December 28, 2017

This Is What Happens When We Call Women “Guys”

“YOU GUYS…” This is how I kick off just about every one of my (often v dramatic) stories. The phrase demands attention. It heightens the anticipation. I love it. If I were Southern you better believe I’d be dropping “y’all” like nobody’s business. Alas, I’ve lived in California my entire life, and have always known “guys” to be a gender-neutral pronoun. I’m a feminist, and personally, “you guys” doesn’t offend me. Hundreds of you took the survey on my insta story, and 80% of you agree with me.
brains over blonde you guys
Texting my squad like “YOU GUYS!!!!” (Bra | Leggings | Necklace | Photography)
I love being right, so I came up with a few arguments that prove my own point.

7 Reasons “guys” is gender-neutral:

  1. “Guys” can refer not only to mixed-gender groups, but also to groups of only women.
  2. The English language has no good alternative for the plural of “you,” so “guys” became colloquial.
  3. The intent is good. “You guys” isn’t meant to be offensive towards women.
  4. “Guy” (singular) may be male, but the plural “guys” is generally accepted as vocative (meaning it refers to the person or people being addressed).
  5. The terms “girls”, “women,” and “ladies” aren’t the opposite of “guys” and imply varying levels of formality and age. Plus, context matters – “girls,” “women,” and “ladies” are often used in a derogatory or condescending manner.
  6. One of the cool things about language is that it changes over time. For instance, “awful” was originally defined as “awe-inspiring.” Now, it means the literal opposite. Even if “guys” used to refer to only men, we can change the definition by consensus.
  7. I’m never going to say “folks” or “peeps.” It’s not going to happen.

Are we bad feminists if we say “you guys?”

Tbh, my first reaction is no. We have way more important things to worry about… like the wage gap, control over our health and bodies, pervasive sexism, rape culture, actual rape… I could go on. Of course, if I knew “you guys” was offensive to someone, I wouldn’t use the phrase around them. But my v scientific Instagram study suggests that 20% of you are offended, and that’s kind of a lot. It got me thinking. When I was growing up, “he” was a common gender-neutral pronoun. I learned that male is the default. I accepted that females (and other non-males) don’t require explicit mention.

Our language shapes how we see the world

Language rules our communication and thoughts. Male-centric language consistently reinforces the idea that women are an inferior subcategory of humankind (or as it’s often called, mankind.) The male generic is pervasive, even when gender is irrelevant. Why can’t we all just be waiters and actors? Women get cutesy modifiers and are called waitresses and actresses. What about people who are gender non-binary? Well, they’re at the bottom of the totem pole. Our language doesn’t have words for them at all. This linguistic equation implies that non-males are inferior. The hierarchy is linguistically reinforced to us many times a day, every day, for our entire lives. And ya, we internalize that shit, it adds up, and we start to believe it. We see the world, and live our lives, through a male-centric lens.

What does gender-neutral even mean?

Not too long ago, pants weren’t gender neutral. Neither were suits. Nor short haircuts. These days, all of these things are considered “gender-neutral.” You know what’s not considered gender-neutral? Dresses. Skirts. High heels. Bras. Barrettes. Braids. My point is, even gender neutrality has a masculine tilt. And that’s not fair to men! Gender neutrality means neutrality in every direction.

So what do we do you guys humans?

Start greeting men with salutations like “Hey, ladies!” and refer to our entire species as womankind, duh. Jk jk. (kinda)
I’ll be the first to admit that saying “you guys” will be a hard habit for me to break. When your president brags about grabbing women by the genitals and you read about the newest Harvey Weinstein in the news every single day, the impact of the phrase “you guys” feels minuscule. Plus, a number of you reached out to me specifically to say that you LOVE the phrase “you guys,” and don’t want to let it go. But sexism is systemic, and in order to achieve equality and respect for all genders, we have to change the male generic. The change will be a process; it won’t happen overnight. I’m not perfect, but I am going to make an effort to get more creative with my language, y’all. We’re smart humans – I KNOW we can figure this out. What are your ideas for more inclusive linguistics? Share them below!

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