I stumbled over an interesting conversation thread this morning (courtesy of M) wherein either a grad student or low-caste faculty member described being in a lot of male-only meetings recently and finding it disturbing, particularly another (much higher-caste faculty [-- think tenure, kids]) member's consistent use of the male pronoun to denote a generic faculty member or person.
One of the responses to this was one that women hear all the time when we notice these little inadvertant sexisms: why does this bother you?
Because the principle does matter, that's why. Because the affects of sexism are present in that ratio of men to women in those meetings, and because sexism is institutionalized not just in that room, but in the very language used there.
And, most human beings think in words. Autistics sometimes notwithstanding.
And, since most human beings think in words, words matter. "He or she" matters.
I am beginning the study of law, and I've already been warned that the insistence on 'he' as the pronoun for default person is prevalent in what I will be reading for the next three years. I'm going through some 'recommended reading' right now. And you know what? It grates. It grates on the nerves, because "he" is not gender-neutral. It has always grated on the nerves, because it is exclusionary.
I want to hear "he or she", or "he" 50% of the time* and "she" 50% of the time*, because I want to feel fully included. And as long as my language excludes me, I won't.
Simply put, wouldn't it bother you if all faculty in the room where female and all admin assistants were male and the allegedly gender neutral pronoun was "she"? (Which, biologically, one could argue it should be...)
For no other reason than that no matter how hard you tried, you as a 'he' would still be excluded from normalcy by the very language you speak?
For more on this particular subject, read Gender Roles: A Thought Experiment, over at The 3rd WWWave.
[*] 50% -- don't be an idiot and claim I insist on counting pronoun use to introduce equitable division. If I were going to do that, I'd insist on "she", exclusively, for the next two millenia.