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Feminspire | April 24, 2014

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So Numb to What We’re Saying: The Problem With “You Guys”

So Numb to What We’re Saying: The Problem With “You Guys”

I want to talk about inclusive language with y’all.

I spend a lot of my time immersed in the small yet rewarding student activist circles on my campus, and a lot of that time is spent making community guidelines. It would be nice to have community guidelines be a common need for all spaces in the world, but I’m a dreamer. Anyways, one of the main ones that is usually written on our piece of poster paper is inclusive language, specifically the use of the phrase “you guys.” This is probably my favorite one, just because it is the easiest and most simple way for us dreamers – us feminists, activists, and optimists – to change the world. The language we use every day is a reflection of how our society inherently functions for and against certain groups of people.

“You guys” should, can, and will be effectively removed from our vocabulary. I don’t really need to break down why for you – it represents an inherent patriarchy and men-being-valued-most rhetoric. I, and many beautiful others, have started attempting to stop assuming that everyone in the space identifies as a guy and use the phrases “you all,” “everyone,” and “y’all.” For me, this is not just about being called a guy in groups or spaces. This is about challenging our world and our uses of language. Let’s call it progressive critical thought.

It is about challenging the status quo and the way even the simplest phrase, one that is used by nearly everyone, inherently excludes people who do not identify as male. Don’t worry, if you say “you guys” to me, I’m not going to refuse to respond to you nor will I yell at you for referring to me improperly (that is equally counter productive). But I am going to continuously challenge how language spreads ideas and discriminations in our world.

you guys meme

You might scoff at this. Shouldn’t I be focusing on bigger issues? Shouldn’t I be focusing on the misrepresentation and treatment of women and other individuals rather than a simple everyday phrase? Hey, you guessed the answer! No! I shouldn’t be! We all shouldn’t be! Because this isn’t just about forcing everyone to say “y’all.” This is about changing the way we communicate and being intelligent with the way we address other individuals. This is completely correlated to the misrepresentation and treatment of women because even the simplest phrase – used by forward-thinking women as well – is sexist. I’m not saying that any person who says “you guys” is perpetuating misogyny (even I, and other writers on this site, slip up in saying it), but the discussion is necessary for more inclusive and respectful communication of thought.

“We become so numb to what we’re saying.” Everything we says affects people and the way our world treats these people. Eliminate “you guys” from your vernacular. And even if you say it, just be cognizant that change is possible through the simplest shift in the way we speak. Don’t scold those who continue to call a group of girls “you guys” as a habit, but be happy and unafraid to educate them. Have discussions on the greater problem with one of the most used phrase (seriously, watch a TV show and start noticing how many times people say it) and be happy to change the way the people around you look at the world and the way we communicate. Be inclusive. Be respectful. Be aware, and be revolutionary.

Written by Anisha Ahuja

  • Sara

    Completely agree! I’ve heard people say that “guys” is gender neutral now, but it’s really not. If a straight man told me “I went on a date with a great guy last night,” even though all other evidence suggests he would be out with a girl, the word “guy” alone makes it impossible to think anything but that he was out with a man. It erases women in the same way that using “he” as a default pronoun does. If I’m reading board game instructions that say “player 1 will take his turn-” I want to stop reading immediately. It just makes me sad.

    • Vivid Sammy

      I so agree with you on the board game instructions! I feel really excluded when I read ‘his’ all the time. But the worst thing is, I do it myself! I call my friends, dudes or lady-dudes to be funny… but the English vocabulary is capable of so much more, why am I doing this! From now on I’ll make sure to use more inclusive language! :)

  • Jess

    I often refer to groups of people as ‘folks’, like “Hey folks” or “How are you folks doing?” :)

  • Emma

    I live in the south/west so saying “ya’ll” is actually just second nature to me. I rarely use the term “you guys”.

  • D

    How many women actually care if someone says “you guys” to a group including females? I’ve seen women say it to groups of women and no one cares. Calling someone a “guy” refers to them as male but “guys” is mostly interpreted as gender-neutral by men and most women.

    I’m all for feminism but remember when feminism was about getting the vote and jobs? Now it’s telling people not to say “guy”. Pick your battles and don’t pick ones over something trivial.

    For the record, I do not agree with “he” as the default pronoun. I always say “them”.

    • Steve Smith

      Feminism today is huge on political correctness for the sake of it.

  • sarah_m_g

    I’ve never thought about the phrase “you guys” in that way, interesting.

    Well. . .that may have something to do with the fact that I probably have never said “you guys” in my life. I have been known to make “y’all” possessive (y’all’s) and use the word multiple times in one sentence and when referring to only one person. I *might* overuse the word “y’all”.

  • aaa

    dont be oversensitive

  • seraphimblade

    I just can’t see how “you guys” is somehow sexist. “(A) guy”, when used singularly, generally is considered to refer to a man, but “you guys” is generally understood by everyone I know as gender-neutral. Anyone I’ve ever heard, men and women alike, who want to specifically indicate that a group is of a single gender, use “a group of men” or “a group of women”.

    So yes, there are much bigger issues. And I don’t particularly like it when people try to pick apart my manner of speaking and say there’s some deep-rooted sexism in there from a common and neutral expression.

    There are plenty of real issues that are doing real harm to women; by all means, please, please focus on those. Too few people do. This type of junk just causes people not to take you seriously when you do bring up the big, real issues.

    • Kiana

      Just to point this out: Spanish does the same thing. Ellos could mean either “they” as in “those men” or “those men AND women”. Ellas means “those women”. I personally don’t really see the huge deal about saying “you guys”. I say it all of the time and frankly, I’ve never heard anyone take offense to it before now.

  • Laura

    My problem isn’t in saying “you guys,” my problem is in saying “hey guys!” If it’s a mixed-gender group, there isn’t a good alternative. “Hey y’all” isn’t something in my lexicon as an upper Midwesterner, “hey people” doesn’t work, “hey everyone” sounds bad as well. I recognize that it’s a problem of language, but I don’t know a good alternative. And to be frank, I don’t know that most Indo-European languages, gendered as they are, have an alternative. Be thankful, at least English doesn’t have gendered nouns.

    • Cluisanna

      Hey folks!

  • Rochev Zerkov

    Instead of this linguistic abomination, I hereby humbly suggest that we use “comrade”.

  • femfilly

    I used to be on the fence about this, but then I heard a segment with a Linguist on NPR about the word guy and it changed my mind. She says it is not sexist because we sometimes use guy to describe inanimate items. In her example, she was moving and referred to a box as, “that guy over there.”

    Here’s a link to the segment, have a listen for yourself!

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  • lets

    Seriously. Calm the fuck down. Spend your time on something more important than this. ” the misrepresentation and treatment of women”. There must be other, more important things you could focus on. You guys.

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