7am pilates class and its all women. Energy is high and the instructor bounces in opening with “Alright guys, ready to kick ass this morning?”
I flinch. My eyes shoot around the room to see if anyone else was instantly deflated but no, not one atom of energy changed in the room except for my own frustration molecules spinning inside me.
Cheekily I ask myself “Who is she talking to? Where are these guys she’s referring to?”
Throughout the class it’s “Come on guys,” “Show me what you got guys,” and "You can do this guys.”
I don’t remember a single move we did in class that day but I left having made the decision to write about this topic and to ask the world:
Why the hell are we still saying You Guys to groups of women, or to groups with people of varying identities?
Important note: I’m not the only person asking this question right now and I’m certainly not the first person to broach the topic. Change can happen quickly when people you know talk about an issue, so this is me flagging the topic and putting it on the table for discussion.
The majority of people I’ve spoken to about this have said one of three things:
“I never thought of that” or “I didn’t even realize it”
“I know, I’m just so used to saying it”
“It’s just a phrase it doesn’t mean anything”
So let’s dive into each of those.
“I didn’t even realize it”
I get it. I said You Guys my whole life until about three years ago.
When I was a kid saying “That’s retarded” and “That’s gay” was acceptable for a long time until eventually it wasn’t. As a society we learned that those phrases were turning people’s intellectual disability or sexual identity into a negative thing.
Those phrases were hurtful and exclusive, and culturally we’ve moved away from saying them.
You Guys may not have a negative connotation now, but it is exclusive.
You Guys is literally referring to a group of men. But we are not all men, and yet we are saying You Guys to groups of people that are not all men.
One of my favorite tools is called the Reverse Test. You take something that is applied to a specific group and apply it to another group to see how it resonates.
Let’s run the Reverse Test here:
What if we said “Hey Ladies” to a group of men? Or Hey Ladies to a group of men and women? Chances are mostly everyone would laugh, or at least stop and ask what’s happening.
So why does it seem ludicrous to say Hey Ladies to men but not Hey Guys to women?
My favorite response was when a guy immediately said it would be “emasculating” to be referred to as Hey Ladies. The definition of emasculating is to “deprive a man of his male role or identity.” Wouldn’t referring to a woman as a guy be just as depriving of their identity by calling them something they are not while ignoring what they are?
It should also be noted that there are many other answers regarding why we have adopted phrases that categorize women under men or remove women from a reference completely but I won’t dive into those here because that is a long, disappointing history lesson in itself (though I still encourage you to learn more about it).
The point is: now that you’re conscious that the phrase You Guys purposely excludes everyone who is not a guy, will you choose to perpetuate it?
“I’m just so used to saying it”
Let’s address this opinion that the phrase You Guys is commonplace and engrained in our vocabulary by asking:
Would you call a science teacher a police officer? Or a dancer a basketball player? No, because they are different people.
A guy is a guy.
Anyone else is not a guy.
Saying You Guys to a group of non-guys is just as wacky as calling a writer a flight attendant.
And the good news is, there are so many other things we can say!
You Two, You Three, You Four, etc.
“It’s just a phrase it doesn’t mean anything”
When I hear this, I ask the person if they are open to hearing other perspectives on the issue.
If they are, I calmly review the reasons laid out in the past two section and then ask what their thoughts are
If not, I simply say that I believe it’s important to know there are other opinions on the subject and if and when they want to learn more I’d be happy to share.
Anyone can choose to keep saying You Guys to a group of women. No one is stopping them, and I certainly don’t want to live in a world with word police either.
My belief its that society will continue to grow and correct itself for it’s previous blindspots. You Guys will get phased out because the wheels are in motion already. People with much broader influence than me are advocating for inclusive language and the younger generation is on board.
My thinking is: would you want to be that outdated person saying things that other people shake their head at or get insulted by? The change train has arrived - why not hop on now?
I still catch myself saying You Guys. I spent 33 years saying it without second thought.
When I do say You Guys I practice saying a different phrase right afterwards to correct it, with “You All” as my easy go-to. When I do this I do notice a chain reaction.
Other people notice and they may ask about it, or they may not. Either way, I feel that as a woman I am refusing to be unseen.
When my husband says You All, I know that he respects me and other women, and that our future children will also respect people’s identities equally.
That is real change, and no matter how many people we interact with on the topic it feels really good knowing that we’re doing what we can.