Upon the deep and unalterable foundations of the male and female sexes, people have constructed the fragile castles of the masculine and feminine genders. These structures have been re-embellished, refortified and sometimes entirely rebuilt in order that each sex should retain its mystery, its charm and its danger for the other. And one mark of civilisation is that sex is concealed beneath gender. I have many friends of masculine gender and female sex, or of male sex and feminine gender. I want to hold on to this distinction, because it enables me to say succinctly and pertinently something that I could not easily say in other words. But official forms now ask me to fill in my gender, not my sex. I am often tempted to put ‘F’, since on certain days and in certain moods that is nearer to the truth. But that is not what the forms are asking: they are simply going along with a prevailing abuse of language, and one that has its roots in ideology.
During the 1970s, American feminists seized on the idea of gender as a social construct, and used it to hide the truth about sex as a biological destiny. By replacing the word ‘sex’ with the word ‘gender’ they imagined that they could achieve at a stroke what their ideology required of them – to rescue sex from biology and to recast it as a complex social choice. They were engaged in the process described by George Orwell as ‘Newspeak’ – namely, reshaping language so that the truth about the world can no longer be conveyed by it.