Traditionalists, of course, find nothing wrong with using he to refer to an anybody or an everybody, male or female. After all, hasn’t he been used for both sexes since time immemorial? Well, no, as a matter of fact, it hasn’t. It’s a relatively recent usage, as these things go. And it wasn’t cooked up by a male…grammarian, either…
Paradoxically, the female grammarian who introduced this he business was a feminist if ever there was one. Anne Fisher (1719-78) was not only a woman of letters but also a prosperous entrepreneur. She ran a school for young ladies and operated a printing business and a newspaper in Newcastle with her husband, Thomas Slack. In short, she was the last person you would expect to suggest that he should apply to both sexes. But apparently she couldn’t get her mind around the idea of using they as a singular.
My two cents
I’m glad to see a feminist calling for he as the appropriate pronoun, and not the politically correct alternatives of “he or she” (technically correct, but a clunky copout), “it” (the spayed or neutered compromise), or “she” (self-righteous and based on wrong presuppositions).
For Anne Fisher to call for this in 1745 is important because it precedes a lot of the organised Western feminist movement (and the linguistic baggage that goes along with it). I always remember in the university how its politically correct policies made a point about language not being neutral, and for male/female terms to be parallel. Those were good points…but then the feminists went for biased language and/or spellings, like womyn. The other example was referring to males as “blokes”, but females as “women”. Hypocrites.
If a reader is worth his salt, he will know better than to adopt this type of existentialist, politicised and underhanded revisionism.
O’Conner, P.T and Kellerman, S. (2009). On Language – All-Purpose Pronoun. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/26/magazine/26FOB-onlanguage-t.html. Last accessed 1st May 2013.