Photo: NOGRAN s.r.o.
Do you use “guys” as a general pronoun for both men and women? If you’ve ever wondered whether that’s ok (if you are in fact speaking to a mixed-gender crowd), here’s Will from Los Angeles writing into the January 12th podcast With Friends Like These to ask “Do you think the term guys has reached gender-neutral status in the language today?”
Ana Marie Cox, the host of the podcast, invited Jamil Smith, a contributing opinion writer for the L.A. Times to discuss Will’s question and whether “guys” is universally acceptable nowadays. Their discussion (which starts at about 51:00, though the first part of the podcast, on politics, is terrific too) is an interesting breakdown of why language matters, what our default assumptions are, and how we can steer the course of social progress with the most minute corrections.
Here’s the most actionable part of their convo on “guys”: Cox has set an autocorrect on her computer and phone to change guys to folks. She did it to force herself to think about whether she really does mean “guys”: Is she writing an email to an all-male group of colleagues? Or is she talking to an all-women group?
And to take it a step further, Smith points out that even if you are addressing all men, should you be? Perhaps, he notes, one should consider why your panel is all male (or why your colleagues are all male). And if you’re thinking about this one little thing, you’re hopefully also thinking about all the bigger things too.
This sort of tiny examination forces the writer to consider what we assume is the default, and how whiteness, maleness, heterosexuality, and ability tend to be centred in our culture. It’s a useful, though tiny, exercise in remembering that not everyone you deal with is going to be the default. Cox even coins a new term, a “micro-justice,” a small thing that someone can do to correct a tendency to put whiteness and maleness front and centre.
Now, if you want a interesting perspective on whether gendered language matters, a good Twitter account to follow is @ManWhoHasItAll:
"I'm not hung up on the generic label 'Chairwoman' because I know it covers both women and men," Toby, male Chairwoman, age 56. Very sensible mate.
— manwhohasitall (@manwhohasitall) January 9, 2018
So is this all overthinking things? Funny, they address that too! Smith says, “Taking a second to consider gender pronouns and how we centre maleness isn’t overthinking, it’s just thinking….The idea that somehow that might be overthinking things – we don’t get anywhere further than we are now. That’s a recipe for the status quo.”
Want a little reminder to consider your language and whether it’s inclusive or not? Set your autocorrect to change guys to folks, or some other term that works for you. As Smith says, “It doesn’t require that much energy or cognitive ability to consider someone else’s perspective.”