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!