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Can "Guys" Refer to Women and Girls?

Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2002 09:45:20 -0400
From: arc3 AT
Subject: Re. You guys
I was glad to hear from someone else who knows the
Western Pa. word "yinz" (also spelled "youens" or
"youns" and pronounced "yoons" with a short vowel, like
Carl Jung). It is usually used as a plural address, but
I have also had it addressed to me singly: Waitress:
    "Youns waited on, hon?"

Anne Carson
Cornell University Library
Ithaca, NY 14853
arc3   AT
Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2002 10:08:01 -0400
From: "Oboler, Regina" <roboler AT URSINUS.EDU>
Subject: Re: Generic "you guys"
My aunt always used this phrase to address all the kids in our family during
the late 50's - early 60's.  So I'd say the usage is at least 40-50 years
old.  The TV show that used that opening was the "Electric Company," I
Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2002 12:00:21 -0400
From: Jacqueline Ellis <jelliswgst AT HOTMAIL.COM>
Subject: Re: Generic "you guys"
As a relatively new immigrant to the U.S. from England, I've found myself
saying "you guys" as a way of addressing men and women together. I was kind
of taken aback when someone at a conference took offense when I used it: i
had just assumed it was American for "everyone."
When I think about it in relation to these posts, perhaps a solution is to
start referring to groups of men in diminutive terms: the British term
"lads" seems to fit the average male college students

Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2002 10:14:45 -0700
From: "Dr. Alyson Buckman" <abuckman AT SACLINK.CSUS.EDU>
Subject: Re: 'girl'
I read over the piece and agree with some of the problems with "woman" or
"women".  However, gril still infantilizes women and encourages the
continued emphasis upon youth.  I thought using woman (growing up) meant
you were old -- and thus was undesirable.
Alyson Buckman
abuckman   AT

At 05:28 PM 4/25/02 +0800, you wrote:

>...hoping for optimism -- maybe the young women in the other post were
>grrrrrrrlllls rather than girls over 'you guys'?
>Of possible relevance:
Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2002 10:48:44 -0700
From: "Linda D. Wayne" <wayne005 AT TC.UMN.EDU>
Subject: Re: generic use of 'you guys'
This is an interesting discussion about a term that I use all the time. I
dont care one way or another about using this term as each situation can
put its own spin on the use of a word. I have heard the supposedly more
acceptable term "women" used with such derogatory vehemence that it sounded
like a "dirty" word. My caution is about delineating what is and isn't
feminist. If we can lower the gender quotient in the term "guys" by using
it for girls or for gender-ambiguous situations then lets do it. The less
gender specificity any term carries the better. Personally, the term "gyns"
makes me shudder for it points toward an essentialist understanding of my
identity that I dont have myself and it automatically excludes any intersex
or trans people. My understanding of some (not all) radical feminism is
that it wanted to destroy the concept that biology was destiny. I am there
with that program although at this point I may (ironically) be presenting a
third wave attitude.

Linda Wayne
wayne005   AT
Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2002 12:50:48 -0500
From: "Julie K. Daniels" <danie029 AT UMN.EDU>
Subject: Re: Generic "you guys"
I'd like to throw in my two cents about the word "folks" as a substitute for
"guys."  It also works as an excellent substitute for the sexist "snow men":
the phrase "snow folks" has euphoneous vowel sounds, too!


"Danyeke J. Swanson" wrote:

> I would like to add an additional nomination for a feminist solution: "you
> folks".  I use this designation most of the time.  ---- * ---- * ---- * ----
> * ---- * ---- * ----
> -Danyeke J. Swanson   
> Post-bac student, philosophy         dswanson   AT
> "Nothing is really work unless you would rather do
> something else."  - Sir James M. Barrie
Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2002 14:17:22 -0400
From: "Oboler, Regina" <roboler AT URSINUS.EDU>
Subject: Re: generic use of 'you guys'
The problem with "man" or "mankind" is that although grammarians *claimed*
it as a generic, research showed that it did not evoke generic images for
most people.  I grew up using "guys" as generic, and when I became
sensitized about gender-inclusive language, I wondered about it and began to
avoid it -- but confess that I often slip into it because it still seems
generic to me.  However, the test would be how it seems to most people.
Does anyone know if research has been done to find out whether male images
are evoked in people's minds when somebody says "guy"?   (If not, someone
should do the research.)  And if the term turns out to be cognitively
generic, we should quit worrying about it.  If not, we should work to stamp
out its generic usage.

  -- Gina <roboler   AT>
Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2002 13:23:38 -0500
From: "Mary M Rizzo (Mary Rizzo)" <rizz0015 AT TC.UMN.EDU>
Subject: You Guys/Girls
I was hesitating to get into the fray on this one, but, following from
Linda Wayne's lead (have to support fellow U. Minn students, don'tcha
know), and being a woman in her mid 20's, who is an academic and teaches
in Women's Studies, I wanted to put in my two cents on the use of the term

As Linda mentions and we are all aware, the same word can be both
derogatory and empowering depending on context. I have no problem with my
friends calling me "girl," and in fact I like it. Girl, which suggests a
youthful power that is not necessarily sexual or maternal, is also often
used as a shortened form of "girlfriend" pointing clearly to the existence
of a community of young women.

Certainly, "girl" or, more likely, "girls," can be a derogatory term that
infantilizes adult women, turning them into cute, powerless objects, but
it also contains much possibility. Research on girls suggests that
pre-adolescent young women are creative, intelligent, curious, playful,
and many other wonderful things. With adolescence, and as they realize
this culture's dictates about gender roles, girls' self-esteem drops, and
they may turn off many parts of their personalities to fit in to this
proscribed identity. Being a girl, is a great thing, a powerful thing,
that may suggest tapping into an energy that is usually lost. I think the
use of the term "girl" towards other women in a respectful way (and this
is key) can be an important feminist statement.

Mary Rizzo
Ph.D. Candidate in American Studies
University of Minnesota
rizz0015   AT
Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2002 14:38:32 -0400
From: Rebecca Whisnant <rsw AT EMAIL.UNC.EDU>
Subject: Re: generic use of 'you guys'
> Does anyone know if research has been done to find out whether male images
> are evoked in people's minds when somebody says "guy"?   (If not, someone
> should do the research.)

I don't know about research, but "guy" used singularly seems still very
much *not* gender neutral.  If you say "I saw this guy walking across
campus and . . ." I will assume you are talking about a male that
you saw walking across campus.

So then the question is how gender-neutral it can really be in the "you
guys" context when it is so clearly male when used singularly.  I guess
it's possible that the plural could be purged of male associations in
people's minds while the singular remained clearly male, but it seems kind
of unlikely . . . ?

Rebecca Whisnant
Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2002 13:40:16 -0500
From: Christine Smith <casmith AT MNSTATE.EDU>
Subject: Re: You Guys/Girls
Just to complicate things further in the guy/girl discussion, there has been
some movement to reclaim the word "Lady."  I've always hated the word, to me
it implied "sit there, shut up, be pretty, and keep your legs closed."   Then
I attended Ladyfest--punk rock, grassroots women's (ladies, grrrls:)
music/art/activism festival.

Christine Smith
Department of Psychology
Minnesota State University Moorhead
Moorhead, MN  56563
Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2002 15:04:18 -0400
From: "Oboler, Regina" <roboler AT URSINUS.EDU>
Subject: Re: generic use of 'you guys'
Rebecca's right, here.  "One guy" = male.  "Two guys" = male.  "Some guys/a
bunch of guys" -- still seems male to me.  The only construction that seems
to be at all in doubt is "you guys."
Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2002 15:13:59 -0400
From: Janet Forbes <janetforbes AT STN.NET>
Subject: Re: Re. You guys
While the you guys discussion has been going on I have been wrestling
with the working girl/women designation in a paper I'm working on.
These were definitely women with various forms of employment  in the
first decades of the 20th century.  Working girl meant something
different in that period than it does commonly now. So I'm left with
using the common parlance of the day 'working girl', what the women used
to refer to then selves, 'girl' or my politically correct term of women.
Haven't solved it yet.  If I use the term 'working girl', am I giving it
back the place of respectability it deserves?
As for "you guys" I had a teacher in high school that I held in high
esteem, he used the term 'People' e.g.  'People listen up" "People the
reading assignment is' and  have often found my self using it.  I'm not
sure if 'folks" may not have a slightly different connotation in Canada;
some how I can't hear myself using it...
Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2002 15:45:11 -0400
From: Jennifer Harris <jharris AT>
Subject: privilege & the body + "you guys" and privilege
I don't like "you guys" for particular reasons. I find that it is most
often used by someone who is either in a position of power to refer to a
group in their control, or in a service industry situation. In the
former it strikes me that it is somewhat disrespectful, particularly as
academics rarely refer to their colleagues or peers as "you guys"
regardless of the gender component of the group (in my hearing at least,
I know others may have different experiences). I recognize that it's a
part of many vocabularies--including mine--and slips out, but I find it
interesting that it is more likely to slip out in a classroom than at a

As someone who depended upon waitering and retail sales to get through
school, I also find "you guys" inappropriate in this context. If you're
dependent upon tips or commission, it can be a bad slip around many
women who are uncomfortable with the degree of familiarity it indicates.
This is sometimes on the basis of class, but it also works with age,
posited differences, and expectations of respect and/or distance. Some
see it as a superficial way to attempt to bridge very real differences,
or create camaraderie where it does not exist. Yes, sometimes this is a
result of snobbery, racism, etc., but it can also be a political stance,
or one informed by the realities of privilege, elitism, racism, and
other equally pressing isms.

In some ways, my reluctance to use "you guys" goes back to my original
questioning of the privilege exercise, and how the classroom is
constructed along lines of power. Would a student refer to a group of
professors as "you guys"?

On the privilege exercise: my initial reluctance to physically enact the
exercise is based on the reality that those who are being "enlightened"
about their privilege may owe this experience to the bodies of those at
the back of the room, who are often already very much aware of their own
lack of particular privileges. I would hate to find myself at the back
of the room only to realize I'd been a pawn. When some spoke of the
exercise being painful for students, I'm not sure that there was always
a recognition of the potential for reinscribing already existing and/or
evident inequalities on particular student bodies, and the ways in which
*that* might be painful.

All the best,
Jennifer Harris
Department of English
jharris   AT
Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2002 11:42:16 -0700
From: Regina Lark <rlark AT WOMEN.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Generic(?) You Guys
I am enjoying this thread because for years I have appealed to students,
colleagues, friends and family to think about their usage of "hi guys!" and
"hey you guys!" in their greetings to girls and women. From most people I
get a roll of the eyes and a look that suggests, "there she goes again with
the 'you guys' business." Frustrating, yes, but for me it is very simple. I
think about the term's parallel usage - what if I walked into a room filled
with males and greeted them with (choose one): "Hey gals/girls/women" --
unless one were directing this salutation to gay guys in, say Castro or
West Hollywood (I'm being *very* general here and wish no disrespect to gay
men who would never refer to their cohort as "the girls") many, if not
most, heterosexual men would feel as though I had just attacked their
masculinity. Indeed, many of us hear stories about how male high school and
college coaches castigate their players with such taunts as "you throw like
a girl" or how those traits that we value as "female" are not viewed as
particularly desirable where institutional power resides. Another way of
examining this issue is an essay by Sherryl Kleinman who writes in her
essay "Goodbye 'You Guys'" (in Feminista )
that if we used "generics based on race rather than gender," we would see
very quickly that perhaps our usage of  "guys" could have some damaging

Thanks for the forum!

Regina Lark
Regina F.Lark, Ph.D.
Manager/Staff Graduate Advisor
UCLA Center for the Study of Women
UCLA Women's Studies Program
rlark   AT
Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2002 16:29:59 -0500
From: Shelley Reid <esreid AT HOTMAIL.COM>
Subject: Re: generic use of 'you guys'
I'm a midwesterner by heritage, and grew up using "folks" or "you folks."
But that got me smirked at in several places I later went to school.  I've
been trying to take "you guys" out of my vocabulary ever since, and teaching
in or near the south (Texas & OK) has helped at least that part of my
feminist practice:  I *love* "y'all."  If I ever move somewhere away from
the South, I may simply have to keep "y'all," even if it too brings on
smirks.   My need for a plural second-person pronoun as I teach,
particularly for writing classes that move in and out of groups and often
need a broadcast set of instructions or a call for participation, is just
too great, and I don't want to go back to "you guys."  Score one for
oft-scorned dialect, y'all!


E. Shelley Reid
Assoc. Director of Composition
English Department
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK  74075

esreid   AT
esreid   AT
Date: Fri, 26 Apr 2002 07:16:18 +1000
From: Carole Olive Moschetti <c.moschetti AT PGRAD.UNIMELB.EDU.AU>
Subject: Re: generic 'you guys'
As an Australian, I have noticed that 'guys' has become a popular
form of generic address in the culture here, whereas it was once seen
as slang.  Adopting the use of 'guys' is not surprising as many of
our television programmes are American sitcoms and soaps.  As a
result of media and global colonisation, our culture is rapidly
adopting American overlays.  I agree with those on the list that
'guys' denotes males, and argue that to include women as 'guys' just
invisiblises or disappears the women.  Using 'guys' as a generic form
of address demonstrates an inequality of power and status between
males and females. 'Guys' has become an overarching term for men and
women in a similar way that man/mankind speaks for women as well.
Dictionaries still define 'man' as representing mankind as noble
philosophers, and 'woman' defined as 'subspecies of man', rapidly
followed by lists of semantic derrogations such as whore, slut, etc .
Even if some girls or women think it is hip to be called 'guys', can
you imagine the reverse - that it would ever be hip for there to be a
generic 'girls' with guys thinking it hip to be called 'girls'? In
fact we all know it is seen as an insult if males are called 'girls'.
In Australia, we have a term 'mate' which is a term of entrenched
male bonding in our culture.  'Mate' is used to preserve the cult of
masculinity and if a woman is called 'mate' it is considered
derogatory or a put down for the woman.

I think the 'gyns' and 'guys' is a creative attempt at a solution
attempting equal status, but what about simply addressing groups as
Carole Moschetti

Carole Moschetti
<c.moschetti   AT>
Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2002 14:46:17 -0700
From: "Dr. Alyson Buckman" <abuckman AT SACLINK.CSUS.EDU>
Subject: Re: Generic(?) You Guys
Regina wrote:
>that if we used "generics based on race rather than gender," we would see
>very quickly that perhaps our usage of  "guys" could have some damaging

Actually, she points up a technique that I've used in both women's studies
and multicultural classrooms:  if you change 'gender' issues, such as
language, objectification, into 'racial' issues, students are much more
likely to understand the problems with such usage.
Alyson Buckman
abuckman   AT
Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2002 18:17:29 -0400
From: Arnold Kahn <kahnas AT JMU.EDU>
Subject: Re: generic use of 'you guys'
When I say to my class, "All the guys come forward," only the men come


--On Thursday, April 25, 2002 2:17 PM -0400 "Oboler, Regina"
<roboler   AT   URSINUS.EDU> wrote:

> Does anyone know if research has been done to find out whether male images
> are evoked in people's minds when somebody says "guy"?   (If not, someone
> should do the research.)  And if the term turns out to be cognitively
> generic, we should quit worrying about it.  If not, we should work to
> stamp out its generic usage.

Arnie Kahn   Day 540-568-3963   Night 540-434-0225   Fax 540-568-3322
kahnas   AT
Dept. of Psych.-MSC 7401, James Madison U., Harrisonburg, VA 22807
Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2002 17:51:52 -0400
From: "Plymire, Darcy" <dplymire AT TOWSON.EDU>
Subject: Re: You Guys/Girls
Ladies. Oh dear. Though I hated to be called a girl when I was younger, 
I must confess I started to use the term again, among friends, soon 
after my young feminist students told me they preferred it to the 
supposedly generic "guys". Like one recent contributer to this thread 
(whose name I cannot recall) I find it now resonate with very positive 
qualities. But "Ladyfest" aside, I must draw the line at "lady". Too 
loaded for me with connotations of women's college basketball teams 
whose nicknames, "Lady Volunteers" or "Lady Huskies", for example, 
differentiate them from and diminish them in relationship to the 
corresponding men's teams. Not to mention, the word recalls some truly 
bad popular music from the seventies.

Darcy Plymire
Towson University
dplymire   AT

-----Original Message-----

From: Christine Smith [mailto:casmith AT MNSTATE.EDU]
Just to complicate things further in the guy/girl discussion, there has 
been some movement to reclaim the word "Lady."
Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2002 17:59:07 -0400
From: "Plymire, Darcy" <dplymire AT TOWSON.EDU>
Subject: Re: Re. You guys
OK, I am probably getting too carried away here, but the problem I see 
with "people" is that the word was used by "dorky" teachers and/or other 
unsympathetic adult characters in two recent cartoon programs popular 
with young folks (male and female): "Beavis and Butthead" and "South 

Darcy Plymire
Towson University
dplymire   AT
Date: Fri, 26 Apr 2002 08:27:26 -0400
From: Margaret Tarbet <oneko AT MINDSPRING.COM>
Subject: Re: You Guys/Girls
>Darcy writes:
>Ladies. Oh dear. Though I hated to be called a girl
>when I was younger, I must confess I started to use
>the term again, among friends, soon after my young
>feminist students told me they preferred it to the
>supposedly generic "guys". Like one recent contributer
>to this thread (whose name I cannot recall) I find it now
>resonate with very positive qualities.

I've always found it food for thought that the use of 'guy' in
the 'you guys' sense appears to have come from the effigy of Guy
Fawkes traditionally burnt on a bonfire in England to commemorate
the Gunpowder Plot.  The effigy was called a 'guy' (small g).  So
'girls' seems to come off very well as against 'guys', which are
brainless dummies stuffed with straw.  :-)


Margaret Tarbet / oneko   AT
Date: Sat, 27 Apr 2002 11:44:44 +1000
From: Kate Mytanwy <bicycle AT>
Subject: Re: generic 'you guys'
I too agree that "guys" invisiblises women. Yet, its a term that is
seemingly used more and more frequently by women and men where I live
(east coast, Australia) to mean both men *and* women. (Re Australia
and the use of "guys", I note Carole's comment about media and global
colonisation). As an aside, I'm also myself inclined by habit to call
men and women "guys" and to refer to women friends as "girlfriends".

I've also heard, albeit rarely, the term "mateys" and "mate" used
similarly (ie to mean both women and men).

Yesterday and a few days ago I was called by, firstly, a woman- a
fairly recent sociology grad with a major in gender studies- over
twenty five years my junior and secondly, by another woman- a
neighbour- about fifteen years my junior, "girl". (Respectively,
"You're a good girl for doing the dishes"; and, "You're such a good
girl to be getting so much exercise!"). Perhaps it would have bothered
me had these women been of similar age or, if I were much younger.
However, in both these instances it felt like a condescension (I know
they weren't meant as such).

I rather like the idea of "folk" or "comrade" (as in "Hello folk";
"Hello comrades"). To me both conjure an image of community or, in the
case of "comrade", collectivism and equality. ("Comrade" has seemingly
devolved a left wing connotation- from its past meaning of fellow,
mate or, original: "camerada"= "roommate").

Kate Mytanwy
bicycle   AT
Date: Tue, 15 Oct 2002 15:27:56 -0700
From: "Bilger, Audrey" <audrey.bilger AT CLAREMONTMCKENNA.EDU>
Subject: Bitch magazine article on "you guys"
I'm writing to let you know that the article I wrote for Bitch magazine on
"you guys" appears in the newly published issue #18. WMST-L and the
discussion of this topic in response to my request for input are featured
prominently. For information on where to find Bitch: Feminist Response to
Pop Culture, go to
<> .

Thanks to everyone who helped with this piece.

best, Audrey

Audrey Bilger
Associate Professor of Literature
Claremont McKenna College
850 Columbia Avenue
Claremont, CA 91711
audrey.bilger   AT

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