English's 3rd person, for some reason, makes a distinction between male and female. You would think in today's society that a person's gender, much like a person's race or religion, should be left out of conversation unless somehow relevant.
"The VP was emphatic during (his/her) presentation that..."
Yes, it's not necessary to point out a particular person's gender when you're talking about them, especially in their capacity (e.g., a VP), but at least a specific person has a specific gender. But what about an unspecified person?
If you've ever watched a propaganda film from the 40's-50's you know what I mean. The film usually centers around an unspecified individual, yet typically assigns a male gender.
"The voter casts his vote...."
Today it's considered an exclusionary practice to speak like that since it may give the (incorrect) impression that the narrator believes women do not vote. It would be much easier if their was a gender-neutral 3rd person singular possessive. Here are two (grammatically incorrect) alternatives:
"The voter casts their vote..."
"The voter casts its vote..."
Personally, I like the first one. Yes, it's grammatically incorrect, but solves the problem. One other grammatically correct but sometimes awkward solution is to pluralize to take advantage of the neutral 3rd plural possessive:
"The voters cast their votes..."
So why am I telling you this? Well recently, through the course of reading and writing academic publications, I've been encountering a new writing trend: some writers are getting around the problem by using 3rd person female.
"The voter casts her vote..."
Their justification is simple; it's cleaner to write in 3rd person singular, and if you have to pick genders, it's more acceptable to pick female than male.
This introduces a dilemma. Which is more important:
- clean grammar with a definitive (but 'polite') gender bias,
- less clean (or versatile) grammar with no gender bias?
I invite the reader to contribute her opinion :-)
Update: See "singular they"