Gender in typography

We sometimes hear about feminine or masculine typefaces. The idea of a font screaming "MAN" or "WOMAN" to the reader can be amusing, but it is used as a common vocabulary to understand what we're trying to design.

It describes a subset of values or characteristics which would be culturally and/or traditionally associated to a gender. A non-exhaustive list:

  • Feminine: soft, graceful, elegant, emotional, gentle, passive, caring, curvy...
  • Masculine: bold (as in strong), aggressive, independent, competitive, dynamic, logical...
Feminine and masculine typefaces on MyFonts, and associated tags

Typefaces filtered by the tags "feminine" (left), "masculine" (right) and their associated tags identifying subsets of characteristics (elegant, fancy, technical), shapes (hand-drawn,  geometric, heavy) and sometimes topics (wedding, fashion, corporate).

These notions are based on stereotypes. It is a restrictive version of what is woman/man-related or not. In other words, it relates to what is expected from femininity and masculinity.

stereotype | noun1. a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.

These simplistic ideas of genders depend on a specific culture, which leave a lot of space for interpretation and miscommunication. A characteristic may be related to a different gender whether you live in United Kingdom, France, Russia or Japan.

These stereotypes don't exist in a vacuum and can be very harmful as a part of our culture when repeatedly used in many industries and in the media. They encourage us to conform and define what's normal or not. More information about consequences of gender role stereotyping.

We can communicate better by using accurate and explicit adjectives without gendered connotations, thus avoiding interpretation, preconceived ideas and contributing to a damaging gendered segregation.

Soft is soft. Elegant is elegant. Bold is bold.