I’m reprogramming my brain, letting go of the use of guys as a generic term. This is hard. I’ve used guys frequently in conversation. It’s also controversial. I get it – most of us use guys to mean the entire group. And yet…
Guys carries some ugly, old baggage. To me, the term represents outdated hierarchy of language that puts men in the presumptive one-up position and makes others invisible. (For an interesting etymological view of the word, read this.)
Here’s an important point: In my decision to rid myself of this phrase, I am not judging you. I hope that by sharing how I’ve ended up here, you will consider my perspective and not make fun of it. That’s what I ask – respect for my journey. Please do not tell me I’m being overly sensitive or too uptight. What I am trying to do is be more respectful, to myself and to every person I encounter.
Revising speech habits is a slow process. Guys slips out of my mouth more often than I care to admit. (Twice today already!) Even when I do catch myself, I can wind up with an awkward pause or a funny turn of phrase. I am finding the following strategies helpful:
- No replacement word: Instead of “Hi, Guys!” I’m simply saying, “Hi! Good morning!” Instead of “I am so proud of you guys!” I can say, “I’m so proud of you.”
- Professional Context: “These guys have been working hard to solve this problem.” Instead, I could say, This team, This group, This staff, These dedicated employees, My colleagues…
- Social Context: “It’s so good to see you guys!” From the first bullet, I can just leave out guys. Or I could say, “It’s so good to see everyone!” or, “Friends, I’m so glad to see you!” or “It’s great to be with you folks.” There are many possibilities; it’s a chance to practice stretching my vocabulary.
- To a Group of Women: This is the most necessary and most challenging scenario for me. When I address a group of women, I want to do so with the utmost respect because I know first-hand the experience of being made to feel smaller because of my gender. And as with all change in social consciousness, the shoreline is inconsistent. What I mean is that women don’t agree on preferred terms. The use of girls, ladies, gals, etc., is extremely context-dependent. I refer to my “girlfriends.” However, if a leader (of any gender) refers to the “girls” on the team – I am very much NOT OK with it. I am trying to pay more attention.
In the end, I made this decision because I want to be inclusive with my language. I wouldn’t walk into a mixed-gender group and say, “Hey, girls! How are you?” The term guys, for some of us, feels like it makes others invisible. Expect this consciousness to grow. I’m hearing my colleagues discuss the challenges of this term more frequently. So, thank you everyone, for reading this and for your kindness as I try, stumble, learn and try again.