Back It Up: Hey you guys…

Almost 10 years ago, I spent about a day thinking about (and noticing) how often I used the phrase “you guys,” even to refer to other women. Weird, huh? Calling a group of women “guys”? After that day, I pretty much forgot all about it.

How did that happen? You would think I would have been unable to stop noticing it, once I realized it was such a bizarre thing to say. I guess the answer is that I just decided I couldn’t deal with it.

My awareness of the “you guys” issue happened when I stumbled across this article back in 2002, by Audrey Bilger: “One Seemingly Benign Phrase Makes a Man Out of All of Us” (http://bitchmagazine.org/article/the-common-guy,
originally published in Transformation & Reinvention).

In it, Bilger says that “calling women ‘guys’ makes femaleness invisible.” She also quotes Alice Walker, who says, “I see in its use some women’s obsequious need to be accepted, at any cost, even at the cost of erasing their own femaleness, and that of other women. Isn’t it at least ironic that after so many years of struggle for women’s liberation, women should end up calling themselves this?”

It’s true: we would never do the reverse and say “hey gals” to a group of men, or mixed group. But really, who says “hey gals”? I also especially dislike “hey ladies.” Somehow, in my brain, “gals” implies polka dots and “ladies” implies pearls, and I can’t deal with either. Ugh. So since “you guys” is far from gender-neutral, does a usable female version exist? Or even a neutral version? I don’t think so.

Ever since I started thinking about this again recently, I’ve been talking to women about it. So far I haven’t met anyone who does not use the phrase. It’s really difficult to get around. The thought of trying just makes me tired. I can’t get away with saying “y’all,” since that would be pretty comical with my Minnesota accent. I really don’t like “folks,” and “yous guys” has its own set of issues. In her article, Bilger compares the phrase “you guys” to a computer virus, insidiously worming its way into all levels of dialogue, including the media. I think that’s about right. I’m infected.

The worst thing about “you guys” is that it has become the most casual, nonthreatening, invisible way to approach a group of people in a social situation. Anything else sounds markedly different, to the point of drawing attention to the speaker or the group in the way that “you guys” does not (Except in the y’all parts of the country. Lucky.).

When I bring up the subject, people seem a little bit shocked. I like to point to the difference between saying “hey you guys” to a group of women, and saying something like, “yeah, my mom is a really great guy, and my grandma’s a great guy too.” Right? “Guys” doesn’t make any sense here; it doesn’t have anything to do with women.

I think that I’ll probably keep saying “you guys” and then feeling weird afterwards. For a while. I might even forget all about it again. Or maybe move to the South? If anyone has any good ideas on this, I’d love to hear them (did I mention I also frequently begin sentences with “Maaan…”?).

-Anna

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