Perspective | ‘Guys’ isn’t a gendered word anymore. It’s fine to use with everyone. (2023)


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The winter after I graduated from college, I visited a couple living in Rome. The man had a job on a Sylvester Stallone movie, but the woman could not legally work in Italy and had no income. He happily paid their bills and facilitated her work as an artist until their return to the States, where she could start her paid working life.

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She was deeply uncomfortable about the politics of her situation, the dependency. One day she exploded about the term ragazzi, the plural of boys, which also refers to the mixed company of men and women. The feminine was ragazze, which meant girls. To her mind, this exemplified how sexist not only the Italian language was but the Italian culture.

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I saw her point, but I also got the sense that her frustration was related to her unease at what she perceived as her anti-feminist situation. What made language good or bad to her was inseparable from her experience.


English, of course, has fewer gendered words than Italian, but “guys,” our version of ragazzi, is one example of how we, too, often treat the masculine as neutral when gendered options are available. Men and women can both be actors, for example, but only women are actresses.

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You needn’t find yourself in an Italian idyll to be troubled by this dynamic. But there’s a different kind of hand-wringing over language that troubles me. In the past few years, I’ve noticed women — almost always women — apologizing whenever “guys” habitually came out of their mouths. “We shouldn’t say that,” they’d explain after, though they weren’t always sure why.

They may have vaguely understood that masculine words functioning as neutral terms are expressions of a misogynistic social order. They knew that the word was gendered in some way, assuming that it was and always had been the opposite of “gals,” and thus was not inclusive.


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One of the problems with dismissing the word guys as inherently masculine is that it assumes that the gendering of language is fixed — that the meaning we make of things now is the meaning they’ve always had and always will. But clearly that’s not true. In fact, guys comes from the burned effigies of England’s 17th-century would-be bomber Guy Fawkes, which were called “guys,” and then came to be applied to every lowlife fellow, and eventually to males altogether. But by the middle of the 20th century, women began using it too, as a generic, plural form of “you.” In other words, women themselves helped make “guys” gender-neutral.

I’ve been studying how things — clothes, colors, toys, even words — get gendered, and how their gendered meanings change over time. The names Evelyn, Ashley, Vivien and Kimberly, for instance, all used to be considered men’s names. The more parents gave their daughters those names, though, the less comfortable parents of sons felt using them; eventually they passed a tipping point, and they became girls’ names.

Why? Because while it’s cool for girls to cross over into boys’ territories, to wear pants or study science, it’s almost never cool for boys to do the opposite. In the feminist 1970s, the Sears catalogue had boys’ and girls’ size conversion charts in the boys’ section, so girls could shop there — though of course it didn’t appear in the girls’ section, per historian Jo B. Paoletti. But our conception of what constitutes boys’ and girls’ clothes has changed since a century ago, when both little boys and girls wore dresses, but only boys wore pants.


(Video) 'Guys' isn’t a gendered word anymore. Neither is 'Menswear'.

Working as a nurse had historically been the domain of men because it was associated with medicine. In the mid-19th century, Florence Nightingale professionalized it, popularizing it as a vocation for women and noting that, by nature, “every woman is a nurse.” As almost always happens when something is culturally coded as feminine, nurses remain diminished in status compared to doctors. The word tomboy went from meaning “rowdy boy” to lascivious woman to rowdy girl in a century, and eventually became a compliment. Now some consider it too sexist to use.

Meanwhile, some people used to think of pink as a masculine variant of red (and it is still ungendered in some countries). Now that it’s solidified as a girls’ color, not only won’t most boys wear it — nor will some parents buy pink things for their sons — but many girls often reverse their princess phases and go through an I-hate-pink phase around age 6 or 7, when they realize how much the world looks down on femininity.

Very occasionally, something switches from the feminine to the masculine. Computer programming was a low-grade data-entry job when women started doing it in the mid-20th century. Eventually, men discovered that it was difficult enough to be considered “masculine.” Now that 82 percent of computer programmers are men, it’s a highly desirable and well-remunerated job.


One of the goals of my writing and the workshop I do for parents, educators and corporations is to get them to help downplay the hyper-gendering of childhood. “Gender-neutral” clothes, colors and activities have historically meant boys’ things that girls feel comfortable accessing. But because “girly” — both the word itself and what it stands for — is an insult no matter who or what it’s applied to, most boys don’t feel comfortable accessing what’s on the pink side of the pink/blue divide.

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But gender — the meaning we make of sex — is something we impose onto objects, ideas, people and language. We can pull back those impositions, or make new ones. We did that in the 1970s by marketing and conceiving of “boys’ stuff” as safe and acceptable for girls. But we’ve never done the opposite. The way to make all kids comfortable accessing both sides of the pink/blue divide is to make things associated with girls — dolls, dresses, anything pink — ungendered, by normalizing them for boys. We can stop thinking of cooking and child care as “girls’ stuff” and market Easy-Bake Ovens and toy strollers to all kids. We can show children counter-stereotypical images of girls playing with cars and boys with dollhouses, which studies show are effective at opening kids’ minds. Even if we make pink footballs and purple sparkly Legos to try to bring more girls into the fold, we can make boys feel safe using them, too.

Happily, businesses are starting to get this. Old Navy has a gender-neutral clothes line with plenty of pink. The clothing company Primary advertises boys in dresses. Anything can become gender-neutral, if we agree to participate in a cultural project to make it so.


(Video) Is Guys A Gender Neutral Word Now?

The use of “guys” as gender-neutral is as much about privileging the masculine as it is about the age-old pastime of denigrating the feminine. Following my own logic, I should be arguing that we make “gals” the all-encompassing, gender-neutral plural of “you” (though the word started as 18th century English Cockney slang for girls, not the opposite of guys). But sadly, this seems unlikely. In any case, to the great bulk of the population, guys already is gender-neutral and thus inclusive, thanks in part to women who embraced it. Maybe it’s time to set it free.

The battle over language is a battle over belonging, and over who gets to define boundaries and limits. But I think that understanding how and why meanings change is more important than telling people what words they can and cannot say. It’s about expanding language instead of shutting it down, and understanding that one person’s experience of censorship is another’s experience of social justice.

My hope is that we liberate more words, ideas, activities, toys, colors and clothes from any gender category. If we simply make words verboten or taboo, we miss the opportunity to understand that we have the power to change the relationship between gender and language. Language, like gender itself, is not fixed, but fluid.

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Is the word guys a gender neutral term? ›

The English language doesn't offer many gender-inclusive alternatives, like the Spanish ustedes or the German ihr. With no good phrase for the plural of 'you,' the plural term 'guys' ended up evolving into the colloquial alternative to refer to a group of people, regardless of whether group members are male or female.

Can you say guys to a group of females? ›

Addressing a group of people as “guys” isn't gender inclusive. True, the word guys has a gender-neutral sense in of “persons of either sex; people.” But the most common and prominent meaning of the word is “a man or boy; fellow.” ... We don't have many options for second-person plural pronouns.

When did the word guys become gender-neutral? ›

But by the middle of the 20th century, women began using it too, as a generic, plural form of “you.” In other words, women themselves helped make “guys” gender-neutral.

What can I say instead of guys? ›

Alternatives to "guys":
  • All.
  • You.
  • Team.
  • Everyone/everybody.
  • Folks.
  • People.
  • Friends/pals/peeps (informal settings)
Oct 15, 2018

What is the female version of guy? ›

The word is 'gal', and gal is a great word."

Which new word is a gender-neutral? ›

Among the new additions are the gender-neutral pronouns “they” and “themself,” which Merriam-Webster respectively defines as “a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary,” and “now used chiefly in place of “himself or herself” as a gender-neutral reflexive form of they when the reference is to a single person.”

Can guys be used for ladies? ›

Yes. The plural form that is. 'Guys' is gender neutral and can be used to address women or men. Women = > women.

What is the politically correct term for boys and girls? ›

Using words that encompass all genders rather than those that include only two genders is also preferred. For example, use children instead of boys and girls, or siblings instead of brothers and sisters. This important adjustment includes those who may not identify with the gender binary or with any gender whatsoever.

Is it appropriate to say male and female? ›

“Male” and “female” may be appropriate as nouns when the age range is quite broad or ambiguous and everyone in the group identifies as male or female or when used to identify a transgender person (e.g., “assigned female at birth” is correct, not “assigned girl at birth”).

Why are people called guys? ›

In the fires they burned effigies of the Pope, Guy Fawkes and other archenemies of the moment. They referred to the effigies of Fawkes as “guys.” And then some people began to use “guys” to refer to actual people: men of the lowest and most depraved kind. This was early in the 18th century, more than 200 years ago.

Who first used gender? ›

In 1955, the controversial and innovative sexologist John Money first used the term “gender” in a way that we all now take for granted: to describe a human characteristic. Money's work broke new ground, opening a new field of research in sexual science and giving currency to medical ideas about human sexuality.

When did gender become a thing? ›

In the journals of the American Physiological Society, gender was first introduced into a title in 1982, whereas sex had been used since the early 1920s. It was not until the mid-1990s that use of the term gender began to exceed use of the term sex in APS titles, and today gender more the doubles that of sex (Table 1).

What do you call a guy instead of dude? ›

Gender-neutral alternatives for dude, bro, and similar terms

Some similar terms are buddy, pal, mate, champ, and boss.

What is a 2 man slang? ›

“2 Man” is another term for a double date in which the woman wants to bring a friend, and so the man responds by bringing his own friend, as well. “2 Man” might also simply mean a double hookup involving 2 couples. “Two-manning” also sometimes refers to a sexual encounter involving 2 men and 1 woman.

What are gender-neutral pronouns for guys? ›

Non-gendered or nonbinary pronouns are not gender specific and are most often used by people who identify outside of a gender binary. The most common set of nonbinary pronouns is they/them/their used in the singular (e.g., Jadzia identifies as genderqueer; they do not see themselves as either a woman or a man).

What is the female version of a bro? ›

What is the female equivalent of “bro”? 'Sis' is the obvious answer.

What are two gender-neutral words? ›

In order to avoid gender references, one can use gender-neutral terms, i.e. words that are not gender-specific and refer to people in general, with no reference to women or men ('chairman' is replaced by 'Chair' or 'chairperson', 'policeman' or 'policewoman' by 'police officer', 'spokesman' by 'spokesperson', ' ...

What is the pronoun for gender-neutral baby? ›

A theyby (plural theybies) or non-binary baby is a neologism for a baby or child raised in a way that is gender-neutral, allowing children to choose their own gender, and also referring to the accompanying parenting style.

What is the new word for third gender? ›

Other modern identities that cover similar ground include pangender, bigender, genderqueer, androgyne, intergender, "other gender" and "differently gendered".

What is an example of a sexist language? ›

Examples of sexism in language and communications: The generic use of the masculine gender by a speaker (“he/his/him” to refer to an unspecific person). The cover of a publication depicting men only. The naming of a woman by the masculine term for her profession.

Is guys a formal word? ›

Guys is even more informal than folks, and it carries a sense of close connection or friendship. It tends to be used by young people speaking to other young people who are friends or acquaintances, or by an adult addressing a group of young people. Below are some authentic examples of guys being used in conversation.

Why do guys say I'm different? ›

When a guy tells you that he thinks you are different, he is comparing you with all other women he met before or had a relationship with. He spends time with you and he finds distinct and pleasing qualities that makes him want to know you more.

What is the new term for woman? ›

The term womxn is an alternative spelling of the English word woman. Womxn, along with the term womyn, has been found in writing since the 1970s to avoid perceived sexism in the standard spelling, which contains the word man.

How do I get rid of gendered language? ›

3. Do not make gender visible when it is not relevant for communication
  1. 3.1 Use gender-neutral words. Less inclusive. ...
  2. 3.2 Using plural pronouns/adjectives. ...
  3. 3.3 Use the pronoun one. ...
  4. 3.4 Use the relative pronoun who. ...
  5. 3.5 Use a plural antecedent. ...
  6. 3.6 Omit the gendered word. ...
  7. 3.7 Use the passive voice.

What is Novigender? ›

Novigender (adj.) relating to a person whose experience with gender cannot be defined by words. Polygender (adj.) Experiencing multiple genders at once either at once or moving between genders.

How do you greet a non binary person? ›

Greetings that include gender neutral language such as “friends, folks, y'all, you all, and everyone” ensure that you include all employees when saying hello or opening a meeting.

What is an example of a gender sensitive word? ›

Another example of gendered language is the way the words "Mr.," "Miss," and "Mrs." are used. "Mr." can refer to any man, regardless of whether he is single or married—but women are defined by their relationship to men (by whether they are married or not).

Is guy short for anything? ›

The name Guy, it turns out, is the Norman French analog of the Italian name Guido. Apparently Guy Fawkes himself went by Guido Fawkes, back in the day. So, you guys, you rebels you, that's where your name comes from.

What is the full meaning of a guy? ›

: man, fellow. : person. used in plural to refer to the members of a group regardless of sex.

What is the slang meaning for guys? ›

informal. : a weak, cowardly, or ineffectual person : wimp. Don't be such a wuss. acted like a total wuss. I am not a wuss; I refuse to be undone by fear.

What are the 4 main genders? ›

In English, the four genders of noun are masculine, feminine, common, and neuter.

What was the first gender on earth? ›

Genetics Suggest Modern Female Came First.

When did two genders start? ›

Anthropologists have long documented cultures around the world that acknowledge more than two genders. There are examples going back 3,000 years to the Iron Age, and even further back to the Copper Age.

What is the purpose of gender? ›

Gender is of key importance in defining the power, privilege and possibilities that some people have and some people do not have in a given society.

What is gender for Class 7? ›

Gender is the quality of a noun or a pronoun that classifies it as masculine, feminine, common or neuter gender. There are four genders in English Language: Masculine Gender, Feminine Gender, Common Gender and Neuter Gender. Men, boys and male animals are Masculine. Women, girls and female animals are Feminine.

Can dude be derogatory? ›

Dude is in no way derogatory or disrespectful, but is not appropriate in formal speech. It has a counter-culture vibe as it was popularized in 1960's surfer culture. More modern culture in the 1990s say use of dude by Bart of the Simpsons and in "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure".

How to call a girl? ›

Sweet Nicknames for Girlfriends and Wives
  1. Babe.
  2. Love.
  3. Beautiful.
  4. Princess.
  5. Buttercup.
  6. Cutie pie.
  7. Dream girl.
  8. Love bug.
Jun 21, 2022

Can a guy call you dude and still like you? ›

“Dude” is just a word after all, and it doesn't mean anything more or less. It's not a definite sign of liking someone nor is it a clear indication of dislike; it's essentially a sign a guy is comfortable and sees you as someone he can be friendly and maybe even playful with.

What does B mean in texting to a girl? ›

B is an affectionate term for a loved one. It is often times used to address a homie, ya girl, or ya moms.

What is a 12th man slang? ›

Meaning of twelfth man in English. used to refer to the supporters at a game between two teams of eleven players, when they give such good support to their team that they have as much value as an extra player might have: We need the fans to be right behind us as a twelfth man.

What does 3 man means? ›

Three man (also referred to as Mr. Three, diamyo, or hat man) is a drinking game played with two dice. It can be played with at least three people but some consider it better with around five. Three man. Genres.

Can you use he as gender-neutral? ›

The use, in formal English, of he, him or his as a gender-neutral pronoun has traditionally been considered grammatically correct. For example, William Safire in his On Language column in The New York Times approved of the use of generic he, mentioning the mnemonic phrase "the male embraces the female".

What are gender neutral terms for man woman? ›

Intergender: Those who feel their gender identity is between man and woman, both man and woman, or outside of the binary of man and woman. It is sometimes used by intersex people who are also non-binary. Intersex: A person born with any manner of supposed “ambiguity” in terms of gendered physical characteristics.

What are the 4 gender pronouns? ›

She, her, hers and he, him, his are common and more familiar pronouns. Some people call these “female/feminine” and “male/masculine” pronouns, but many avoid these labels because, for example, not everyone who uses he feels like a “male” or “masculine”.

Can you be forced to use pronouns? ›

Intentional refusal to use someone's correct pronouns is equivalent to harassment and a violation of one's civil rights. The Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 expressly prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.

What is the universal gender pronoun? ›

he or she. Linguists point out that the pronoun they is, in fact, a third person singular form widely used in colloquial English when a person's gender is unknown or simply unspecified, tracing the usage back several centuries (Grey, 2015).

How do you greet a non-binary person? ›

Greetings that include gender neutral language such as “friends, folks, y'all, you all, and everyone” ensure that you include all employees when saying hello or opening a meeting.


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