What is the image that comes to your mind when you think of the word cyborg? For starters, do you picture a man or a woman? As usually robots and androids are portrayed with both male and female characteristics, they actually look gender-less, or better to say – androgynous. And though it might seem like androgyny is a term from the future, as a matter of fact, it has been around since some of the earliest cultures across the world.
Historically, there are multiple evidences of human androgyny found through some of the earliest written sources.
With a well-know example: the ancient myth of Hermaphroditus and Salmacis, where the water nymph Salmacis fell in love with the remarkably handsome son of Aphrodite and Hermes, Hermaphroditus, and prayed to the gods to be united with him forever. The gods granted her wish and the two bodies merged into one androgynous form. The androgynous Hermaphroditus is also considered a symbol of the institution of marriage by some sources, representing the sacred union of a man and woman by embodying both sexes.
As you have figured it by now, androgyny is the combination of masculine and feminine characteristics, and while the word was firstly defined in the English language circa 1850, in an encyclopaedia of anatomy and physiology, it is a rare chance to meet it in print, as opposed to the noun, androgyne, and the adjective, androgynous.
The general root etymology can be traced back to Ancient Greece and ultimately consists of the combination of two Greek words – andros, which means ‘man’ and gynea, ‘woman’ – and synonymous to ‘hermaphrodite, male and female in one.’
The word adrogyne was the first to enter the English language, introduced from Old French through Latin, and first recorded in print in Richard Huloet’s Abcedarium Anglo Latinum, where in 1552 he defines its meaning as: “Androgyne, which been people of both kinds, both man and woman.” And the next mention of the word, from 1601, further establishes it as synonymous to a hermaphrodite, coming from Philemon Holland’s translation of Pliny’s Historie of the world: “Children of both sexes, whom we call Hermophrodites. In old time they were known by the name of Androgyne.”
The adjective androgynous, formed within the language in the following decades, was firstly mentioned in the 1651 book Matæotechnia Medicinæ Praxeωs: “Nature.. contented herself with that which is androgynous and promiscuous”.
In modern days, gender ambiguity may be found in fashion, arts, lifestyle and gender identity. Blurred gender roles after the World War I led to women wearing pants, introduced by fashion pioneer Coco Chanel, whose androgynous style proved to be timeless.
In art, the iconic pop star, David Bowie, was one of the brightest examples of an artist merging the male and female in his alter-ego – the symbol of sexual ambiguity, Ziggy Stardust – and that was exactly at the time when androgyny entered the mainstream in the 70s. Another remarkable artist with an androgynous personality is Grace Jones.
And when it comes to gender identity, there are those androgynes whose mentality and gender roles shift between male and female and who tend to take the advantages and disadvantages of the both sexes, mastering a behaviour that seems most effective within a given situation.