century BC in Assyria, the veil was used by women to cover hair or face, and spread with the uprise of Christianity to Europe and with the Byzantine Empire into the Arabian peninsula. If worn with religious intention, it is meant to protect the woman from the environment or the public view to protect her grace and honor and thus is sometimes considered a symbol of patriarchy. If not worn with religious impetus, veil and skirt have still been typical symbols of a woman.Template:Specify
In more recent history, the gender roles of women have changed greatly. Traditionally, middle-class women were typically involved in domestic tasks emphasizing child care, and did not enter paid employment. For poorer women, especially working class women, this often remained an ideal,Template:Specify as economic necessity compelled them to seek employment outside the home. The occupations that were available to them were, however, lower in prestige and pay than those available to men.
As changes in the labor market for women came about, availability of employment changed from only "dirty", long houred factory jobs to "cleaner", more respectable office jobs where a little more education was demanded, women's participation in the 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 "quiet" revolution which resulted in women becoming more career and education oriented. This revolution of women in the labor force came about because of changes in three essential criteria:
- expanded horizons: women were anticipating their future work lives, allowing them to then plan for them and receive the education they needed to accomplish that goal;
- altered identities: women's identities were no longer based upon just family and child-bearing. Their focus became more on career and financial success, and defined themselves thus;
- Changes in decision making: Women were making decisions regarding their lives, education, and career goals. Marriage was postponed and more women made time to focus on a career and an education, rather than just going to college to meet a spouse.
Women's movements advocate equality of opportunity with men, and equal rights irrespective of sex. Through a combination of economic changes and the efforts of the feminist movementTemplate:Specify in recent decades women in most societies now have access to careers beyond the traditional one of "homemaker".
Education and employment
Significant progress has also been achieved in reducing the gender gap in educational qualifications. Younger women today are far more likely to have completed a tertiary qualification than women 30 years ago: in 19 of the 30 OECD countries, more than twice as many women aged 25 to 34 have completed tertiary education than women aged 55 to 64 do. 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. Last but not least, 15-year-old girls tend to show much higher expectations for their careers than boys of the same age.
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.
In OECD countries, women’s employment is not necessarily synonymous with high wages and career opportunities. The labour market remains difficult for women and in all fields of activity, it will be a long time before women have equal access to the same occupations as men. In OECD countries, both men and women work in an occupation where their own gender is in a strong majority. Over half of the occupations surveyed are more than 80% ‘dominated’ by the same gender. The scale and permanence of the phenomenon are such that it is customary to talk about ‘traditionally male’ and ‘traditionally-female’ jobs. But there are five times as many male-dominated occupations in the OECD countries as there are female-dominated ones. Women’s employment is therefore narrowly concentrated in a small number of highly female-dominated occupations. Yet on average women account for over 40% of total employment in the OECD area.
- ↑ http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=man Dictionary.reference.com
- ↑ http://www.bartleby.com/61/34/Q0023400.html Bartleby.com
- ↑ http://www.bartleby.com/61/52/F0075200.html Bartleby.com
- ↑ Menarche and menstruation are absent in many of the intersex and transgender conditions mentioned above and also in primary amenorrhea.
- ↑ H.Wolf (ed.), Brockhaus, Munich 2004:veil
- ↑ Goldin, Claudia (January 2006). "The Quiet Revolution that Transformed Women's Employment, Education, and Family". NBER Working Paper No. 11953. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.. Retrieved on November 16, 2007.
- ↑ Education Levels Rising in OECD Countries but Low Attainment Still Hampers Some, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Publication Date: 14/09/2004, accessed December 2006
- ↑ Women in Scientific Careers: Unleashing the Potential, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, ISBN 92-64-02537-5, Publication Date: 20/11/2006, accessed December 2006
- ↑ OECD Observer: The continuing saga of labour market segregation, OECD Observer, Published: April 1999, accessed December 2006
- Chafe, William H., "The American Woman: Her Changing Social, Economic, And Political Roles, 1920-1970", Oxford University Press, 1972. ISBN 0-19-501785-4
- Roget’s II: The New Thesaurus, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003 3rd edition) ISBN 0-618-25414-5
- McWhorter, John. 'The Uses of Ugliness', The New Republic Online, January 31, 2002. Retrieved May 11 2005 ["bitch" as an affectionate term]
- McWhorter, John. Authentically Black: Essays for the Black Silent Majority (New York: Gotham, 2003) ISBN 1-59240-001-9 [casual use of "bitch" in ebonics]
- 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
- BBC site on women premiers and other recent women civic and political leaders
- FemBio – Notable Women International
- Women and Christianity: representations and practices
- Women in Islam
- Women's History in America
- Celebration of Women Writers
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