Am editing a book and have once again come across the himself/herself sticky wicket. The way I have edited it is as follows:
The moment one becomes a great leader is the moment he or she decides to take meaningful and unselfish action to help himself/herself and others achieve a successful outcome in a given situation. In the heat of the moment, if you have to tell people you are the leader, you probably aren’t.
An example of this is when a bystander witnesses a plane crash and throws himself/herself into icy waters to save the lives of others who are at great risk.
Is this acceptable or is there another way out? I certainly wish it would someday be correct to use the singular pronoun followed by the plural (i.e., they/their). The correct way seems so awkward.
There are very good arguments to be made against my method, but, for me, I believe that English, like Spanish, uses the masculine form as the neutral/unknown/unspecified form. He/She or himself/herself, I believe, are not necessary.
And perhaps, I get this slant from working with other more gender-heavy languages... to try to force English to be gender-neutral, we have to jump through he/she himself/herself hoops, but other languages have to start doubling adjectives, nouns, pronouns, adverbs and more.
So, unless a language is naturally gender neutral, and has no he/she quandaries, I believe that a single gender, in this case masculine, does double service as the neutral gender.
A boss needs to know the rules, if he does not, he is not a good boss. Un jefe necesita saber las reglas, si él no lo hace, él no es unbuen jefe. Una jefa necesita saber las reglas, si élla no lo hace, élla no es unabuena jefa.
As a British English speaker, I am completely OK with the use of the plural for non-gender specific singular pronouns. I'd use 'themselves' there happily. Just as many languages, like French, use plural pronouns to be polite, I feel that the use of the plural could be regarded as politeness and accuracy prevailing over mathematical accuracy. In the UK now, this is increasingly the pattern used.
Thank you for your reply. Interesting. The UK is fulfilling my wish regarding the plural for non-gender specific singular pronoun usage! Splendid -- wish my publisher would get with the program on that one. We colonies may not be far behind -- if I had my way that is!