I've given up on Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming, where the line "She bore to men a saviour" has been corrected to "She bore to us a saviour." Which doesn't sound all that bad. But this year our caroling director decided that it was just too, too politically incorrect to sing, "Let men their songs employ," in Joy to the World. We were supposed, she said, to sing, "Let all their songs employ."
Well, I'm not a-gonna do it. (I'm also not going to sing, "The Lord has come." The line is, "The Lord is come," and that's what I sing.) The beauty of this song is the line of its poetry, taken from Psalm 98 in that most politically incorrect of documents, the King James Bible; and trying to sing, "Let all their songs employ" is like biting down into a piece of fudge and cracking your tooth on a rock. It's the right number of syllables but it feels wrong. I am (believe it or not) a feminist; but I'm also an English major, and I refuse to disinfect my favorite Christmas carols like this. I won't sing Good Christian People, Rejoice, either - besides, it doesn't scan.
We're missing an opportunity for some historical perspective here, and a little comparative linguistics. One of the English language's annoying characteristics (to a feminist, at least) is that it has no gender neutral pronoun. You can't refer impersonally to a person or class of persons without implying gender, usually male gender. According to Wikipedia, "most Indo-European, Afro-Asiatic, and a number of Niger-Congo languages" do not have a gender-neutral pronoun (who else is there??), and use the masculine pronoun as the general. (I thought I recalled gender neutrality of a sort in both French and German; but it's been a long time since I studied either.) Until the French Revolution, and its call for general equality, nobody in Europe complained publicly about this; but it's now very fashionable to insist that we not use the masculine pronoun as the general, because it is sexist and promotes discrimination.
To quote the Wikipedia article on this point:
Patriarchal societies with genderless languages, such as Chinese, demonstrate that gendered pronouns are not a prerequisite for inequality to exist.(Oh, Chinese. That's who else.) According to Wikipedia again, there have been a number of attempts to produce a gender neutral pronoun (I like hir, myself - Larry Niven used it in Ringworld), none of which have ever stuck. Our languages are wired very deeply into our brains, it seems.
In pre-industrial Europe, the general pronoun was the masculine partly because most of the actions of any significance were, in fact, taken by men. I don't necessarily approve of this; but it was so. And we can't really evaluate how far we've come toward the demands in Mary Wollstoncraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) unless we look back at where we were then, when women were not allowed to vote, hold property, or become educated.
But I digress. This isn't a defense of women's rights. This is a plea that we should find a way to respect everyone's rights without destroying the beauty of our language and the astonishing poetry it can produce. We need the beauty of the poetry, too.