Next Page

WMST-L logo

Is the Term "Guys" Gender Neutral?

The following discussion of whether "guys" is or can be a gender-neutral
term took place on WMST-L in March 2005.  Because of its length, the
discussion has been divided into two parts.  This topic also gave rise to
an extended discussion in 2002 and is available on the Web under the title
Can 'Guys' Refer to Women and Girls?  For additional WMST-L files 
available on the Web, see the WMST-L File Collection.

Date: Tue, 1 Mar 2005 22:47:34 EST
From: Anne D'Arcy <CoonHollow AT AOL.COM>
Subject: "You Guys"
I wanted to ask if others are finding the use of this term still prevalent in
their classes, used by women as often as men.   In my gender theory classes,
students are very responsive.   But in my general classes when I frame a
discussion of the term, using Sherryl Kleinman's excellent essay as a jumping off
place, more students than not roll their eyes.  Some even respond with
"feminists need to get a life" remarks.   Are any of you doing better than this?   I
went back through the list archives and found the 2002 discussion of the issue,
but I don't see Sherryl's essay mentioned there, and it's the best I've run
across so far.   Her students even have a website where you can download a copy
of their anti "you guys" card to leave at restaurants where you are addressed
that way:
If you'd like a copy of her article, ask me for it offlist.   Sherryl
Kleinman teaches sociology at U of NC, Chapel Hill.

Annie D'Arcy, Ph.D.
Solano College
Suisun, CA.
Date: Tue, 1 Mar 2005 23:53:04 -0500
From: Georgia NeSmith <gnesmith AT FRONTIERNET.NET>
Subject: Re: "You Guys"
My online journalism students often use "you guys" -- as well as "ladies"
and other terms I'd rather they didn't. These are almost all women, almost
all older women (in some cases 40s & 50s).

I don't call them on it. I suppose I should but I have lots of other issues
to deal with, not the least of which is getting them to write a decent lead
sentence and conform to Associated Press style.

Later I plan to create a conference on sexist language (that would be a
discussion area in the lingo of the online education technology) when I can
catch a breath, probably not until my summer section.

However, in the meantime I have taken to using ¦y'all¦ myself in the class,
not even knowing about this effort...just thinking that would be the best
way to handle it.


Georgia NeSmith, Ph.D.
Adjunct Associate Professor (online)
Communication Department
University of Maryland University College
HOME:  Rochester, NY
gnesmith  AT
Date: Wed, 2 Mar 2005 14:46:47 -0500
From: "Oboler, Regina" <roboler AT URSINUS.EDU>
Subject: Re: "You Guys"
Having grown up all my life -- and I am 58 -- in an environment where the
expression "you guys" was used in a way that was (to me) clearly not
gendered, it is difficult for me to make it a focus of concern.  Otherwise,
I am in total agreement on the importance of using gender-inclusive
language.  The argument that I have always found most persuasive for why the
issue is important is that research findings show that people having heard a
story featuring "fire fighters" or "police officers," and asked to describe
the characters, are much more likely to envision both sexes than with
"firemen" or "policemen."  The language we use influences how we think about
the people involved.  "He-man" so-called generic language is not *really*

Does anyone know if any similar research has been done on the "you guys"
issue?  I am pretty sure that in my own mind, this term is not gendered.  I
wonder if student resistance to seeing it as a real issue might be because
their perception is the same as mine.  I easily grant that "some guy" is a
gendered construction -- nobody would imagine a female person if the
description is "some guy."  But "you guys" feels different to me (and I'm
guessing to students).

It's possible that in current issue, this actually is a psychologically
non-gendered term.  (Also, it's a colloquialism that would normally never
occur in a formal writing situation -- it's a form of slang, therefore
notoriously difficult to change.)  If, however, somebody tells me that
research shows that it actually is not psychologically generic, I will jump
right on board in the effort to eliminate it.

  -- Gina Oboler
Date: Wed, 2 Mar 2005 13:53:16 -0600
From: Farrah Ferriell <farrah.ferriell AT WKU.EDU>
Subject: Re: "You Guys"
Why is "you guys" not considered a gender specific term? Is it because
men are not considered gendered, like white people do not consider
themselves a race or European-Americans ethnic? I say yes because the
controlling majority view/way of life (male, white, Western) is seen as
"normal"; and everyone else (female, black, Eastern) is expected to
adopt the male, white, Western way of talking, dressing, writing,
conducting war, etc. Also, in religious texts and in medical science
"mankind" is till used to refer to all people. "You guys" is a synonym
for "mankind", and if we adopt "guy" as a gender neutral word in a few
decades, we mind as well keep using "man" to refer to women and men, as
well as policeman, congressman, repairman, etc.

I am very interested in this topic, as I am discussing sexism in
language with my classes this week. Surprisingly, my students agree that
such terms as "you guys" leave women out of the picture. Of course, I
live in an area where folks use "ya'll" to address groups of people.

Farrah Ferriell
Women's Studies Program
Western Kentucky University
Farrah.Ferriell  AT
Date: Wed, 2 Mar 2005 15:14:06 -0500
From: Gaile Pohlhaus <gaile.pohlhaus AT VILLANOVA.EDU>
Subject: Re: "You Guys"
rather than "gender-inclusive" wouldn't "non-gender specific" be a
better term?
Gaile Pohlhaus
gaile.pohlhaus  AT
Date: Wed, 2 Mar 2005 12:14:59 -0800
From: Colleen Hall-Patton <hallpatt AT UNLV.NEVADA.EDU>
Subject: Re: "You Guys"
In these discussions of gendered language, I don't remember anyone mentioning
Laurel Richardson's Gender Stereotyping in the English Language article, which
I use in my classes to good effect.  She uses many of the examples mentioned
here that never fail to get some wry smiles from my students.

I also use the example of my daughter, who, in 3rd grade was supposed to write a
paper about a U.S. president she would like to be like, and was absolutely
adamant she couldn't do it because they were all men.  Now, she wants to be the
first woman president, though I tell her I hope we don't have to wait that long
(she's 13).

Colleen Hall-Patton
Depts of Sociology and Women's Studies
Date: Wed, 2 Mar 2005 15:31:31 -0500
From: Arnie Kahn <kahnas AT JMU.EDU>
Subject: Re: "You Guys"
If I say, "I want the guys to go to the front of the
room," I am using the plural form and only men will
come forward.


Arnie Kahn
Psychology MSC 7401
James Madison University
Harrisonburg, VA 22807
Date: Wed, 2 Mar 2005 07:11:27 -1000
From: Kathy Ferguson <kferguso AT HAWAII.EDU>
Subject: Re: "You Guys"
You know, I think I find myself in the "get a life" camp on these
questions. "Ladies" can be said with ironic humor, and "you guys" with
affection. Words don't have inherent meanings, after all; they have the
meanings that usage gives them, annd are not necessarily stuck in past
patriarchical contexts. I also find that I have many more important
struggles in my classrooms than these.

Have a nice day, ladies.

Date: Wed, 2 Mar 2005 09:26:20 -0800
From: Wendy Burton <Wendy.Burton AT UCFV.CA>
Subject: Re: "You Guys"
When my online students use "you guys" or other non-standard usage in
the online writing courses I teach, I have a response, which goes
something like this: "In the online professional writing environment,
word choice is especially important, and guys is a term that does not
include women - especially or this woman - and is therefore
sexist. Don't use it." That usually puts paid to the usage. I use
"folks" when I am being informal, which models a non-standard usage
that isn't offensive - I hope.

Dr. Wendy E. Burton, Professor
Adult Education
University College of the Fraser Valley
45635 Yale Road
Chilliwack, British Columbia  V2P 6T4  CANADA
wendy.burton  AT
Date: Wed, 2 Mar 2005 13:10:23 EST
From: Pam Paulick <Sonoplp AT AOL.COM>
Subject: Re: "You Guys"
Granted, on the surface, the usage of "you guys," when speaking to women
seems harmless.  Try the opposite as a little test and call a group of men  "you
girls" or "you gals."  I may be wrong, but I don't think that you  will
receive a good response!


Pam Paulick
Date: Wed, 2 Mar 2005 10:54:08 -0800
From: pjkafka <pjkafka AT EARTHLINK.NET>
Subject: Re: "You Guys"
I agree with Pam.

Last week I wrote to the list about titles and terminology and why I
felt that it was important and not ridiculous or trivial for feminists
to work on, to expand, to change, to transform sexist language use on
the grounds that language use signifies perspective.  For example, the
term "mankind" exposes conscious or unconscious exclusion, whereas the
term "humankind" or "humanity" is not only correct literally but
inclusive psychologically.

This issue, when students are provided with the texts, when the
texts are included in the syllabi, could easily comprise a class or
two, even a section.  In my references to early work on this topic,
I couldn't remember an excellent early feminist writer on this issue
that I could suggest for a Women's Studies class, besides Dale
Spender, but afterwards remembered her name and one title: Germaine
Greer, The Female Eunuch.

We can also teach "canonical" authors in traditional courses to reveal
exclusion.  My examples come from my discipline--literature.  When I
taught Emerson's essays in American Lit. I would read aloud to my
students the passage in one of his essay where he addressed students
graduating from university--male, of course-- (again, I forget the
essay's title).  My students had the text before them.  They seemed
fascinated to see this for themselves; that his language revealed his
sexist perspective.  Clearly, he was only referring to (white) males.
Emerson was eloquently telling graduating seniors to ignore the
demands of friends and relatives and follow their own paths when they
went out into the world.  In the list of those to ignore he included
"wives."  Language definitely reveals perspective.

On the other hand, when I taught Whitman, I could show students how
inclusive his language was, in contrast to Emerson.  Whitman routinely
used the terms "men" and "women," etc., always using language that
matched and truly reflected his transcendental breadth.

Some female (Euro-American, white) students would then point out the
problems of being female readers, of having to read so many texts that
ignored their gender in the language; how they had to actively project
themselves into narrow terminology before making the attempt, not
always successful, to include themselves/project themselves and their
experiences into whatever points the authors were making.  These
students always felt that they had two requirements as readers,
whereas male readers had only one.

African-American, Latino/a students of color, both male and female,
lesbian and gay students, also pointed out that they too had to make
these mental leaps, often frustrating, because in the end it turned
out that they couldn't relate to what they were reading, anyhow.
Their experiences in life affected their perspective negatively when
they read "canonical" authors or many public mainstream authority
figures, etc.

Dr. Phillipa Kafka
Professor Emerita, English
Kean University
Date: Wed, 2 Mar 2005 09:35:05 -0800
From: "David, Rachel" <rdavid AT SHORELINE.EDU>
Subject: Re: "You Guys"
. . . .
For what it's worth, I've tried to eradicate "you guys" from my speech.
I team teach a course on gender roles in science fiction with an English
professor, and she uses it almost every day, despite my pleas and
reminders.  If we can't model gender-inclusive speech, we can't expect
it from our students!
Cheers folks,

Rachel David
Shoreline Community College
rdavid  AT
Date: Wed, 2 Mar 2005 11:05:19 -0800
From: Jessica Nathanson <janathanson AT YAHOO.COM>
Subject: Re: "You Guys"
--- Pam  Paulick <Sonoplp  AT  AOL.COM> wrote:
Try the opposite as a little test
> and call a group of men  "you
> girls" or "you gals."

What this shows is not that "you guys" is a
gender-specific term, but rather that "you girls" and
"you gals" are gender-specific terms.  "You guys" is
used by men and women to refer to all-male,
all-female, and male and female groups.  It's clearly
become gender-neutral in the plural (the singular,
"guy," is still gender-specific).  This is quite
different from the terms such as "he" or "mankind,"
neither of which are used as a form of direct address
to refer to women.

I think "you guys" is (and has been) evolving as a
term.  It wouldn't surprise me if "guy" became used in
a gender-neutral way several decades from now.
Jessica Nathanson
Dr. Jessica Nathanson
Instructor, English and Gender Studies
Augustana College
Kilian Community College
janathanson  AT
Date: Wed, 2 Mar 2005 11:14:49 -0800
From: Nita McKinley <nmmckin AT U.WASHINGTON.EDU>
Subject: Re: "You Guys"
> What this shows is not that "you guys" is a
> gender-specific term, but rather that "you girls" and
> "you gals" are gender-specific terms.

Rather than trying to address men as "you gals," the following was suggested
on another list a few years ago.

Ask for "the guys" to come to the front of the classroom. You will find that
no women come to the front of the classroom, only men.

Nita Mary McKinley, PhD
Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences
University of Washington Tacoma
Campus Box 358436
1900 Commerce Street
Tacoma, WA 98402
Email: nmmckin  AT
Date: Wed, 2 Mar 2005 14:32:08 -0500
From: holly dugan <hdugan AT UMICH.EDU>
Subject: Re: "You Guys"
Phrases such as "you guys" or "all ya'll" remain one of the few places in
which those of us in higher education betray our backgrounds, including
class.  As an academic, I try to always speak in the language of a
"professional."  My working class NJ background, however, erupts when I am
most passionate, often invading the language of my feminism.  Many times,
I've had "well-meaning" feminist peers point my use of "you guys" or other
moments where peculiar phrase or NJ-accent sneaks into my "professional"
speech.  Each time, it strikes me as yet another disciplinary moment in the
academy.  I recognize that language is a critical way in which my identity
and my politics are construed.  But, in my women's studies classrooms, I've
found that my students work hardest when we *all* recognize that our
expressions reveal personal and political investments, myself included. The
point of using gender inclusive language is to include others in the
discussion (and gain a wider point of view), not to reduce our politics-or
pedagogy-to semantics that surround them making us all sound the same.

Holly Dugan
Ph.D. Candidate in Women's Studies/English
University of Michigan
Date: Thu, 3 Mar 2005 07:37:28 EST
From: Anne D'Arcy <CoonHollow AT AOL.COM>
Subject: "You Guys" and Sherryl Kleinman
In addition to the article so many of you asked me for offlist, which, by the
way, ends with Pam's argument, Sherryl Kleinman has a lengthier essay titled
"Why Sexist Language Matters" in QUALITATIVE SOCIOLOGY Vol. 25 No. 2,
pp.1573-7837 (online), pp. 299-304 (hard copy), June 2002.

I also note from the WMST archives that Audrey Bilger (in 2002) was writing
an article about "you guys" for BITCH, but I don't know if that ever
materialized.   Does anyone subscribe who could check?

Anne D'Arcy, Ph.D.
Solano College
Suisun, CA
Coonhollow  AT
Date: Thu, 3 Mar 2005 08:01:29 -0800
From: Jessica Nathanson <janathanson AT YAHOO.COM>
Subject: Re: "You Guys"
After I posted yesterday, a few people responded with
the point that "the guys" and "guys" clearly refer to
men only.  I want to clarify my position.  The notion
that "you guys" is gender neutral is not because of
any assumption about who is and who is not gendered.
It's because "you guys" is commonly used in
conversation to refer directly to groups of only women
as well as to groups of men and women or to groups of
only men.  "You guys" is not the same as "the guys" or
even just "guys," which are both gendered terms.

I wonder how much of this is regional.  Others have
pointed out that it may be related to class and to
geographic location.  I have found this
interpretation of "you guys" to hold true in the
northeast, especially.  I use it all the time in South
Dakota, where I live now, to refer to women, and I've
never had anyone react as though it is an unusual
usage (I'll have to start asking what people's
reactions are when I use the phrase).  The more
obviously inclusive "y'all" is far less commonly used
in either of these locations.

I also wanted to share a comment that Arnie Kahn made
to me re. the notion that "you guys" is different from
"the guys":
"Okay, I can buy that, but it does perpetuate the
'male is normative' standard.  It's not dissimilar to
when a woman (or man) compliments another woman by
saying, 'You've got balls.'"

I'm posting this comment to the list because I think
this is a really good point, although I have at times
used the term "balls" in exactly this way (and at
other times, "ovaries.")  (I also have had a few
friends who have successfully responded to unwanted
sexual attention or pretty much any rudeness from boys
and men by telling them to "suck my dick!" (often
accompanied by the woman grabbing her crotch in a
"masculine" way).  We can argue over whether or not
this perpetuates patriarchy, but it was a pretty
effective technique.)

Jessica Nathanson
Dr. Jessica Nathanson
Instructor, English and Gender Studies
Augustana College
Kilian Community College
janathanson  AT

For information about WMST-L

WMST-L File Collection

Top Of PageNext Page