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Why I'm Not One of the Guys

Eevis (she/her)
In a mission to create the web more accessible ๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐Ÿปโ€๐Ÿ’ป ||ย IAAP Certified Professional in Web Accessibility ||ย NWITA Finalist
Originally published at eevis.codes on ใƒป6 min read

"Hey, guys" is a phrase I often hear. It usually continues with words like "what do you think about this?" And if the context is within a mixed-gender group, I feel left out. I feel like they're talking to everyone else (or, at least, all who identify as a man) but me.

I know many native English speakers use the phrase as gender-neutral.
But it is not, and in this blog post, I will discuss the problems of using that expression. I will also address some other aspects of the "man-default." One of the things it means is, for example, that if we are talking about a developer, that developer is often referred to as "he" (so, "A developer found a bug. He started fixing it").

This is a very personal topic for me, as I've had to fight for my spot as a developer, and I'm still facing these assumptions that I'm less of a professional because of my gender. So if you don't recognize the problem, please just believe me and don't start mansplaining how, for example, "you guys" is a gender-neutral term, and I should just suck it up. Please just don't.

The Problem of Man-Default

When you refer to a hypothetical person whose gender is unknown, what is the pronoun you use? If the answer is "he," then congrats, you've found the man-default. It means that you default to man when talking about someone whose gender you don't know.

Man-default can also be found in expressions such as "manning the station," "man-hours," or "chairman." It is visible in other languages as well. For example, in Finnish, despite having only one personal pronoun for all genders, we have words such as "lakimies" (=lawyer, literal translation would be "law man"), "palomies" (fireman), or "miehittรครค" (same as in "manning the station").

Another example of man-default comes from sports. Often men's league is referred to as "the league," and then there is the women's league with the word "women" in it. For example, we have the NBA (National Basketball Association) and WNBA (Women's National Basketball Association). It displays men as default and women as "other," something that needs an explanation.

But you know, the language we use shapes the reality around us. If we always speak about men doing something and especially default to men when talking about fields where men are the majority, we maintain those structures and keep the image up.

Ok, this might sound a bit abstract, but let me try to explain it a bit further: If we always refer to software developers as "he," we (unconsciously) build an image where all software developers are men. It leads to situations where men are seen as better developers, because hey, of course. And then women are seen as less of professionals because they aren't men who are the default. And this is how unconscious bias, which leads to discrimination, builds.

It is also a topic that has become visible with translation algorithms. Nicolas Kayser-Bril wrote a piece for Algorithm Watch about how Google Translate systematically changes the gender for translations when the initial gender doesn't fit the stereotypes.

There was also an interesting Twitter-thread about Google Translate and pronouns during the International Women's Day in 2021:

These examples provide some fascinating insight into how language shapes reality. These translations are a direct consequence of the data used to train these algorithms. We, humans, are the same - if the data we get defaults always to, for example, men being the developers, we tend to believe that being a developer is meant only for men.

Guys is Not Gender Neutral

Back to the term "guys." Some argue that it is a gender-neutral term. Well, it is not. It originates from the word "guy," which is singular and means a man. Yes, I know, you might have learned it and been using it believing it is gender-neutral. That is ok - you didn't know. You are not a bad person. But could you please remember from now on that there are people who feel excluded when someone uses the word? Thank you!

Sara Bent from Hotjar writes about how they had a "Guys Jar"-challenge, a version of a swear jar. In their version, every time someone participating used the word 'guys' to refer to a group of mixed (or only-women) people, they had to pay.

I like how Sara puts the idea of using "guys" (from the blog post linked above):

Even though most people who use the term don't do so with the intent of it being sexist or exclusive of women, it can and often does cause women to feel left out of the conversation. Imagine you used 'gals' to refer to a room full of men and womenโ€”do you think the men would respond?

I've had and read many conversations with people (often with cis-men) about why they think "guys" is a gender-neutral term. One of the "best" arguments I've heard so far is that "we can't change the way soccer-moms in suburbs in the States use this term, so using it is ok for us as well." Well yeah, one thing is correct; we probably can't change that.

But you know, the conversation where they said this wasn't anywhere near those soccer moms - it was in Finland, in a professional context where English is the language used. And in a group where someone had just said they feel excluded when others use the word "guys" when referring to them. It was about the language used in the said setting. That felt... absurd.

Well, Why Don't I Just Speak Up?

I don't know about you, but when I'm in the minority, and I've seen that raising these issues sometimes gets even aggressive responses, it is hard to speak up.

Another thing that makes speaking up hard is that when I do, people usually assume I'm criticizing them, not their actions. These people tend to feel insulted, and you know how people are when they feel humiliated. The focus shifts to their feelings and me trying to tell them that no, I'm not assuming you're a terrible person. I'm only trying to bring to the attention things that you probably unconsciously are doing.

I've had good examples of when people have listened when I've brought this issue to attention. Still, more often, it ends up in an endless conversation about soccer moms and other non-relevant arguments. It gets tiring very soon.

And you know... It shouldn't be the responsibility of the minority to try to fix these issues alone. If it's something that has been brought up in a community before, the majority has the responsibility to act.

What Can I Use, Then?

So, you've decided to change your vocabulary. Thank you! I really appreciate that! You might be wondering what to use then. Here are some alternatives and considerations.

Alternatives for Guys

There are multiple alternatives you can use instead of "hey guys." Here are some examples with Kim Rees' tweet about some options:

Using They Instead of He (or She for That Matter)

When talking about a person whose gender you don't know - wheater a real person, or a hypothetical person (such as a hypothetical developer), default to "they"-pronoun.

It might feel a bit weird at first, but I promise you, you'll get used to it. I speak from experience :)

Being Aware of Man-Default

One more thing I want to point out is being aware of the man-default. Start paying attention to the words you use; do they keep up the picture of a man being the default? Yes, it's a challenging task to do because we use language unconsciously and automatically. But you can try anyway.

There are usually gender-neutral words to use instead of the ones defaulting to man. Here are some examples:

  • Fireman -> Firefighter
  • Chairman -> Chairperson
  • Freshman -> First-year student

And so on. The internet is full of examples, so go and educate yourself!

Wrapping Up

So, TLDR; "Hey guys" is not a gender-neutral expression, and there are lots of people who feel excluded when someone uses it to refer to a group where they belong. I'm one of them.

There are better alternatives for the expression, and we should use them. Also, using "he" as a default pronoun is problematic, so let's use "they." And let's be aware of the fact that man is seen as a default in many places, so let's pay attention to the words we use.

You can find more examples of non-sexist language in Geek Feminism Wiki's guide on non-sexist language.

Cover photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash.

Discussion (116)

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webbureaucrat profile image
webbureaucrat • Edited

Some argue that it is a gender-neutral term. Well, it is not. It originates from the word "guy," which is singular and means a man. Yes, I know, you might have learned it and been using it believing it is gender-neutral. That is ok - you didn't know. You are not a bad person.

๐Ÿ‘‹ Woman here. This is patronizing and also not how language works. Words belong to their users, and in my native dialect of English, "guys" is gender-neutral.

I understand the argument you're making, but it doesn't hold. How a word originates doesn't necessarily dictate its singular, true meaning forever. The word "disaster" originated as a reference to astrology, but you wouldn't say that everyone who uses the word "disaster" is either being superstitious about the stars or using the word wrong.

It's still true that we should avoid using "guys" at work because we do not all speak the same dialect of English and because we want everyone to feel included whether or not they speak the same dialect of English, but arguing that your dialect is the one correct dialect is insulting and false.

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miketalbot profile image
Mike Talbot • Edited

I do see your point, but the strangeness in English is that I cannot use the singular of "guys" to refer to a woman. "I know this guy who programs great" is definitely masculine, "I know this girl who programs great" is the feminine version. The fact that today, we use a plural to represent a mixed gender group of a singular that is masculine is not a normal English construct. I'm aware that many languages that gender pronouns have to use the masculine if the group contains a man, but English doesn't (it uses they) - so it feels strange.

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jonrandy profile image
Jon Randy

Languages develop and change, words have multiple meanings, regional variations, etc. "Guys" is even listed in British English dictionaries as being gender neutral in this context. That is what really matters... context and intent. Forcing everyone to interpret and utilise language in the same way belittles the beauty and diversity of the language. Accusing people of using 'exclusionary' language when they have done no such thing according to their particular flavour of the language only serves to create conflict and friction where there never should have been any.

By attempting to police language in this manner, you stifle an element of diversity - something you are commendably trying to promote, and possibly even frighten people away from saying anything for fear of offending someone.

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samuelfaure profile image
Samuel FAURE

You make it sound like she is asking to assault anyonr using the word "guys" in a gender neutral context. She's just arguing that "default male" is a bad thing...

Which it is. I say that as a french person where we have a heavily gendered language which is "in favor" of males.

In a group of 100 women + 1 man, the group will be gendered masculine. French people think that's just how it is and it is good like this. But what they dont realize is that this grammatical rule was implemented on purpose quite late in the history of the french language (19th century), by a group of old men called l'Acadรฉmie Franรงaise.

They purposely shaped the language to favor men. Now Id say it's time we balance it out a little bit. The balance was voluntarily tilted in favor of men, we can't just accept and leave it like that.

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jwhenry3 profile image
Justin Henry

The problem is not default male language, its that everyone is too sensitive now a days and does not actually pay attention to the real issue. Gender equality is not about "male default" words, it's about making sure that everyone has equal footing and opportunity, as well as treated fairly.

I can't imagine what the position is on Spanish or other languages where words have a gender (lo vs la). Would someone get offended when saying los amigos?

Issues like this receiving too much attention distracts from real issues.

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samuelfaure profile image
Samuel FAURE

We can tackle the language issue at the same time as we tackle other issues. Actually, we should tackle ALL issues.

You're saying the problem is people being too sensitive, but you look quite annoyed by this. Wouldn't you say you're quite sensitive yourself?

Language shape how we think, it is a known fact. As a direct consequence, in a male default world, there can't be real gender equality, and therefore there canยดt be equal treatment or opportunity.

Try an exercise at home: visualize a firefighter. Then visualize a videogame enthusiast.

Now, I'd bet your first thought was twice a man.

Now if I want to ask you to visualize a cleaning lady, you will picture a woman, because there is no gendered male equivalent (no "cleaning gentleman").

In japanese, the kanji for "Married woman" is the kanji for "Woman" plus the kanji for "Broom".

Don't you think this heavily influence society?

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jwhenry3 profile image
Justin Henry

It is correlation, not causation.

When you say firefighter and "videogame enthusiast", you think of what is statistically more likely, not because it is male-default, it is because it is male-dominant. Likelihood of a firefighter being male is way more higher, therefore that is what you initially think about.

Language is a reflection of the society, not the cause of the society. It is a chicken and egg problem, of course, as it is hard to see what would be the actual cause of the other. Hunter-Gatherer society existed before language did, and thus language was influenced by it. Yes it is traditional and outdated, and probably could use some tweaking, but to say language is the problem would be misplacing the blame.

Fix the actions first, then worry about the words later. Banning usage of words will not fix the problem because the problem would exist regardless of the word.

There are words today that are culturally banned from certain peoples because of the offense they cause, yet it does not eliminate the connotation or actions that result from the hatred they express.

This is why I say that people are sensitive about the language and are misplacing their efforts to correct societal fallacies that language just so happens to expose.

If you were bleeding internally, do you stop the bleeding without knowing why it's bleeding, or do you do your due diligence to try to find out why it happened in the first place? This is what it is like when you try to fix the language without addressing the actions that give said words the power that causes the negative reception of them.

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samuelfaure profile image
Samuel FAURE

"Language is a reflection of the society, not the cause of the society."

It is both.

"If you were bleeding internally, do you stop the bleeding without knowing why it's bleeding, or do you do your due diligence to try to find out why it happened in the first place?"

A better analogy would be: If you were bleeding because of a bullet wound, would you stop the bleeding before removing the bullet? Of course not, or problems will still arise. You need to tackle causes and consequences at the same time.

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nfrankel profile image
Nicolas Frankel

Your reasoning is wrong on so many levels... but at least I'll try to correct you on linguistics.

Equating the gender of a word with the sexual gender fuels your narrative but doesn't have any solid foundation. Here are a couple of counter-examples that makes your point moot:

  • The Turkish language has no gender. With your reasoning, Turkish society should be much more gender-equal than French society or German society. I hope that you can agree that it's not the case
  • Butter can have different genders depending on the part of Germany you live in. With your reasoning, it means that people would view butter differently depending on the gender involved. Really?
  • You mention Kanji to prove your point. You confuse how Kanjis were formed with how people interpret them: it's a holistic process, quite similar to how we read words. You learn to decipher words letter by letter but after a while, you recognize them instantly.
  • etc.
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samuelfaure profile image
Samuel FAURE • Edited

So basically you're turning what I say into an absolute so you can play the absurdist card?

It's quite a dishonest approach. It's like if I said that using your phone while driving is dangerous, but you can find examples where people did it and had no accidents, then you conclude what I say must be completely wrong.

It should be obvious that language doesnt determine gender equality by itself.

Im not confused about kanjis, thank you very much. Language works the same way, we dont consciously think about how we talk. Psychology proved many times that it still affects our way of thinking.

Etc.

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nfrankel profile image
Nicolas Frankel • Edited

It's quite a dishonest approach. It's like if I said that using your phone while driving is dangerous, but you can find examples where people did it and had no accidents, then you conclude what I say must be completely wrong.

I assumed you had enough scientific education to know that when you form an hypothesis, and there are counter-examples, then the hypothesis doesn't hold anymore.

It's you who make claims, so you're the one to prove them.

It should be obvious that language doesnt determine gender equality by itself.

Only to you. But I didn't expect any good faith thinking on your side. I'm just fed up with strawman arguments... Consider this my latest contribution to this thread.

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samuelfaure profile image
Samuel FAURE • Edited

I happen to have an engineering degree in chemistry and microbiology and worked as an actual research engineer, and your approach to the scientific method is completely wrong.

When there are multiple factors as causes for a given consequence, the lack of a direct linear correlation for one of the factors on some data points doesnt invalidate the correlation. That's statistics 101. Frankly I'm shocked that a developer could do such a basic logic mistake.

You need to learn a bit more about psychology, sociology and apparently mathematics.

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pjotre86 profile image
pjotre86

Nice response. I think he knows he's wrong, don't feed the troll ๐Ÿ˜‰

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webbureaucrat profile image
webbureaucrat

I assumed you had enough scientific education to know that when you form an hypothesis, and there are counter-examples, then the hypothesis doesn't hold anymore.

Yep. Some people say that smoking causes cancer, but there are counterexamples where people who smoke do not get cancer, therefore smoking does not cause cancer. This is science.

/s

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adam_cyclones profile image
Adam Crockett

I say folks

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cswalker21 profile image
cswalker21

The Merriam-Webster dictionary says it can be used as a gender neutral collection, so thatโ€™s my guide.

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ingosteinke profile image
Ingo Steinke • Edited

Isn't this an American English thing anyway, to say "guys"? To me, as a non-native speaker, "you guys" always sounds as ridiculous as "hello there". Also due to the similarity to another word, I used to see a picture of the band Village People when I read or hear "guys".

Nice (which is European English for "great, awesome") that people hopefully try to abandon this idiom, even more so for a better reason...

... only to replace it with "folks", so my mind will picture a folk music band with fiddles, banjo, pipes, and whistles instead of the Village People ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿ˜†๐Ÿ˜‚

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inhuofficial profile image
InHuOfficial

Oh dear, so every time someone says "guys" you start singing YMCA in your head? That is an even bigger reason to stop using the term as that cannot be good for your health! ๐Ÿคฃ

But what is wrong with "hello there" Ingo?! Are you going to tell me that this guy is using a ridiculous term? ๐Ÿ˜‹

obi wan saying "hello there" meme when he faces General Grievous

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ingosteinke profile image
Ingo Steinke • Edited

Ah, the redundancy of "there". I am here, you are there, so I say "hello there"? Makes no sense at all, but then again, most idioms don't make much sense.

Just found out I am not the only one thinking of the Village Guys:

Meme picture of Vladimir Putin saying I like those Village People guys

memegenerator.net/img/instances/46...

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inhuofficial profile image
InHuOfficial • Edited

You would hate "hiya", it is somehow short for "how are you" (another silly greeting we have).

However if you responded to "hiya" with "I'm good thanks" (the polite response to "how are you") people would think you are strange!

English is very weird!

Oh and when you hear our sayings they are even more strange (although that seems to be common across the world, Australians say "we aren't here to fuck spiders" which means let's not mess around / waste time! Or better yet the Swedes have "slide in on a shrimp sandwich" to mean someone who didn't have to work to get where they are!) Sadly I don't know any good German ones but I am sure you have some great ones too!

Anyway I digress, yes "hello there" is bloody weird when you think about it!

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nicolus profile image
Nicolas Bailly

"how are you" (another silly greeting we have)."

The most hilarious one to a foreign speaker is "how do you do", to which the only right answer is "how do you do". It doesn't make any kind of sense.

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mangelsr profile image
Miguel Sanchez

General Kenobi, sorry I have to do it...

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onefoggyscreen profile image
OneFoggyScreen

The mansplaining was not required and just made your argument weaker.

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nicolus profile image
Nicolas Bailly

mansplaining

Ugh... That word is even worse than saying "you guys" to women. It's like only men are allowed to be condescending.

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samuelfaure profile image
Samuel FAURE

There is however a real problem of men being condescending to women. Hence where this word comes from.

Women can be condescending too but it is not because of gendered power dynamics.

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okikio profile image
Okiki

Doesn't change the fact that it belittled any opinion any man was going to have on the situation, yes sometimes the male perspective may not be the most accurate but it doesn't give anyone the right to belittle opinions based on gender.

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samuelfaure profile image
Samuel FAURE • Edited

I'm not sure you understand what mansplaining is, because you're complaining about a response to mansplaining which doesnt relate to actual manplaining.

Case 1: A man explaining something to a woman. This is not mansplaining. This is explaining.

Case 2: A man, barely competent in a certain topic, explaining this topic to a woman who is a world expert on this topic. This is mansplaining. The man subconsciously -or in some cases consciously- assumes he is more competent because of his gender.

In Case 1, If someone is complaining about mansplaining in that situation, I will agree with you that they are being dishonest.

Mansplaining happens in Case 2, which happens quite frequently in the "man => woman" direction, but way less frequently in reverse. Why? Because of gendered power dynamics. Which is why the word exist.

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okikio profile image
Okiki

No, it's discounting someone's opinion based on their gender. If you believe some one doesn't know enough about the situation you say some one doesn't know enough about a situation, not that they are mansplaining, the connotations of the word are rather condescending and offensive, "as in I can't speak on the matter because I'm man, etc..." and it's even more offensive when the person who is "mansplaining" believes the insight they have into the situation are fair and valid.

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okikio profile image
Okiki

The gender power dynamics doesn't change the fact that the person you are talking to it a human that deserves a fair chance to have their opinions heard, also, power dynamics are a cultural thing not necessarily a person by person thing, so, you shouldn't be trying to justify ignoring a man's opinion based on it.

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samuelfaure profile image
Samuel FAURE

You have to realize getting mansplained regularly is a terrible experience that a lot of women live nowadays.

Would you be happy if people from the opposite (and favored) gender would regularly belittle you, patronize you, and assume they know more than you... just because you're not a man ?

After you worked a decade to become an expert in something, you get mansplained by a dude which expertise is that he saw a documentary on the topic two years ago, but he knows better than you because he's a man?

Mansplaining is not "a man's opinion", by definition it's "a man's ignorant opinion". It's disrespectful and is both a cause and a consequence of sexism.

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nicozerpa profile image
Nico Zerpa (he/him)

Yes, it's mostly American. But lots of non-native speakers (probably the majority of them) learn that variety of English.

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jcolag profile image
John Colagioia (he/him)

I have to appreciate (though not in the spirit they're offered) objecting to the term "mansplaining" in exactly the way that it proves the point of the term. Erasure of women is a marginal issue, but a jab any man's masculinity is an affront!

Anyway, backing you up, a bit, if I may...

Some argue that it is a gender-neutral term.

Speaking as a man who's older than most people here, that's because we spent decades/centuries ignoring the people who objected. I can remember having these exact arguments on the school playground, and "I meant the term as gender-neutral" (I don't remember if I specifically said that, because it's been a long time) is nothing more than an insistence that the pain we're causing isn't of interest.

Likewise, men are the default, because women have been excluded. It's true in almost every field, but most obvious in software, because there are still people alive who have seen the entire industry. Early computer programmers were almost universally women, because the work was considered too boring to hire someone who'd demand a full salary. When I was in high school, Computer Science classes were split roughly evenly between genders. When I graduated from college, women had slipped to a distinct minority. And today, we're at a point when interviewers ask women "how did you get into computers," as if that's going to be some epic story about a prophecy and a religious sect in a hidden city, and not "there was a computer in the house when I was a kid," like any male candidate.

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maxart2501 profile image
Massimo Artizzu

I'm not a native English speaker and, as such, I've come to know the term "guys" as unbiased as possible. And, of course, the Internet has been my main source of information about it and yes, it appeared to me that was used mainly to refer to males. Just like "dudes".

But then I've learnt that those words are used gender-neutrally, and not knowing much, I blamed that to the old trope "there are no women on the Internet lol" - that's never been true, of course, but there surely was a solid disparity in the mid '90s.

Since then I've been confused: some thought "guys" was for males, other didn't... So I just stopped using it altogether to avoid confusion.

But then again:

Some argue that it is a gender-neutral term. Well, it is not.

Uhm, wait a minute. Who decided it?

Any linguist will tell you that the meaning of words aren't set in stone, but rather it's derived by their usage. So, if it's used as a gender-neutral noun, it effectively is gender-neutral, period.

I witnessed a group of women greeting each other with "hey guys". ๐Ÿคฏ And I bet I'm not the only one.

But, of course, context matter. And "context" also includes the area you're speaking in. Your perception of a term might differ a lot. And being on the Internet makes it all confusing, because it's not clear what's the context, and if there's one. If you have learnt that "guys" isn't gender-neutral, who am I to tell you it's not true? I don't own the English language. Nobody does. I mean, look at me, using "learnt" like an Englishman from 1950.

Like I said, I've stopped using "guys"a whole ago exactly because I didn't want women to be left out.
At the same time, culture and context are always shifting, especially in the age of the Internet, so I try to be careful when it comes to cultural things.

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mfp22 profile image
Mike Pearson • Edited

In Utah, girls frequently refer to each other as "guys." Y'all would be useful but nobody here wants to sound like they're from the South. I've noticed some people in tech talks or politics try to use "folks" as a replacement, but it just sounds so dorky, and conjures up images of old people.

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itscasey profile image
Casey ๐Ÿ’Ž

Growing up in California, "You guys" is what everyone says to a group of people. We would say "come on guys" to our pets as well. Just a term we used for everyone, but I can see how it could make someone feel left out who didn't grow up around that.

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ellativity profile image
Ella Ang (she/her/elle)

I've only lived in one state in the US, but in my experiences of living in Michigan, groups are always "y'all" and not "guys". Usage includes "all y'all" when emphasizing inclusion in the collective 2nd person, "hey y'all" as a greeting, and "y'all's" for 2nd person possessive. I don't know anyone who uses "guys" for any of these purposes.

My friends from other Midwestern states say the same thing, so this map looks unfamiliar to me. But again, I'm not intimately familiar with language across the States, just in the state I've lived in.

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moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

"Guys" has been rubbing me up the wrong way for a long time now.
I don't see it written that often, but when I do, it jumps out at me. Mostly, I hear it on Twitch and YouTube, starting the video and then sprinkled in throughout like a conjunction or a modern version of "um".

It's definitely not gender-neutral, and we don't need a gender-specific term. We don't need to specify the gender of the person or people we're talking to 99% of the time!

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jonrandy profile image
Jon Randy

British dictionary listing for 'guys' - gender neutral

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moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair • Edited

I'm aware of how it's sometimes used, but it's all about sets.

A woman isn't a "guy" (singular) even if sometimes she's "one of the guys".

As for plural, the commonly-cited (if slightly tacky) example is that of asking a hetero man, "how many guys have you dated?" to see where the term comes unstuck.

Imagine you'd witnessed a crime and were asked by the police to describe the villains. Would you describe them as, "two guys" if they were women?

"Guys" is not gender-neutral (as your alt-text suggests). It may colloquially be used to describe a mixed group as well as a male group of people, but that's not enough.

"Hey guys" in a fitness club could be followed by "let's split into teams. Could all the guys move to the left of the sportsball area" and nobody would be under any illusions that included everyone.

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jonrandy profile image
Jon Randy

In certain contexts it IS gender neutral and you just confirmed that with an example

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jonrandy profile image
Jon Randy • Edited

As for your plural example, again - context is key. The question is obviously using โ€™guys' to refer to a countable number of single people as opposed to a group as a whole - the question doesn't make sense otherwise. It does nothing to counter the argument that 'guys' is sometimes gender neutral. Nothing breaks down here.

The police example also fails, as the context of the question is clearly asking for specific information about countable individuals

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moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

"Guys" is sometimes colloquially used in a gender-neutral way. I'm not disputing that, but I am disputing it being suitable in most situations, or inclusive in general.

A lot of things are valid in narrow contexts, without that making them the right choice in broader ones.

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jonrandy profile image
Jon Randy • Edited

But that's just it, for some groups the usage isn't narrow at all - it's totally normal for them (in the UK for example, this usage of 'guys' is extremely common - you'll even hear females in an all female group addressing the group as 'guys'). Forcing everyone to accept one interpretation of some words as being the 'correct' one is not inclusive in the slightest, and does little to promote diversity. Different groups and dialects use words differently, and that's a good thing.

Do you not find it interesting and amazing that people use language in different ways? Or do you think we should just have a monoculture where everyone does everything the same way, and no-one is allowed to deviate from the perceived norms?

Most people are nice most of the time and would be happy to tell you about how they use language where they're from. Talk to them about it - you might learn something, make a friend etc. I'm fairly sure you'll find 99% of the time that any perceived offence you may have taken is just a misunderstanding

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moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

Do you not find it interesting and amazing that people use language in different ways

Of course. Paint my position as against that if you will, but those are your acrylics, not mine.

But that's just it, for some the usage isn't narrow at all

I don't think this argues in your favour. "for some the usage isn't narrow"? That's tautological, but I'm going to assume you didn't mean it that way, because if 20% of the population use an expression in the way you're suggesting, that's still narrow.

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nicozerpa profile image
Nico Zerpa (he/him)

I love this article, thank you, Eevis! In my native language, Spanish, the man-default problem is gigantic, because everything in the language has a gender, and masculine forms are the default.

I've read on Twitter about a woman who also spoke up about using "guys", but she was told by a man that guys was gender-neutral. And she replied: "OK, how many guys have you slept with?"

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jonrandy profile image
Jon Randy • Edited

Her response does not take context into account. Context is everything. The cause of so much friction on the internet these days is - I believe - due to people's reading of things WITHOUT context. The words themselves are only part of the intended message. The other main issue is the flattening of audiences. Content online is SO accessible that it often reaches people it wasn't strictly intended for - people who may, through no fault of their own - misinterpret what is being said.

It's almost like people WANT to immediately think the worst of people, and pick a fight. Stripping context, and deliberately interpreting something in a manner that you personally find offensive is a bizarre way to read things. It robs them of their full intended meaning, and upsets yourself and possibly others into the bargain.

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jonrandy profile image
Jon Randy • Edited

I do know what you mean about Spanish though, as I'm learning it right now. For me though, the issue is clarity - for example, the questions "Do you have children? (ยฟTienes hijos?)" and "Do you have sons? (ยฟTienes hijos?)" are exactly the same. If I'm asked in a test to translate this - there are two equally correct answers. This type of confusion can sometimes be resolved by context, but not always

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bezpowell profile image
BezPowell • Edited

I think I have found the comments section of this article as interesting as the article itself. Your points on not making assumptions about people, and our unconscious biases are very interesting and have helped to open my eyes somewhat.

I do, however, have to agree with InHuOfficial when he talks about the use of 'mansplaining' - it does feel like you are opening an article about not making assumptions about, and stereotyping individuals by using another stereotype.

I do also have to agree with webbureaucrat when she says that the meaning of the word is very much dependant on the context. Where I grew up, it is very common for people to greet each other with the phase "How are you, you old bugger?" In many contexts the word bugger is considered rude and offensive, here, however, it is used as a term of endearment; only people who know and respect each other would greet one another like that.

My personal opinion on things is that the only way we are ever going to tackle prejudice and inequality is if we stop stereotyping people and start treating everyone as individuals. If someone finds being referred to as a 'guy' insulting and uncomfortable then we should stop doing it. If someone else doesn't mind being referred to as an 'old bugger' then that's fine as well.

Thank you so much for raising our awareness about how the world is from where you stand. As a man who is friends with lots of other men who are not misogynists, I do find the term 'mansplaining' rather patronising, but can totally understand your frustration at being on the receiving end of it.

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buphmin

I personally am pragmatic and not driven by emotion and thus I look at things in numbers. No matter how hard you try there will be a way of communication that insults at least one person or makes them uncomfortable.

If someone finds being referred to as a 'guy' insulting and uncomfortable then we should stop doing it.

I would ask how many people dislike a term or a way of speaking. Is it a significant portion? Say 25% then sure lets adjust. If it is 1% then maybe not. There is also a matter of impact or magnitude of insult. For instance my sister does not like being called "maam" as it makes her feel old. This is relatively minor on the insult scale vs saying the B word in place of maam.

So with any language, not just the term 'guys', that we try to force out of existence I would ask how many people it offends and what is the magnitude of offense. If the answer to both of those are low then we have bigger issues to worry about with our limited capacity for change and improvement.

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bezpowell profile image
BezPowell

I was not suggesting that we force a term out of existence, merely that if a particular person / group of people dislike being called something then we should stop calling them that. To use the example of your sister, if she dislikes being called "maam" then I think not calling her that is perfectly reasonable, but I see no reason why you should then stop calling other people that who either don't mind or actually like it.

I often find that I modify the way I use language depending on the people I'm talking to. For example more technical with colleagues, using shared references around friends, but more formal around people I don't know so well.

Perhaps I mis-read the post, but I don't think that Eevis was for a moment suggesting that the word 'guys' be expunged from the English language, just that she and many other women find it objectionable so we should stop using it to refer to them in particular. Language is by its nature malleable, and I really don't see the problem with modifying your usage of it depending on context.

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buphmin profile image
buphmin

I was not suggesting that we force a term out of existence, merely that if a particular person / group of people dislike being called something then we should stop calling them that.

Agreed. I am all for listening to requests from individuals. We have been doing this for ages. "Hi, I'm James Smith but you can call me Jim". 95+% of people would have no problem calling that person Jim and would listen to the request. Why people make a stink about requests at the individual level is beyond me. My only concern is wholesale changes, where I think they should be prudent.

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Nikola Stojakoviฤ‡

But you know, the language we use shapes the reality around us. If we always speak about men doing something and especially default to men when talking about fields where men are the majority, we maintain those structures and keep the image up.

This.

I don't know how many times I've talked with people who think we're all living in some kind of vacuum where pretty much everything which exists today is "natural" or "how it should be in the first place".

Many things we say, do and think are affected by the society we live in and people should start to realize that. Great article ๐Ÿ‘Œ

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energy1515 profile image
ใŸใ“ใ‚ฐใƒชใƒผใƒณ

I'm a Japanese guy, and I've been uncomfortable with the use of this phrase since I first heard it. In Japanese, it is "everyone". Hey, guys sounds like pirates or gangsters.

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Bill Raymond

Thank you for a great article!

"Hey, guys," and many other terms are things I have been working to remove entirely from my vocabulary. My choice has been to say "hey all" or "hello everyone." I do not always get it right, but it is a work in progress.

As a public speaker, author, and trainer, I feel the room is warmer, and people are more open to dialog with me when I use inclusive language. I want to work with the best and the brightest and to do that, I want to make sure they are just as comfortable around me as I am with them.

We are living in a time when inclusivity and the words we choose matter. Adjusting my language a little bit to make it more inclusive is not only essential but imperative.

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Jen

UK Government Digital Service (a department within UK gov) has a lot of (internal) inclusive guidance, one including not using "guys". One of my favourite examples is, even though people say it's "gender neutral", if you were to say "so the devops guys.." - actually leads you to believe that all of devops are "guys" - or it's referring to the "guys" in the devops team.

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Kelly Brown

You have a long road ahead of you. I know of women who walk into a room full of only other women and still say, "Hey guys." And no one cares. People feeling "offended" or "excluded" is far from the universal response.

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Jay Jeckel

Interesting article, much thanks for sharing your perspective. I enjoyed reading and can see your points on many things, but a few parts do bother me.

The main issue I have is that a very prescriptivist position is taken on the genderedness of "guys", but when it comes to "-man" suffixed words the prescriptive meaning of "people in general, humanity as a whole" is ignored in favor of the descriptivist "male-specific" meaning. Personally, I'm a descriptivist with many prescriptivist tendencies, so I can respect both positions independently, but together I find them confusing.

It seems to me that either, descriptively, "guys" can change to become gender neutral if people use it that way and "chairman" should change because it became gender specific through use; or, prescriptively, "guys" is gender specific because it is defined that way and "chairman" is gender neutral because it was defined that way. Internally, I just can't reconcile the seemingly arbitrary mixing of two opposing strategies.

Alternatives for Guys
y'all

If you aren't from the American South or one of the few other places that naturally say "y'all", then at best you look silly using it and very likely it comes off as insulting. If one of those isn't your intention, then probably best to avoid it.

Using They Instead of He (or She for That Matter)

I am one-hundred percent in the camp that "they" can be used for the singular, but it is also used for plural, so if there is more than one person in the hypothetical, then 'they' can become ambiguous. Using "they" instead of other pronouns is viable to do, but it can also be easier said than done, especially since many coders speak code better than they do natural language.

I generally try to rewrite such hypotheticals to be first person, so I can speak as my self (me, I), to the abstract reader (the generic you), and of others (they). This removes almost entirely the need to use any gendered pronouns.

Lastly, I've been using "she" as the default gendered pronoun in my non-technical writings for over a quarter century. What is the argument against default "she" for a (hypothetical) ungendered speaker?

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jcolag profile image
John Colagioia (he/him)

You're trying to argue that we shouldn't worry about inclusive language, because the generations before us didn't worry about inclusive language, and that it can not matter if we restrict our cares to what our predecessors cared about. That seems...ill-advised, in a community that largely all works in a field that literally didn't exist a hundred years ago.

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jayjeckel profile image
Jay Jeckel

I think you might have responded to the wrong comment, because I didn't argue any such thing.

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jcolag profile image
John Colagioia (he/him)

Are you saying that I hallucinated the paragraph with this?

It seems to me that either, descriptively, "guys" can change to become gender neutral if people use it that way and "chairman" should change because it became gender specific through use; or, prescriptively, "guys" is gender specific because it is defined that way and "chairman" is gender neutral because it was defined that way.

Because if I did, my clipboard did, too...

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jayjeckel profile image
Jay Jeckel

No, you didn't hallucinate the paragraph's existence, but if you think it says "we shouldn't worry about inclusive language, because the generations before us didn't worry about inclusive language", then you might be suffering from hallucinations since it doesn't say any such thing.

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LUKESHIRU

Great article, Eevis!

As a non-native english speaker, I initially used "guys" quite a lot because I didn't knew about good alternatives, but for years now I tend to use "folks" and "y'all" (even when gaming, and let's not even talk about the toxic masculinity in games). My native language is Spanish, and it is even worst than English because we have lots of words that change if we are talking about women or men (gender neutral/fluid is not even taken into consideration), and the default for groups is always the masculine alternative, which is ridiculous. Nowadays some folks are using "x" to replace the vowel that makes the distinction between female/male in certain words (chicas/chicos -> chicxs), to make them more inclusive, and that triggers some Neanderthals that see that as "butchering the language" when they use "spanglish" words all the time.

Nevertheless, thanks for putting this article together. Great read!

Cheers!

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Samuel FAURE

I applaud you for your brave stance.

If those comments show anything, it's that most people don't understand how language shape our thoughts.

Quite sad state of affairs.

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link2twenty profile image
Andrew Bone

Just as a language tidbit the word 'pals', in the acceptable list, also is a male centric word, originally meaning brothers, that over time has become gender neutral. Perhaps 'guys' can go a similar way, or perhaps now we're more aware of language and sexism it's too late for the word to drop its gender connotations.

I'm all for changing speaking, and writing, habits to be more inclusive but thought I'd add this just as an interesting point.

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varunpappu profile image
Varun Subramanian

There are bigger problems in this world and I believe fighting over right usage of terms is not going to get us anywhere.
Every gender has issues and new things will keep cropping up always. You cannot please everyone and sometimes it is better to enjoy our life rather than digging up things and over analysing it.
If you donโ€™t like something, say it to the person may be he or she may not know if itโ€™s offending you, as simple as that.

I know itโ€™s a bit out of context but I believe sometimes we are over complicating simple things by overthinking and losing out on happiness.

Cheers.

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jcolag profile image
John Colagioia (he/him)

There "are bigger problems" to you. When someone expresses their pain, the useful response isn't to talk about hypothetical worse problems and defend the people causing the pain. It's 2021; people have voiced how language hurts them, and most of it's backed by research, so stop doing it and apologize when you do.

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varunpappu profile image
Varun Subramanian

I am not defending anyone here. All I am saying is there will always be problems and you canโ€™t keep letting yourself down or get hurt by everything what one or two individuals say.
You cannot grow as a society if you keep fighting and voicing concerns over every single issue. You canโ€™t just keep branching out problems rather than solve the root cause.

In 2022, it will be something else and this will be shelved. Thatโ€™s how the current trend is and again no one is defended here. It is just my opinion.

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jcolag profile image
John Colagioia (he/him)

So, when people tell you and research shows that you--you, specifically, since you are defending this behavior by saying that it's fine--that something is hurting them, you think "progress" lies in ignoring the harm. Gotcha. That's everything that I need to know about you.

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varunpappu profile image
Varun Subramanian

Now what you did there judging me is โ€œOffendingโ€ me. Are you going to apologise or are you going to ignore? Let us see what kind of a person you are now.

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jcolag profile image
John Colagioia (he/him)

I'm describing your behavior. I'm now judging you for trying to defend your behavior instead of examining it. It's 2021; I've stopped caring what misogynists think about me.

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varunpappu profile image
Varun Subramanian

The fact that you donโ€™t want to apologise shows that you are arguing for the sake of it and you are contradicting what you had said earlier.

I donโ€™t want to waste my time with someone who is not constructive enough. Take care.

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psiho profile image
Mirko Vukuลกiฤ‡

As a non native English speaker, I must say "hey guys" never sounded ok. In my local language we use different terma but mostly it's something very similar to "hey team", not just in IT, word team in this context is closer to "friends".

But fireman, freshman,... that's very difficult in my language and I guess in many more. We dont use "man" extension, but we have gender variants. Sorry, my English is really bad for grammar terms so can't explain it properly but we can use fireHE and fireSHE where he/she varies depending on the gender.

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manuthecoder profile image
Manu

Wow! Never really noticed that!
It's such a habit to say "Hey guys" in a team of both men and women

I could say "Hey, team" instead, that's a better option...

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magdapoppins profile image
Magda (she/her)

Thank you for this post and the great suggestions on how to mitigate this issue! There is still a lot of discrimination and "guy culture" in software development, but I do see a change happening and people becoming more aware of these challenges. I can also see how being more sensitive towards gender issues at work allows all people of all genders to be themselves more freely, which has a huge positive impact! ๐Ÿš€๐Ÿ’“

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Sandra Spanik

Hey! Loved reading this. I recently wrote an article about the unintended harmful consequences of the word โ€œblameโ€ in a git context. I fully agree that language shapes the way we think, feel and behave, and gender defaults are a huge part of this.

When I get โ€œyou-guysโ€-ed I struggle to know whether I feel a twinge of upset because I actually perceive the term as exclusive or whether itโ€™s because I know that I should. I think the context matters, it might be okay to use in some contexts (with friends in your personal time), but is harmful in professional work contexts (where it contributes to biases).

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moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

I haven't read all the comments, but in case it hasn't been mentioned, the "-man" in words like "fireman" doesn't come from "man as in male" but is more like something from "human". It's a quirk of English, but it doesn't have its roots in anything gender-y.

It's more like a hypercorrection to change "chairman" to "chairperson" when the "-man" is an unfortunate coincidence, and there's often already a serviceable word for the position ("chair", in this example).

I'm generally less enthusiastic about adding "person" to things because it sounds like you're trying to do something positive while swapping a suffix for a redundant word: everyone is a person. I wouldn't say I'm a "software person" when introducing myself (well, I might, but more like I'd say I'm a cat person, and that's getting off-topic). I'd say I was a software developer or coder or something. That's why "fire_fighter_" works so well, it describes the job better than the original (ask Ray Bradbury to elaborate) and is nice and inclusive.

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jonrandy profile image
Jon Randy • Edited

Well, it is not. It originates from the word "guy," which is singular and means a man

This argument is patently ridiculous. Words develop new usages and meanings all the time - sometimes totally unrelated, or even the complete opposite of the original

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pjotre86 profile image
pjotre86 • Edited

Because you like random screenshots as proof. ๐Ÿ˜œ
huhu

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greenroommate profile image
Haris Secic • Edited

While mostly I agree with you, mainly because I use "hey guys" then have to correct myself, but as well as to saying "he' for a developer automatically.

However there's quite a number of things that anoy me. Pineapple has apple word in it yet for me it's not an apple just as chairmen is not men automatically. English is bad a bit in that aspect but take my language for example. We have mostly gender aware roles, however I dislike it. Professor shuld be gender neutral but in my language there' roughly translated "profesoress" for a woman and "professor" for a man. It's plain stupid as it doesn't contain "man" in it, it's just that things in my language get gender based upon last letters. Car is a she, cat is a she, land is a she, water is a she, electricity is a she, apartment is a he, sea is a he.... You know just plain stupid. So back to English, why would we have too specific words for profession? You want to be more segregated than now, because that's what happens. So in that par I just can't agree. People have to accept some words to be gender neutral regardles of the inclusion of "man". It's too complicated otherwise at least for me.

Also what should I say when I don't know who is in question? I was using he, sometimes she, and tried to use "they". People looked at me like I'm some weirdo. So really asking what's the proper way to not look weird yet be inclusive?

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Jesse Phillips • Edited

I think that there is another way to look at language. Words change meaning over time, as a living language.

Gay used to refer to being happy.

Guy is also a rope for tying down tents.

Many have come to accept or view the use of guy/dude as gender neutral. This to me seems an acceptable way for language to evolve.

I think people underestimate the subconscious nature of one's vernacular. We all grow up in different cultures and learned behaviors. Someone expressing themselves in a means which has no ill intent (and never viewed that way before) is going to have a hard time trying to watch every phrase to ensure they scrub any new offensive words.

I believe that eliminating and replacing words to change a language is a great way to alienate those who may otherwise be supportive. But here is the lucky part, we'll grow old and die and allow a new generation to struggle with this every changing world where so much hate is flung around wherever it can be justified.

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jonrandy profile image
Jon Randy

Nice used to mean 'stupid'
Awful used to mean 'worthy of respect'

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jwhenry3 profile image
Justin Henry

merriam-webster.com/dictionary/guy
it has multiple definitions.
when used plural to describe people, it is not gender-specific.
it also refers to an individual or creature.
It helps to compartmentalize the duality of words, otherwise most words in english are offensive and good luck getting that changed, because no one will really adhere.

Language does change, but not on a whim.

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aarongreenlee profile image
Aaron Greenlee

โ€œHow many guys have you dated?โ€

That might help everyone choose the right words.

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shikkaba profile image
shikkaba

Not really.

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valeriavg profile image
Valeria • Edited

Hear me out.
The sole existence of "man-only-by-default" words is a reminder of how things were and how they should not be. By making these words "gender neutral" instead of "man-only", we allow people to forget about gender of their interlocutors, effectively removing importance from the gender.
While picking up specific "inclusive" words forces people to keep the genders in mind all the time.

"This conversation is for men only", "woman should not do that" - are sexist.
As well as "use special greeting around me because I am a woman", "include more women in this conversation" and "this is not a place for a man" are also sexist.

The only way to fight sexism is to exclude gender out of equasion where it is not dictated by the actual physical differences. The rest only perpetuates the problem.

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Michael Tharrington (he/him)

Really appreciate you writing this, Eevis!

It sounds overwhelmingly to me that you're asking for people to be more empathetic and inclusive with their choice of language. That's definitely commendable!

I'm glad you got folks talking about this subject and applaud you for going there even when you know that "raising these issues sometimes gets even aggressive responses". I think that was a brave move. I also really respect you pointing out that there are lots of folks out there who feel excluded when the word "guys" is used to include women... you're absolutely right there are and it seems like a good idea to encourage others to be empathetic and inclusive when choosing which words they use โ€” after all, there are some great alternative words, y'all! ๐Ÿ™‚

Also, special thanks for sharing the Google Translate Twitter thread โ€” this was such an awesome example of language bias at the intersection with tech!

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Brian C

Part of me does wonder whether guys is in fact gendered.

Despite that, itโ€™s pretty clear that this is the way tech language needs to move. If โ€œguysโ€ makes people feel left out, itโ€™s time to move to more inclusive language, regardless.

When I taught secondary school, I used to tell a true story about the โ€œbest manager I ever knewโ€. I was very careful not to use gendered language when describing their skills and practices, until the very end, when you could hear a gasp when I did gender her. This was something like 30 years ago. We need to move a bit faster.