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!

30 comments
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  • CecileDecember 28, 2017 - 1:20 pm

    ugh this sucks because I know i should STOP saying you guys…. but I really don’t want to. it’s such a natural part of langauge!ReplyCancel

  • NorthDecember 28, 2017 - 2:07 pm

    I say guys all the time just to refer to a group of people. I actually prefer it personally but I wouldn’t use it if I knew someone found it offensive. Maybe we just need to ask what someone’s preferred term is?

    http://www.thenorthleft.co.ukReplyCancel

  • ADecember 29, 2017 - 7:34 am

    I’m not sure if “guys” is gender neutral. We just use it that way. I think “gals” is the feminine version of “guys”ReplyCancel

    • JNovember 30, 2018 - 9:43 pm

      “I’m not sure if “guys” is gender neutral. We just use it that way.”If we use it that way, it is gender neutral! That’s just how words work – they mean whatever we use them to mean. How else could they possibly obtain meaning?ReplyCancel

  • S MMarch 11, 2018 - 12:13 pm

    You guys is a phrase I abhor. I fight back back using you girls in my responses when interacting with people. I find being erased by language just another tool giving the power to all things male.ReplyCancel

    • KarenJune 23, 2018 - 8:24 am

      Thank you!!!  Women in the US have not even had the right to vote for 100 years, and sexism still runs rampant throughout the world.  Why are we as women not willing to defend equality in speech?  English has always been a gender neutral language, unlike Spanish, for example, where a group of one million women and just one man would be spoken to with masculine articles, adjectives and collective nouns.  Why are we women willing to let ourselves be erased?    ReplyCancel

    • CJMay 8, 2019 - 6:02 pm

      “Girls” is the literal opposite of “boys” not “guys”.   
      In all seriousness, how ‘should’ I says thank to two people is an informal way if not “thanks guys”?  Thanks “all” or “gang” (which is cheesy any) don’t work, because it’s only two people.  Thank you “both” is weird.  What then??  “Thanks Bob and Sue”?  Also clunky.  What’s your alternative?  Let me know.  In the meantime, I’ll stick with “thanks guys!”
      btw – if 80% of Anna’s followers agree “guys” is fine, then probably 90-95% of the actual population think it’s fine.  ReplyCancel

  • WendyJuly 5, 2018 - 9:17 pm

    …. If you guys is gender neutral then why not take it further by calling everybody men, gentlemen, dudes, brothers, fellows and males??? Because those words are not gender neutral just like guys isn’t gender neutral and never will be regardless of the latest trends to use it that way… ReplyCancel

  • KerryJuly 12, 2018 - 12:32 pm

    How about “Hey all!” or “Ladies!”ReplyCancel

    • CJMay 8, 2019 - 6:05 pm

      What if is two people, a male and a female.  Neither of your suggestions work.  What does?  “Guys” works just fine where I come from.ReplyCancel

  • BarbSeptember 24, 2018 - 6:17 am

    I’m working to purge this from my own usage and am so tired of hearing it. I just attended a conference with an awards ceremony at which two women accepted an award and the emcee said as they exited the stage, “Congratulations, you guys.” Seriously? Not a guy in sight there–except of course the emcee.

    Here’s the thing–grammatically, you don’t need the second word in many places where this phrase is used. 

    Wait staff taking your order: “What would you like tonight?”
    Your friends: “What movie would you like to see?”
    A group of people you’re thinking about joining wherever they’re heading: “Which way are you going?”
    Two women to whom you’re giving an award: “Congratulations to both of you.”
    My daughter came up with an approach I think can have a warm, personal feeling–if you’re talking to only a couple of people, speak more directly to them: “What would you two like to do next?” (Kind of clunky if you’re talking to a number of people much above four, for me, but I like the sound of “you two.”)
    One final reason to get rid of it: Our sisters include women who started out life AS “guys”. When someone has done what it takes to live as their true self and that self is a woman, she should never, ever be referred to as a “guy”.ReplyCancel

    • KerryOctober 10, 2018 - 9:59 am

      What’s wrong with referring to a group of people as ”yall” like we do in Texas. I personally find that referring to women as ”guys” is highly offensive and stereotyping. If you are going to use ”guys” as a generic pronoun please keep it in your geographic location where it’s acceptable to be stereotyped. If your visiting or moving to Texas please RESPECT our geographic dialogue by RESPECTING women as we find it highly offensive being stereotyped.ReplyCancel

  • KellyOctober 25, 2018 - 11:23 am

    I have to add (only because I came across your post when researching the phrase) that “bottom of the totem pole” is considered racist and offensive.  I’m not judging.  I actually caught myself about to say just that and stopped and considered if it would be offensive to anyone.  Turns out it is.  I’ve changed my line to “bottom of the food chain.”  It works.  For now.  Thanks!ReplyCancel

    • AnnaOctober 25, 2018 - 11:25 am

      Oh my! THAT TOTALLY MAKES SENSE. Thank you for pointing this out – I’d never thought of that before. Bottom of the food chain from now on 🙂ReplyCancel

      • RFebruary 7, 2019 - 9:17 pm

        You’re being discriminatory towards animals with whom we share this planet. Just because they have no voice doesn’t mean they are not of equal value to us. As humans, we have the privilege of using that phrase, as we do not have to worry about being eaten or dominated by another species……..See how stupid this whole thing is? Stop trying to police language. Okay, GUYS?

  • KPOctober 25, 2018 - 2:22 pm

    If you’ve got a group of humans offended by “guys” (or any other trigger word out there lately) you’ve got another group of humans offended that they’re offended. Like the comment above, mentioning “bottom of the totem pole” is offensive so they’re using “bottom of the food chain”. That works for now but what happens when the vegans or PETA or next group of whatevers get offended by that little saying because it offends the animals or people who love them? The point is people are so easily triggered or offended by every little thing lately. You can’t win at it if your motive is to not offend or to lower the risk of offending either way you’re still offending SOMEONE. 
    Soooooooo….
    If YOU want to stop using a word, by all means stop, but be strong enough to not be offended by someone else using it when they are oblivious that you’re offended. If a girl wants to say “you guys” she should be able to, cuz girl power & flex your female. If a guy wants to say “you guys” he should be able to cuz equality right? If a girl wants to start referring to mixed company as “you gals” or ladies, go for it but be prepared to have to explain yourself or tolerate some odd looks cuz MOST people have given up keeping up with the never-ending “what we find offensive today” list. If you’re offended by something, take personal responsibility that it’s YOUR offense and have a little faith in your fellow humans that they’re not all out to mortally wound you with their scary words.ReplyCancel

    • Good OneNovember 13, 2018 - 12:03 pm

      Faith in you fellow humans….bahahahahahahahReplyCancel

  • Bubba GumpNovember 9, 2018 - 11:23 am

    Taking offense to the word guys is another example of why trump wonReplyCancel

  • Nikki BNovember 30, 2018 - 12:38 pm

    Why does “guys” have to be added to make “you” plural? “You” works for singular and plural. If we indeed need a term to differentiate singular and plural, why is it accepted that a female should be greeted as a guy?ReplyCancel

  • ArielDecember 4, 2018 - 11:27 am

    OMG!! Thank you for your post, I was actually discussing this in a group chat while ago, where 2 were males and the other 2 (me and another person) are females; anyway I asked if it was possible to avoid using “hey guys, thank you guys ecc…” and then bam…. Messages attacking, that guys is “gender neutral” and is used by everyone; and then me counterattacking saying “ok use it but not in this chat”, apparently tragedy exploded and at the end everyone left the chat.
    All this to say that I concord with you, where change starts from anywhere and most importantly from LANGUAGE, as is the main system to interact and express ourselves.
    And for sake of equity, if we really want to achieve equality, forget the bloody “hey guys, thank you guys ecc.” by expressing purposely gender neutral terms, and not derivatives from masculines ones.
    People and folks are 2, if you want to get more creative, dictionaries and google are made available if you search for them.
    Thank you.ReplyCancel

  • jennaDecember 8, 2018 - 3:46 am

    get a life. sexism is myth.ReplyCancel

  • CarolynDecember 10, 2018 - 3:30 pm

    @S.M. I agree.. I cringe when the hubby and I dine out and the host refers to us as ‘guys.’ It matters…words matter. If ‘gals’ were used men would be offended. As a woman, I like to be gender recognized—in a group use words that doesn’t denote either gender; such as, you all or everyone or everybody. Guys, is an overused and improperly used term. What happened to Ladies and Gentlemen?…. I feel people became lazy and chose the seemingly dominate gender when addressing both genders. I am a woman and have fought hard to be treated equal….so no do not call me a guy.ReplyCancel

    • Nancy DavisJanuary 20, 2019 - 12:03 pm

      Could not agree more! I will be just fine when I go out to dinner with my husband or any male, and the server asks, “ do you gals want a drink?”ReplyCancel

  • ArkoJanuary 21, 2019 - 4:37 am

    Saying that we shouldn’t say a word without giving an awesome alternative… that’s a quick way to create a linguistic minefield… like what happened with “he”. 

    I’d love to go back several hundred years before “she” was coined, and say, “Hey! We don’t need gender-specific pronouns! It screws everything up in the future, and everyone tip-toes around because saying ‘one’ is no fun!” 
    After “she” was was coined, “he” continued to be used as a gender neutral for almost a thousand years. And then we mucked that one up. 

    I don’t know, give us an alternative. like you said, nobody wants to say “folks” or “peeps”. ReplyCancel

  • AlichiaJanuary 25, 2019 - 10:40 am

    I find it odd you skipped over the word “gals” – as I would argue that it is the female version of guys”. I try to use “you all” instead of “you guys or you gals” if I’m addressing a mixed group for this reason.ReplyCancel

  • CynthiaFebruary 17, 2019 - 11:32 am

    “Guys” is NOT gender neutral! Hey “everyone” line up. How about “you all” try our new menu.  “Everybody” is welcome to play. Or in Texas we use ya’ll for you all. In the prioritization of gender inequality issues, equality in speech has been relegated to the bottom, unfortunately the educated and powerful use language as a strategic to to indoctrinate and oppress! Even within the feminine vernacular we need to insist that females only have one descriptor ie Ms. Men are addressed Mr. period. It doesn’t identify marital status as does Miss, Mrs. Ms. which frankly is nobody’s business! It’s just another tool for patriarchal power! I wish people would stop being lazy disrespectful and insensitive and just stop using “you guys” to include girls! ReplyCancel

    • Chris WorrallFebruary 20, 2019 - 4:48 am

      I totally agree that guys is not gender neutral.  The word guy is another word for man, still commonly used, so the plural is no different.  Usage matters for sure but usage should be challenged when there is yet more potential for male-centric language to become the norm.  Why, when we are debating whether this word is gender neutral, don’t we just not use it?    I live in the UK and have noticed it’s used a lot and it’s never questioned.   Just as (the last comment said) women are still expected to reveal their marital status for no valid reason and when they refuse (as I’ve seen my wife do) it’s like you’re causing a fuss, I think the word guys is not challenged for similar reason.   I try to not use the word, it feels weird to call groups of women and men guys.  But when i do i realise there’s a kind of peer pressure, because everyone else uses it.    I decided today to start questioning the use of it at work and see what others think.  To help me I searched online to see whats being said about it and found this discussion.  It’s been really helpful and reassuring to know others think the same way.  ChrisReplyCancel

  • MalcolmFebruary 19, 2019 - 10:34 pm

    There is some validity understanding that language carries with it some degree of social prejudice.  But it is not the end all.  Today we live in a world where the lens is more important than the content or the intent….especially when it’s intentionally misused or abused to advance a political agenda.
    This is how Critical Theory went from being a somewhat useful tool to an all-destroying social weapon of mass destruction.ReplyCancel

  • CateMarch 6, 2019 - 7:37 am

    My professors used to use “folks”. Perhaps a little nerdy, but maybe it will lose that connotation if we use it enough 🙂 ReplyCancel

  • Angry Gay PopeApril 20, 2019 - 12:23 pm

    “Guys” comes from Guy Fawkes the terrorist/freedom fighter who, in 1605, tried to blow up British parliament. Google “guy fawkes day”ReplyCancel

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