What kind of man is a woman

Man and woman icons

You can see them on toilet doors, for example: a circle with a cross at the bottom and a circle with an arrow protruding from the top right. These symbols stand - you guessed it - for man and woman. And they are very useful: without words, you can tell which door you belong behind. Very useful in countries whose language you do not speak. But where do these signs for male and female come from?

They have their origin in the gods of the ancient Romans. The symbol for the woman - a circle with a cross underneath - represents a hand mirror. The round one shows the mirror surface and the cross underneath the handle. It is not just any hand mirror, but that of the goddess of love Venus - hence the name Venus symbol. Venus has always been associated with beauty, harmony and sexuality. Qualities that are classically referred to as "feminine".

The circle with the arrow sticking out to the top right goes back to Mars. Mars was the god of war of the ancient Romans. Here the circle stands symbolically for the shield and the arrow for the bow and arrow. Mars, the god of war, always stands for energy, assertiveness and struggle. Qualities that are classically referred to as "masculine".

This also seems to have inspired the Swedish naturalist Carl von Linné. In the 18th century he introduced the Mars and Venus symbols as biological symbols for male and female. He was the first to divide nature into different areas: plants, animals and minerals. He also examined how plants reproduce and classified them according to their sexual organs, i.e. according to whether they had male (stamens) or female flower parts (carpels). He marked his subdivisions with the symbols.

Linné's symbols for male and female have been preserved in biology to this day. It and the Latin names of the plants made it possible for researchers to exchange their results worldwide. And since the use of symbols simplified a lot in research, many new ones were added over the centuries, for example
the star *, as a sign for "born" and the cross †, as a sign for "deceased".

But it is not only in science that it has been recognized that symbols are useful, they have long since established themselves in everyday life. Just think about the traffic signs. And - well - they also do a good job on toilet doors.