“You Guys” and the Rhetoric of Implied Inclusion? – Hidden Power of Words Series, #16

A couple of days ago I had a conversation with a Facebook friend and colleague, Professor Eric Anthony Grollman (check out his webpage and his collaborative blog, Conditionally Accepted). He had a post suggesting that we all needed to stop using “you guys” when speaking to a group of Men and Women because “you guys” was exclusionary. At the time, I was intrigued but kind of dismissive. I suggested “you guys” included both every one and intended no offense. 

I’m sure that me having this reaction is surprising given my track record! 😉

But, this notion has remained on my mind. I have previously written about such negative aspects when it comes to what I call the rhetoric of implied exclusion here in reference to early Texas History and here in reference to an image about cleaning in the postwar culture. Let me give a quick example from my 2010 MA Thesis. At the University of Houston (and at other institutions across the nation) through the early 1960s, it was so assumed that non-Whites would not be admitted it did not need to be stated. Looking at the rules for admission: where clauses said anyone and everyone is welcome, “anyone and everyone” meant except people who were (racialized as) Black. Similarly, with the Declaration of Independence: “all men are created equal” automatically meant “all [rich, White, cis-]men are created equal.” It did not needed to be stated. All of this is because of the rhetoric of implied exclusion (although, they certainly wouldn’t see it as exclusion.) 

So, in the case of “you guys,” as popularly used, many would say it does include Women. This would be an example of what I call the rhetoric of implied inclusion. But, as I have been thinking about this the past few days, I can truly see how that “you guys” is problematic because we are still dealing with the implied. Given the history of sexism (and the status quo), we need to jump on every opportunity we can to specifically include Women and Girls. Additionally, “you guys” functioning as a generic pronoun further privileges and perpetuates males being superior and the default. And, I can guarantee that most audiences of Men would not respond positively if “you girls” was used instead. 

In other places, I have insisted that I will use “actresses” (considered sexist by some) because I will use every opportunity available to specifically and explicitly recognizing the public presence and accomplishments of Women.

Will people stop using “you guys”? Certainly not. But I can. You can, too. Language, world choice, and rhetoric matter.  

Please check out other articles in the Hidden Power of Words Series!


Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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3 replies

  1. I would like to look at the etymology in regional, not assuming a national. For example, from my northern cousins are more likely to use “you guys” (and even “yous guys” friends in upper state of New York). In other words, I wonder how Texans see this as the ubiquitous. We need to look at DARE, for example, to be more precise of the colloquial form.

    One notice about we can’t use “you girls” for the collection noun group, note that when we do that phrase, it’s a diminish, to criticize our testosterone. But I’ve always felt it was also the childhood stature of the woman, more most than the “the boys.” When referring to “boys,” we have some assumption of baseball major players or amateur bar drinking — both here are adults reflecting their pastime, so the “guys” contrasted with “girls” are seem to be more mature, don’t they do?

    “Guy” as etymology, remember, is to a primary reference to Guy Fawkes — so though he’s a rebel [sic], is in fact a “manly” one who was control of his subject. If that is relationship, then, “you guys” may have some restore [also Scots “restorance”] of masculinity more than just a collective plural noun.

    But, if the etymology is doubtful, the possible of girl > gyrle (OE) which may be non-sexed, whereby the “the girls” may in possibly mean could refer to a collective noun. So, could we try to reference to groups as “the girls” without the irony of masculine?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Andrew, thank you for making this discussion public. Great food for thought! We shouldn’t need to turn to the “opposite” for evidence that this is problematic, but if I may… “hey girls” would never thought to be appropriate for a group of men. It would actually be insulting to most men. Why, then, are we so comfortable referring to a group of women as “guys”? It would seem strange to refer to an individual woman as a “guy.” I know to some this seems like a little issue, but I disagree; yet another instance of erasing women — in this case, in language — is not a small issue. Perhaps we can at least agree it is a “small,” everyday manifestation of the larger issue: misogyny.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank YOU for asking the question! I’m sorry I was immediately on board with its importance. I really like your example of it being clearly inappropriate to refer to one Woman as a “guy.” Language is such a funny thing!


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