As writers, we understand the importance of language. We can ponder the use of one word over another or the structure of
a sentence, in order to garner a certain emotion or response. That’s what we do. We take care over language, which is why a recent twitter post made me sit up and reassess. It lead me to an article that highlights the way we sideline women in the language we use. And that’s why I’ve decided to stop using the term “you guys”, when it refers to mixed gender groups.
The definition of “guys” is an informal term for a group of men or boys and also for a group of men and women. A guy is definitely an informal term for a man, so why has the plural become an umbrella term for both genders? We could say, it’s just a word, what’s the problem? But remember, we’re writers and we know that words and language have power.
Look at it this way, would you ever refer to a mixed gender group as gals? And why not? Who decided that ‘guys’ could be either male or female, but ‘gals’ are definitely, only female? Because we all know that a guy is male, when you refer to a mixed group or even an all female group as guys, you are eliminating or ignoring the feminine.
Don’t get me wrong, I used to say ‘guys’ a lot. Many of my emails started, ‘hey guys’, even to female friends or colleagues. We have been programmed to use the male as default, which sidelines women and reinforces the double standards present in society. And let’s not forget the people who don’t identify as male or female.
Is this political correctness gone mad? I don’t think so. When you look at our language more closely, you realise how insidious these little things are. We call women ‘girls’, but men are rarely called ‘boys’. I once received an email to myself and another woman, from a colleague, that began ‘hey girls’. I responded with ‘hey boy’ and he took offense, saying he was a grown man – I rested my case, the point was made and he didn’t do it again. Similarly, a ‘slut’ is a woman of loose morals, but there’s no male equivalent. They seem like little things, but they all add up to form a fabric of language we use everyday, one that constantly reminds us that women are secondary. In fact, we don’t even need to feature, because we’re just one of the guys. By using ‘guys’ women are hidden. As women, we’re hiding ourselves by calling each other guys.
Part of the problem is that English doesn’t have a gender neutral term, unlike French, for instance. However, alternatives include – everyone, people, peeps, folks, all, friends, team, colleagues. You may think it’s nonsense, but if you’re a writer, deep down you know that’s not true. That’s why we no longer use the word coloured and negro or queer. That’s why we say police officers, not policeman as default and Star Trek goes where ‘no one’, rather than ‘no man’ has gone before.
I say, make the change. Take care with your words. It takes very little effort on your part, but it would actually make the non-male half of the population present in your address and part of the language. It’s another small step towards equality and all you have to do is change one three letter word, after the word “Hi”.
Here are some suggestions:
Are you trying to give up using ‘guys’ to mean everyone? Which terms do you use instead?