TOTD: The Problem With Phrases Like “You Guys"

January 26, 2021 - Gabby Wahla

Gendered language matters. It can make people feel excluded, increase feelings of imposter syndrome, and support patriarchal ideals and values in society. We know that some phrases, such as “you guys” are very location-bound, such as here in the midwest. But what about common words or phrases like man-made, manpower, manning a table, mankind, postman, fireman, freshman, chairman, or congressman (to name a few)?

Why is this a big deal? Well, aside from the impact if could have on people in a discussion, it also reinforces who we are thinking of in the abstract. “Male-based generics are another indicator—and, more importantly, a reinforcer—of a system in which ‘man’ in the abstract and men in the flesh are privileged over women” (Kleinman, 2002, p. 300). Another common language issue is the infantilization of college-aged folks. College womxn are referred to as girls, and men are referred to as guys. 

So, how can we change something that is so generalized in our culture? Well, we (including you, me, and our peers and colleagues) need to make a more collective effort to be inclusive in our language. I don’t just mean inclusion on the basis of sex or gender, but also in terms of age. If we are intentional with how we speak to one another, we can collectively work toward changing cultural “norms” that might be inhibiting or offensive. It is also CRUCIAL to remember that slip ups and mistakes are completely normal. You may have spent your entire life addressing groups as “guys,” but if you notice your mistake, correct it, and make an effort to continue to correct yourself in the future, that is great!

Here are some common ways to address folks in a less gendered and ageist way:

  • “Hey guys!” —> “Hello Spartans!” or “Hello everyone!”
  • “Chairman of an organization” —> “Chair of an organization”
  • “He or she must be able to ___” —> “They must be able to ___”
  • “Mankind” —> “Humankind”
  • “Mrs. or Miss” —> “Ms.”
  • “You guys” —> “You all” or “Y’all”
  • “Sir/Madam/Ma’am” —> Maybe don’t say this one? This may be difficult in terms of respect or being polite, but it may just be better to eliminate this all together. 
  • “Hey girl” —> Sometimes people don’t enjoy this one, so you can eliminate the “girl” part if you do not know the person well that you are addressing.
  • “Bro” —> Again, this may depend on the person who you are calling “bro,” so use your own discretion!
  • “Dude” —> This also may depend on the person you are calling “dude.” Some people view dude as more gender neutral, but it also has roots in male-based generics!

Read more here!