Friday, April 14, 2006

Don't call me a guy (things that piss me off #97)


There now that I got that out of the way. Calling a mixed group of people 'guys' is basically erasing the women in the group. Male pronouns, etc are the default for people, but are homo sapiens made up only of men? No. When a lone woman is walking down the street do you say 'hey, look at that guy?' Probably not because guy in the singular is considered male gendered, so why does adding an 's' to it suddenly make it gender neutral? Ooooh, surprise: it doesn't.

I know I am talking about the subject that makes men more angry then a lot of the other things that come out of my mouth. (Surprise, surprise). I guess I should be grateful or happy that they're basically calling me a guy. Because it's such a compliment to be called a guy, right? Um, no thanks. Being female I see nothing less or diminished about my gender, and I sure as hell find it insulting that I should not complain when guys call me a guy. (Just do a little experiment: try calling a mixed group or a group of all men 'ladies' or something equivalent. They find it insulting and get really uppity about it. How dare I call them something feminine! How insulting! So why can't I be insulted again? Oh yes, patriarchy.)

Because men have been in charge of creating the language male gendered terms have been defined as 'positive' or 'neutral' and all things feminine have (surprise, surprise) been defined as 'negative' or 'other.' So what? You say-it's only words. Only. Words. Think how silly that statement is. Words define our reality, they are the building blocks for most of our communication. They have meaning and when you use masculine language you essentially erase over half the population, and the patriarchy has made it easy to overlook women. Not that it sees us as fully human anyway. Observe what sociologists say:
The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggests that, as we learn a language, our sense of reality is shaped. Therefore our attitudes of what is masculine and feminine are taught to us mainly through our process of learning a language. Language then stays as part of culture long after its first speakers die, and its changes often lag far behind other social changes.
(From here.)

Still think that I'm grossly misled? HA! I laugh at you, there is so much study on this topic that you telling me that usiing anything masculine as gender neutral makes me laugh. Here's a nice handy dandy example:
If you write with nonsexist language, you write to represent with fairness the gender identified in many words. Gender-fair language minimizes unnecessary concern about gender in your subject matter, allowing both you and your reader to focus on what people do rather than on which sex they happen to be. For example, the practice of using he and man as generic terms poses a common problem. Rather than presenting a general picture of reality, he and man used generically can mislead your audience. Research by Wendy Martyna has shown that the average reader's tendency is to imagine a male when reading he or man, even if the rest of the passage is gender-neutral. Therefore, you cannot be sure that your reader will see the woman on the job if you refer to every technician as he, or that your reader will see the woman in the history of man. On the other hand, replacing every he with he or she attracts even more attention to gender and defeats your purpose. This predicament merits special attention in scientific and technical writing, where any ambiguity is unacceptable. (From here.)

Now change write to speak/write. Words are powerful, the masculine is not gender neutral, and if you call me a guy I may very well scream.


Laura said...

Very good point. Must admit, I never really thought too much about the 'guys'/ 'hey, man' thing until I started doing spanish and found it very bizarre that my female oral teacher referred to me as 'hombre'. Then I realised that we do just the same thing in english. Your post has reminded me to monitor my language and how important this is - I'm always using 'man' when drunk for some reason - no more! x

manxome said...

I often try to use they/them/their when writing and the gender is either unknown, or not only irrelevant to the point being made, but a potential distraction from it. It gets clunky at times, and can slow down the flow of thought. I feel like its use sometimes becomes even more of a distraction because it's just not as common and serves as speed bumps throughout the paragraph. It's frustrating as all get out.

Terry said...

I'm guilty of this one. Even when it's all women, "Hey you guys" just seems to come out. When refering to comments in bulk, I've made a conscious effort to use people, instead.

Maybe I need to shift to the southern Y'all like my grandmother used. That's totally gender neutral.

Coathangrrr said...

So whats a one sylable word that means person? So I can not call people guys anymore.

spotted elephant said...

I hate this, because there's no clear solution. OTOH, since we've used the generic masculine (for how long now?) turnabout is fair play and we should use the generic feminine for everything.

v said...

how about, "alright peeps"

lost clown said...

What V said (Peeps) and folks, y'all (or all y'all). I've been known to call people kids, cats, punks, etc.

I must admit I was guilty of this up until a couple of years ago. And it's a hard habit to break.

hexyhex said...

I'm guilty of using "dude", which is both masculine gender specific, and also bloody stupid.

I have trans friends who use zie and hir to refer to themselves, which eliminates the gender thing, but unfortunately still sounds bloody stupid.

Unfortunately, I tend to be a little hypocritical on this one. It's not unheard of for me to object to how someone refers to me in the context of a debate or argument, but in day to day interactions I'm all "Hey, dude!"


hexyhex said...

Hi, by the way. I haven't commented before. :)

Sam said...

I like "folks" and use it often.

lost clown said...

Ever since I read Woman on the Edge of Time I've tried to work in the word 'per' as a gender-neutral pronoun. It sounds good no matter what tense, etc. (Also I have a friend named Z so i always think that people are talking about her not using it as a pronoun.) I love per.

And welcome, glad to have your comments!

Dubhe said...

For speaking, I use "y'all" and "folks". "Y'all" is especially good because you can refer to a whole bunch of different groups all in the same place with "all ya'll".

For formal-ish writing, I use "s/he" or "him/her" ("they" creates tense and plural problems). Also, I'll use passive voice and refer to the actions or occupations, to wit: "When a problem is encountered, it is the job of the technician to respond creatively." as opposed to "When a technician encounters a problem, he should respond creatively."

It's still tricky, though. I'll try to pay attention to what I do when faced with a "generic he" dilemma next time I'm writing.

Mickle said...

Guilty here as well - I even use it for all female groups. It's mostly because there's no female equivalent to "guy." Like Miss and Mrs. until Ms. was invented, there's nothing that that could mean either a girl or a woman. "Women" sounds too formal for friends and I'm not going to call women "girls" so I either find away around saying anything or use "guys" if I can't. It's lazy and bad, I know, but I'm crap at coming up with new terms.

Although I would like to note that my fellow feminist college friends came up with a funny temporary solution to this. Aquaintances were all women, of course, but friends were "goils." Wouldn't really work outside of our little group though, since most people won't get that it's a joke on all the people who call women "girls."

"Y'all" and "folks" might work, but I'd get weird looks 'cause they'd make me sound like I was trying to make fun of the south. Besides, I'd really like a female equivilent to "guy," not just a gender neutral term for mixed groups.

I'd also like to request a pardon for using "dude" for both men and women since I am very much a California girl. I use dude for everything, least of all as a form of address, and most often as an exclamation. "Dude! Did you see that?!"

lost clown said...

I use man or dude as interjections, like you not to actually address anyone.

I'm working on it.

hexyhex said...

I'd like to state now that to anyone outside of the US, "Y'all" is just not an option.

I'm actually cringing just reading it, let alone saying it. Sorry to all who use it. :(

I was actually thinking about this one last night when one of my flatmates walked into the room and announced to a mixed gender group "Hey, bitches, what's up?" She couldn't figure out why I started laughing so hard. :)

Dubhe said...

"Y'all" is a perfectly good word, everywhere! Universally! Even in Chinese!

If you don't try to sound like a Texan and drawl it out ("Yaaa'lllll...") most people won't even notice you've said it unless they're paying way more attention that they should be.

I should know! I live in Ohio now, where a roof is a ruf and a root is a rut and a creek is a crick, and I still have yet to get a strange look over "y'all". People just think you said "You all" really fast.

...or am I just clinging to an unacceptably anachronism of my upbringing and trying to infect Britan with it to make me feel more normal? Only my hairdresser knows for sure.

lost clown said...

(and Australia). *wink*

Coathangrrr said...

"zie and hir"

My problem with these is that they sound too much like she and her, especially when you're talking fast.

And I thinks Gals could be used for a group of women. But that seems kinda, hmmm, wierd I guess. Too close to girls.

lost clown said...

I'll use 'everyone' sometimes. And gals.

the nut said...

I use "folks", "you all", definitely "y'all" cause I'm all about the south, "peeps",'s very easy to think of some because they have existed for decades now but somehow, somewhere we switched to only "guys".

And yes, I use "dude" way too much but it's usually when not referring to an actul person but when making a general statement, ie. "Dude! Did you just see that?!"

Don't forget to work "retard" and "fucktard" out of your vocab's whilst you are thinking about it!

lost clown said...

I've been working on removing fucktard from my vocab, and I never used the word retard (for obvious reasons).

massmusic said...

I had a female student teacher indiscriminately use the term "guys" when referring to students of both genders. Even after repeated attempts to bring atention to the obvious problem here, it took her 7 weeks to finally make a change. Clearly, it becomes habituated.

Edith said...

I agree, but then I am horribly guilty of this. Horribly.

This is because I am a real live honest-to-god Valley girl, from The Valley, the real one.

I used to call everyone "dude." Is that worse than "guys"? Yeah, I think it is.

I also had a bad habit of calling everyone "gay" until finally my girlfriend had to basically Pavlov my ass so that I can barely say that word out loud in ANY context anymore without feeling sort of anxious.

I still use "retarded" and "lame" and even more frequently, "lame-o" sometimes. It's awful.

I'm just glad that "like" and "y'know" are not considered tools of the patriarchy. At least, not so much.

Shawna S said...

Hello *waves* Here from BlogHer.

I tend to use "hey kids" or "hey ladies" with my friends, but I'm pretty comfortable with "guys". Don't use it as often. Also call my friends, "hon" or "darling" regardless of gender. *shrug*

Y'all just doesn't sound right coming out of my mouth and neither would peeps. Folks works every now and again, but I feel W kinda ruined that one for me.

lost clown said...

Ah screw him. I'm way more of a folk then I am a guy, and it's our word, not his, the jerkfacehead.

Anonymous said...

The word "guy" is a discretionary discription originally used by Jews to demean Christians. Their word in Hebrew is "Goy",which was slanged to "Guy" so the recipients wouldn't catch on to the slur against them.