Hey, guys… er, and girls?

Last Wednesday I overheard a rather heated conversation while doing some work in the IB lounge area. It began when a male student approached a group of sitting students (presumably his study group) and said, “Hey guys.” Fairly standard greeting, I thought. It seems as though some of his friends didn’t agree.

“Please don’t refer to us as guys,” said a female student. “It’s unfair.”

What happened next was surprising. The two got into an argument over the use of the word “guys” while the rest of the group looked on in awkward silence. While I don’t remember exactly what was said, I do remember the terms “equitable” and “inclusive” were thrown around. Eventually their argument subsided, and both were left fuming.

I’ve heard about this before—how our language, as an extension of our culture, is structured in such a way as to systematically subjugate women—but I have never seen someone actually take offence. It was clear that the male student meant no harm when he referred to the group (which consisted of several females) as “guys”, but considering this problem with English, was her reaction warranted?

Seeing as I’m a male myself, I’m probably not the best judge of that. I can’t say that certain words make me uncomfortable because their use suggests male dominance—nor can I say I feel more powerful, for that matter. But I do understand where she’s coming from. Men often unknowingly demean women through their everyday choices in the use of language.

Something as straightforward and seemingly positive as paying a woman a compliment (particularly if it’s in regards to her physical appearance) can be marginalizing. The basic idea is that we are stressing the importance of looks in a woman’s life, while simultaneously using the compliment to gain access to her. I would venture that most men who tell women they’re beautiful aren’t doing it with all (or sometimes any) of this in mind, but it does clearly have an effect, however subconscious it may be.

The important lesson to take from all of this is that there are socially constructed forms of male dominance present in how we use language, even though we don’t necessarily see it.

I am, however, at a loss for how “guys” can be understood in this same way. The only reason I can think of is that by using the word, we are only acknowledging the men in the group (or, as with the rules for French ils, are extending the maleness to cover the rest of the group). I suppose this is, in some small way, a marginalization of the women present. But I don’t think it warrants an argument; “guys” is so commonly used, it’s more likely that we just start to understand its meaning differently.

If you think this whole analysis went too far in depth, you may be right. But only then do these problems become visible, short of taking a Women’s Studies course. I hope that someone reads this and thinks twice about what impact their words have. Real talk.


Michael Di Leo


  1. HEY GUYS! This objection to referring to a group of people as “guys” is RIDICULOUS.

    I have had this debate with a number of people and have still not come across an adequate reason to stop(the “I’m not a guy” response is laughable).

    This hypersensitivity needs to go away. It’s no wonder university campuses no longer possess that crucial element of debate and the exchange of ideas.

    People need to 1) calm down with these objections and 2) ignore those fools who, having no other cause, feel it necessary to object to these words.

    If a male calls a female “lady” is he reverting her back to the 19th C.? (I would say no but there are, for lack of a better term, ‘radical’ feminists who object to that word).

    Stop this nonsense. At his rate, referring to a group as “ya’ll” or “folks” will prompt objections from some psycho who sees it as a close association with the Southern states or maybe even urban neighbourhoods.

    While we are at it, don’t call me a man! Men have done some awful things in the past, therefore, you calling me a man is imposing on me associations with misogyny, abuse and Hitler, who was a man (or male for the sensitive out there).

    We’re starting to resmble the Eloi out of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. It’s sad.

  2. Darren calm down..first of all you’re not female so you have no clue what it feels like to be called “YOU GIRLS” or “YOU GALS” all of your life as a MAN. Language does evolve but if singularly GUY is MALE and GUYS is used for MEN only then you can’t also use it for a group of people, that’s what MEN used to be in the past and a lot of people argued against it, now they just changed the form of a masculine term and once again GUYS (really MEN) is used as “all inclusive” give me a break, it’s not, never will be.

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