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This meaning of gender to mean gender role or sex should not be confused with the grammatical gender of other languages such as French and Spanish, which assign gender to nouns such as la maison or le crayon (see grammatical gender).
They decline as follows:
|Subject||Object||Possessive Adjective||Possessive Pronoun||Reflexive|
|Male||He laughed||I hit him||His face bled||I am his||He shaves himself|
|Female||She laughed||I hit her||Her face bled||I am hers||She shaves herself|
Traditionally ships have been referred to using the feminine pronouns, as well as countries and oceans. The origins of this practice are now unknown, and it is currently in decline.
Usage of him and his to refer to a generic member of a mixed sex group was prescribed by manuals of style and school textbooks from the early 19th century until around the 1960s. It was called 'generic' or 'universal'
Gender-specific pronouns are also sometimes used when most members of some group are the same gender, with a small number of members of the opposite gender.
Compare the word man when used refer to humans in general.
Some people feel that this can cause a variety of problems. In particular, many feminists feel that the male pronouns imply a masculine referent, which they argue would tend to exclude women unfairly (see sexism).
Recently, some people also use female pronouns in a generic sense, to draw attention to feminist issues. Some authors recommend alternating between the use of the generic male and the generic female, perhaps on a per-chapter basis.
Some people use compound forms to emphasize the possibility of the referent having either sex: such as he or she, him or her, his or her or himself or herself. Any of these forms could be reversed, so as not to imply that males had priority: she or he, her or him, her or his or herself or himself. There are also abbreviated forms, such as s/he and him/herself. These forms can seem clumsy, and a few transgendered people object to the assumption that they must be either male or female, and cannot be both, a mixture, or neither.
It is not unheard of for governments, clubs and other groups to reinterpret sentences like 'every member must take off his shoes before entering the chapel' to mean that therefore female members may not enter the chapel. In 1984 the Minnesota State Legislature[?] ordered that all gender-specific language be removed from the state laws. After two years of work, the rewritten laws were adopted. Only 301 of 20,000 pronouns were feminine. "His" was changed 10,000 times and "he" was changed 6,000 times.
By contrast, the Constitution of Ireland, describes the President of Ireland throughout as 'he', yet the two most recent presidents were women; in 1997, four of the five candidates in the election were women. Efforts in a court case to argue that 'he' excluded women were dismissed by the Irish Supreme Court, which ruled the term 'gender-neutral'.