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Come on Guys

By Jonathan Smith

Recently, I have been extremely challenged in the language I use in my day to day speech. So much of our language is either gender insensitive, or gender offensive, and yet I find myself saying sexist words and using common sexist phrases day in and day out. The more I challenge myself to think on what leaves my mouth, the more I become almost scared by the level of gender inequality within the language I use.

Even today it came to my attention; a colleague and I were talking about someone who is just an irritation…but I found myself referring to her as that silly girl. And I caught myself and had to question—why do I so easily refer to her as a girl…an insult that has a double layer, as it also seeks implies that women in business are not as important as men—dare I say it’s the same level as referring to your gardener as a garden boy. But one item of sexist language that I am really battling with is to find a gender neutral term that one can use to refer to a group of people.

The most common term used in my circles of friends (and even in business meetings) is to refer to the group as ‘Guys’. So when getting a groups attention or suggesting something or even in general assumptions, the male term is used as the best. For instance, it is used so easily in “Guys, let’s get a move on” or, “Do you Guys think we should head inside?”. It seems to me that ‘Guys’ has become the easiest and best collective pronoun in our common speech—however, once again we have settled on a male term to refer to all of us. Plus, the problem with the term ‘ Guys’ is that it is such a cool word, as it implies closeness, familiarity and friendship…which doesn’t appear to offend. And I really cannot think of anything else to replace it with that is not sexist or not extremely cumbersome or corny.

Some words are just bad for chatting to friends: like Folks, Peeps, Fam, Dudes (male again). Also, to refer to both sexes in colloquial language doesn’t help—so does one say Guys and Girls (again, Guys is cool, Girls is derogatory) or Guys and Chicks, or Ladies and Gents, Brothers and Sisters…? These are either so archaic, so derogatory or so awkward they cannot easily be filtered into common speech. And so my small struggle; whenever I rack my brain for an alternate, the only word I think of using is ‘All’ (as in, “Hey All”, or,” Do you All”)  which isn’t exactly the most creative word and whose usage I am sure would have my English teacher having a heart attack. So, how should we refer to a group of people in a way that is not offensive nor at the same time corny?

Any good ideas out there, Guys?

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17 thoughts on “Come on Guys”

  1. Such a great article, and a great question. I even struggle to find a good noun that would possibly work for a group of people, but then I realise that it’s really just a masculine word or derogatory in some way to the opposite sex. ‘People’ is about as best as I can come up with!

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  2. I’d rather be referred to as one of “the guys” than as a “chick”, which is a term that makes my blood boil! [See Open Letter to the Media (http://sabookworm.blogspot.com/2008/01/open-letter-to-media.html) and About That Term ‘Chick Flick’ (http://www.sabookworm.com/PKglU/) on SAbookworm.]

    A while back, I took on eTV for calling its Thursday night movie line-up “Chick Flick Thursdays”, in sharp contrast to “Action Night” (for men) on Fridays. The Advertising Standards Authority upheld eTV’s right to use the term “Chick Flick Thursdays” (because, well, “the word ‘chick’ is in common usage”) and wouldn’t give an answer when I asked if that would make it OK to refer to the Friday night line-up as “Dick Flick Fridays” (because, well, “that’s just a theoretical case”). And, of course the “just because it’s in common usage doesn’t make it inoffensive” argument didn’t fly either – even when I asked if it would be OK to use the K-word on TV as it could be argued it’s also in common usage.

    Suffice it to say, although it’s a bit homespun, I tend to use the word “folks” in preference to the word “guys”, as I do feel it gets around the gender bias “thaing” …

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  3. Brilliant article Jono, and although something serious to consider, you’ve managed to put this forward in such a lighthearted way.

    Personally I agree with Lee, in that I use the word ‘folks’ quite often – however in the same breathe I will admit I use ‘Guys’ just as much, if not more! Habit I suppose.

    Either way, its definitely given me something to consider going foward…
    Well done.

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  4. Great article Jonathan!
    Although “guys” doesn’t offend me at all, I know what you mean. I often send out a group mail and start off by typing “Hey Guys”, (you know, to keep it informal and light!) and often backtrack before sending and change it to “Hey All”. So boring! Maybe we should just make up a word and create a definition around it being gender neutral… maybe oxford will take note 😉

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  5. Carol Ann
    Well done Jonathan ..thinking of us Ladies! As most men tend to look down on us females especially in the business world! In the old days in Meettings it used to be Ladies & Gentlemen at all times But now the mordern dya norm seems to be guys, you ou’s, mates in Aussie etc -I would like to hear some of the boys replies!!

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  6. Wow a really thought provoking article. Even as a woman I use guys lots. Will definitely think about trying to use a different term.

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  7. Up until now this issue had hardly crossed my mind yet it is something I am completely guilty of every day. This is a great article and has seriously made me more aware of the issue regarding the insensitive (to females) manner in which I speak.
    Thanks Jono

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  8. Good thoughts, Jonathan. I totally agree with you that we often don’t think about our language usage. I also can’t stand it when an adult refers to another adult who is in their employ as ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ – which is often the case as in the example you wrote about. However, can we really make hard and fast rules about that? And about the language that we use? A group of women might refer to their husbands or partnets as the ‘boys’. For example if they were chatting in the lounge and the men are outside one of them might say, “I wonder if the boys are hungry yet”, and they would not normally mean this in a derogatory sense.

    I also take no offence at the plural usage of ‘guys’ for a mixed group of people, and often when with my girl friends will address them as ‘guys’ without really thinking about it. So, maybe one could ask the question – does it depend on who is using the phrase or word that could change its meaning? Or is it HOW the phrase or word is used that is important?
    It is interesting. Thanks for raising the topic, I’ll be sure to discuss it with friends
    to see what others think about it.

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    1. Hey Annie
      I agree with your response – more than agree with others. I think its the intention of the use of the word and whether, from a societal perspective, the word holds meaning which may offend. I think its an issue of semantics. Tim Minchin addresses this issue quite halariously when he talks about the word, “finger” – quite innocuous until you put it in the sentence “I want to finger your…” Yes. Its gross, but shows that context is important.

      We should all be aware of our language and its potential for causing offense. But we must also be realistic about it.

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  9. This is something I have thought about myself….. especially when I am doing a pilates class and its just Ladies…. and end up referring to the group as guys… and there are no guys!

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  10. Thanks Jono. I am definately one for gender equality and still believe that we have a fair way to go.
    I have thought about what you have written and as much as I don’t take offense to being grouped as “guys” it has certainly brought language and how I use it to mind. I think language is beautiful and it is only the use of it that can do harm.

    I have chatted with a friend recently about random everyday words such as okay and nice, and have questioned what those words mean and why nowdays ‘nice’ is seemed unfit as a descriptive word. You can no longer have a NICE cup of tea – it’s either beautiful or delicious or.. well there is an almost endless variety of words.
    So i sit here reading the previous comments of “let us make a new word” and (absolutely no offense meant) I think to myself really, are there not enough words that we use everyday whose meaning we take for granted and cannot explain. However I must also agree that not everything is NICE! It is a tough call and I suppose it does have a lot to do with how society today perceives a word.

    I have also noticed that when guys are out drinking or playing a sport it is common for them to term themselves Ladies! is that a compliment or is it used to insult?

    I would like to extend a challenge to EVERYONE to focus when talking to or about groups of people and let us see if we can find a word suitable.

    Thanks again Jono.

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  11. Howzit. What about using that? Just ‘howzit’? I also use y’all quite unironically.

    I bristle when someone calls a woman a girl and will sometimes ask for clarification: “A girl or a woman?” with a really confused look on my face, which’ll cause tons of wrinkles… They’ll then say ‘Oh, I mean lady’. Note the reluctance to say ‘woman’/’women’.

    But I need help to formulate an adequate response to when someone uses ‘you guys’. I’ve tried telling them that I’m not a guy, which has dismal results and generates confused expressions. Help?

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  12. Challenging thoughts as always. What scares me the most is how pervasive the use of gendered language and the associated connotations are. Subtleties of language continue to undermine all that is spoken of equality.

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  13. I haven’t used the word GUY or GUYS in 13 years and I feel pretty good about it. I have switched it to Gentlement, Men, Ladies, Folks, You All, Everyone, You (#of people), Us etc. There are TONS of other things to say other than You Guys and I don’t like using it on men either which a lot have told me they find derogatory as now, in my compnay they use GUY to reffer to objects just as “Pass me that guy over there (stapler)”. Pointing to a name on the screen “That guy”. Playing cards with my friends putting down two cards “Those Guys”…what the hell? I have absolutely NO problem telling people not to reffer to me as that and I stop them in their tracks when they pull the whole “but it’s gender neutra” by saying “what do you reffer to a group of your male friends as”..and they say “guys”..Point taken. Singularily it’s male, plurally it’s male..we’re going back in time when “All Men are created equal” now just means “All Guys are created equal”..and stupid people still buy it

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