Why “Guys” Makes Me Sigh: The curse of casual language

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When addressing groups of people as ‘guys’, is that being friendly or could it be everyday sexism? When does our casual language become too casual? Here, writer Toni Hargis tells us why “Guys” makes her sigh….

“Guys, can I have your attention for a second please?” 
“If any of you guys want to join me for drinks later…..”.

Guys! Google this issue and you’ll find a big divide over whether it’s a gender-neutral or an exclusionary word; some people say it’s only gender specific, or exclusionary, when used in the third person – talking about people rather than to people. “The tech guys” conjures up a group of males, and although the tech world is definitely male-dominated, the assumption that there aren’t any females in that cohort is not cool. Some women don’t mind being addressed as “guys” and others ask why you’d need to mention gender at all when talking to a group of people. Others still, point to the fact that if we addressed those same mixed groups as “ladies” or “gals”, the men might have something to say about it.

Whatever your view, since you don’t always know how a mixed group might react, why risk starting off on the wrong foot? Okay, perhaps not with your mates at the pub, but in a professional setting, it’s probably best to find an alternative. It’s also worth remembering that if someone is going to accuse you of discrimination or sexism, it’s often not what you intended but how your words were received that matters. It makes sense to keep your language gender neutral to avoid trouble for yourself and possibly your employer (which in turn, means no Brownie points for you).

So, back to the alternatives. Here’s a variety to choose from depending on your situation and the people you’re with:

Leave it out! – If you think about it, there’s actually no need to use any kind of collective word when announcing something. 
“Guys, can we meet at 10am tomorrow?” becomes “Can we meet at 10am tomorrow?”
“Guys, can I have your attention?” becomes “Can I have your attention please (or thankyou)?”
“I love the way you guys work together” is simply “I love the way you work together.” 
And so on.

Keep the attention-grabber – Many people use “Guys” to replace the more formal “Ladies and Gentlemen”. It’s a way to make sure people are listening before you deliver essential information. However, you can also do this with – 
“Listen up”. 
“Attention please”. 
“Good morning everyone.”
“Welcome everyone.”
“Esteemed colleagues” – if you’re going for humour/silliness. 
“Guys and gals” – if you really want to address gender at all.

Rephrase – Instead of saying “Do you guys want to…?, try:
“Who wants to…?”
“I’m thinking of a cold beer after work today. Anyone else?” 
“Anyone see the latest episode of….?”

Replace – If you really want to sound less formal by using something like “guys” there are alternatives:
“Hey everyone………..”
“Hey team…”
“I’ll speak to the gang about it.”
“If you people wouldn’t mind….”
“Can you all stand over here please.” In many parts of the country “you all”, like “y’all” in southern US states, is a common phrase already. 

In anticipation of the backlash, no – objecting to “guys” is not being nit-picky, or first-world-y, or anything else that is code for “Lighten up, ladies”. Very often the word is what’s known as a micro-aggression which, if part of an overall culture of sexism at work, is just as minimizing as the obvious stuff. As for “Wow – everyone’s offended by everything these days”, just start calling your male colleagues “Ladies” for a day and see how that turns out.

Do you agree with Toni’s view? Let us know in the comments.

Catch up with Toni on Instagram and Twitter.

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