As one who fashions and fancies himself as an essayist, I do tend to pluck random essay collections from the digital shelves. Most recently, after finishing A Brief History of Neoliberalism by David Harvey, I picked up Barbara Tuchman’s Practicing History: Selected Essays. I read most of it in one day but the sections can be a little repetitive (as one would expect given its subjects include her thoughts on history as art, writers versus historians and other related matters over hundreds of pages). So I now read it when not wrapping up Corey Robin’s The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin, which, as is pretty spelled out in the title, follows the core reactionary strand running through the conservative movement (as he posits, it is, indeed, movement) since the French Revolution.
During that first day of reading, after I’d been reading the book for an hour or two, I noticed Tuchman’s pronoun of choice was “he.” Granted, she doesn’t hide the times she’s lived in. We know (or we’re taught that) being politically correct (PC) wasn’t a thing when she was younger and writing and giving the included essays and speeches. Only later and with greater freedoms for minorities (in particular, women, in this instance) did beginning to honor the personhood and contribution of all genders* start trickling through society.
I mean, what began as a little irksome mind tickle turned into a glaring lack of “PC-ness” in her word choices. Beyond being surprised that I noticed it, it does raise questions about cultural indoctrination – or something – employed to convince a person that an “archaic” usage is (there’s a “morally” hiding in the background here) incorrect.
It seems that there were many things to do when she was younger, as is reflected in the times on which she chose to compose histories. Women were joining the workforce in greater numbers. Society was being upended by geopolitical and economic forces beyond even governmental control. Tyranny – from workplace misogyny to fascism – was laid fairly bare and under better light than today. For the former, it was also taken much more kindly.
Maybe there was so much other to do and so little time that they just didn’t get around to being PC?
I know that’s a bullshit argument. We can explain anything away if we allow ignorance due to being too busy to suffice as justification.
I’m just surprised not to find “she” and “one” alongside “he” in such a recent nonfiction book. I’m more surprised that I noticed it in the first place. And I’m interested in the forces (for ill or good) that told me such distinctions are worth making.
*I’m staying as far away from the cis debate as possible.