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!

9 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

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