A functional view of gender helps evolutionary biologists evaluate the mechanisms underlying breeding-system evolution. Evolutionary pathways from hermaphroditism to dioecy include the intermediate breeding systems of gynodioecy and androdioecy. These pathways start with the invasion of unisexual mutants, females or males, respectively, followed by alteration of the hermaphrodites to allocate more to the sexual function that the unisexuals lack. Eventually, hermaphrodites become unisexual and dioecy has evolved. Some species evolving along these pathways stop short of completing this second step, or even revert back from dioecy. We evaluate the hypothesis that gender plasticity is involved in these transitions to and from dioecy. Evidence from studies of subdioecious species that have evolved along the gynodioecy pathway suggests that gender plasticity occurs and stabilizes subdioecy by lowering the cost of producing seed. Factors influencing species evolving toward androdioecy, or reverting to androdioecy from dioecy, appear to be more varied and include reproductive assurance, herbivory and gender plasticity. In general, gender specialization appears to be favored in resource-poor environments regardless of which pathway is taken to dioecy.