Well, it would certainly make my life a lot easier because I hear this phrase multiple times a day. I wish I could accept being referred to in terms that insinuate the whole population is male or that male terms are ‘neutral,’ but I can’t. When I hear ‘you guys,’ I don’t feel like whoever is saying/writing this is talking to me because I am not an f***ing guy!
Yes, people claim this term is ‘gender neutral,’ that it ‘doesn’t do any harm,’ that ‘there’s no easy replacement,’ that ‘people don’t mean anything by it,’ that ‘there are so many bigger issues, why are you concerned with something so petty?’ and, lastly, that ‘girls is used in the same way as guys.’ Ugh and ugh.
Let’s deconstruct these excuses:
Excuse 1: ‘you guys is gender neutral’
Um, no it’s friggin not. While Merriam-Webster defines guy as “man, fellow b: person -used in plural to refer to the members of a group regardless of sex <saw her and the rest of the guys>” I still don’t buy it. This is like all those other claims that words such as mankind, policeman, brotherhood of man, etc really include women too. Uh, not so much. When you hear the word fireman, do you picture a woman?
Further, why is it that terms are only ‘neutral’ when they are male terms? Why isn’t ‘you gals’ or ‘you girls’ neutral by the same logic?
Try saying ‘you gals’ to a group of mixed gender individuals and see how many males respond… You see, for those identifying as male, being called a female term is an INSULT. For women, being called male terms is SUPPOSED to be a compliment or sign of inclusion. GAG.
Excuse 2: ‘it doesn’t do any harm’
Really? The idea that language is a harmless medium devoid of ideological content that merely objectively names the world is utter hogwash. See Plato or the work of Ferdinand de Saussure if you want to ruminate more deeply on this one. Language shapes how we see the world and helps to create what we call reality. Words are not innocent.
And, for all the little girls who never hear themselves validated in language – who hear their teachers say “you guys,” who hear that boys always come before and are more important than girls (as with the Boys and Girls Club et al) – well, sadly, ‘you guys’ harms them in the same way as language will continue to harm them as they grow – they will learn females are sluts, bitches, whores, gold-diggers, etc. ‘You guys’ is only their first step into misogynistic patriarchal indoctrination.
For the boys, it marks the stepping-stones of male privilege and programming into the cult of masculinity. They learn from the get go that they are the sex that counts, linguistically and otherwise.
Excuse 3: ‘there’s no easy replacement’
How about plain old ‘you’???? ‘You’ can be plural or singular.
As an example, ‘You need to bring your book to class on Friday’ can be said to one student or to the entire class.
If you find ‘you’ on its own too short, or boring, or non-slangy, how about you people, you all, you peeps, y’all. As for me, I like just plain old ‘you.’
Excuse 4: ‘people don’t mean anything by it’
Often this is true. And, often people are not even aware of just how often they say “you guys.” In fact, I know many feminists and women’s studies professors who use the phrase. However, I don’t think this makes the phrase ok, rather, I think the phrase has become so ubiquitous that people say it without even realizing it.
Sadly, this phrase seems to be taking over the world. When I lived in England several years ago, ‘you guys’ was not in use. This was no surprise, as Britain tends to be a bit more formal in its language use in general than the US. However, when I visited last summer, I sadly found the ‘you guys’ disease has spread.
I don’t feel that when people use this verbal tick a bazillion times each day they INTEND to perpetuate sexism and put females under erasure, yet the same could be said of earlier claims regarding now discarded words. It used to be argued that no harm was meant via terms like “colored” or “retarded.” Yet, as we attempt to evolve as a species, we have realized the damage that can be done by ‘mere words.’ So, while people might not ‘mean anything’ by saying ‘you guys,’ wouldn’t it be a lot more meaningful if they tried to replace this phrase with something that doesn’t smack of patriarchal brainwashing?
Excuse 5: ‘there are so many bigger issues’
Yes, that is true. ‘You guys’ is a mere blip on the unjust screen of our culture. This is why I tend to refer to my hatred for the phrase as a pet peeve. But, this peeve of mine has its justifications. If you have to pick between supporting reproductive justice, eradicating racism, or not shopping at Wal-Mart over not saying ‘you guys,’ well fine. However, I would prefer if you chose to do all of these and more. And, how hard is it really to eradicate ‘you guys’ from your speech? Probably a lot easier for many than not supporting one of the world’s number one human rights offenders… (aka Wal-Mart).
Excuse 6: ‘girls is used in the same way as guys’
Yes, people say things like ‘girls night out,’ ‘hey girls,’ and ‘you girls.’ However, they say this only to refer to actual females – when guys are present, even one guy, ‘you girls’ type phrases will not be used (you know, cuz that would like, insult the dude’s masculinity – whereas for a girl, it’s just fine to be called a guy).
Also, consider these equations:
Guy = Gal = adult
Boy = Girl = child
So, when you refer to a male as ‘guy,’ you refer to him as an ADULT. When you refer to a female as a ‘girl,’ you are using a term that indicates she is a child. Ever wonder why calling women ‘girls’ is so popular, while calling men boys has historically been seen as an insult? Yup, you got it, it’s called sexism. I know the use of ‘boys’ is becoming more common, but this is related to the whole “men will be boys” culture (see Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism for a good discussion of this culture). And, even though using the term ‘boys’ to refer to men is becoming more common, it hasn’t reached the cultural saturation point that calling women of all ages ‘girls’ has. Why? Because men are individuals, silly. Women are mere appendages. They don’t grow up, they only (hopefully) grow tits and then attach themselves to a real human, a male. And, if they don’t do that, well, you know all the sexist terms that will be flung at them: dyke, bitch, frigid, ice queen, ho, tease, old maid…
To return to the question I posed in the title of this post, well, if I could overcome my gut-wrenching hatred for the term ‘you guys’ I wouldn’t have to wince multiple times each day when I hear it. I wouldn’t have to constantly ruminate on the plain old everyday sexism of our world. Yet, I refuse to let go of my dislike for this phrase. I do not like to be erased by language, I do no like to be infantalized by being called a “girl,” I do not like it when my female identity doesn’t count, I do not appreciate the implicit suggestion that being called a guy is somehow a compliment. In fact, I hate it.