On Wednesday night, on the train to Boston with two of my CUNY classmates to NCHC (more on that in an upcoming post), Patryk Perkowski asked me if it was okay to say “you guys.” Despite my frequent feminist writing and ranting, I had never really considered the question – and I myself, use the phrase “you guys” all the time. Feeling a bit flustered, I hedged, and said while I believed in the importance of recognizing and correcting the way patriarchy is perpetuated and internalized through language, perhaps the convenience of “you guys” trumps the need to correct this “sexist” language.
Liz Kelman quickly called me on my bullshit, pointing out that once people make the effort to change these linguistic habits, it actually is pretty easy to maintain the change in the long term. She also pointed out that arguments regarding “convenience” for individuals feed a false idea that one person can’t make a difference.
I knew she was right–I made the decision to refer to my partner as such (instead of boyfriend) recently, and now, for the most part, when I’m referring to him “partner” just rolls off my tongue. I quickly googled something along the lines of “feminism saying ‘you guys’” and found this great article on how “One Seemingly Benign Phrase Makes a Man Out of All of Us.” I highly encourage you to read the article, especially if you’re skeptical about why we shouldn’t say “you guys” to refer to gender-mixed groups, but to summarize:
“Most of us are familiar with the idea of internalized oppression, the subtle process by which members of disenfranchised groups come to accept their own lesser status. We need to recognize that accepting “guys” as a label for girls and women is a particularly insidious example of that process.”
As author Audrey Bilger writes, many people–feminists included–are resistant to stop using the phrase; they insist “guys” has evolved to be gender neutral and/or will eventually have fully evolved into a gender neutral term. And, there’s also a reason it’s become common: it “seems so warm and cozy.”
But I agree with Bilger, and upon reading the article, I made a commitment to stop saying “you guys.”
So for the past two days, I’ve been trying to keep to this commitment – with fairly poor success. Not only have I said “you guys” without thinking about 800 times, I’m not even catching myself doing it! Thankfully Patryk has been calling me out with a snarky “WHO?” everytime I say it.
There was one moment last night when something in my unconscious made me say “y’all” instead, and as soon as I said it, I was thrilled! (Who would have ever thought I would be excited about saying y’all?)
Bilger wrote that it took her almost a year to eradicate it from her own speech, but hard as it is, I’m going to keep it up. Anyone joining me?