There is a movement to remove all forms of generic-masculine language from the American vocabulary. If you are like me, the term “generic-masculine” was something I had to look up. What it refers to are words and phrases that are used generically to address a group of mixed-gender (male/female) as a whole in a generic way, for example Mankind. “Man” is a gender specific – masculine – word, but mankind is a generic – masculine – term that refers to the human race as a whole. The word “Mankind” has already departed the American lexicon for the most part, replaced by words like “humanity,” with the notable exception of famous quotes like Neil Armstrong’s “One small step for man, one giant leap for…” Humanity? That just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Although, the words humanity, human and for that matter, woman, all have the masculine word, MAN, in them as well, but I digress…
The latest target for gender neutral speech is the phrase “You Guys” or as my wife says, “You’s Guys” – it’s a Jersey thing. The thought process goes something like this… Use of the word “guys” as a generic reference to a mixed-gender group apparently is an acknowledgement and reinforcement of a male-dominated society and therefore diminishes gender equality. Vox.com picked up the story of a new tech start-up, called npm, and their blog about starting a “Guy Jar.” It works the same way as the good old fashioned Swear Jar, if someone was to “accidentally gender something [that should be] gender-neutral [like saying ‘you guys‘] or misgender somebody [I’m at a loss to explain misgender]” they put a dollar in the jar. The Vox.com article starts out poo-pooing the idea of eliminating ‘you guys,’ but later in the article, upon further review, wholeheartedly endorsed the idea. The writer cited several “experts,” who lay out the case in support of emasculating the American lexicon.
“Now I’m convinced that “guys” — unless we are actually addressing a group of guys — has got to go.” said Vox.com writer Jenée Desmond-Harris
Jeane Anastas, a professor of social work at the NYU Silver School of Social Work whose research focuses in part on women’s issues, said “Whatever Webster’s dictionary says about the plural ‘guys’ [‘used in plural to refer to the members of a group regardless of sex’] and despite the fact that I sometimes catch myself saying ‘you guys’ to people of all genders, ‘guy’ is a gendered word.”
“That very fact — that it’s gendered —is true whether or not we’re thinking about reinforcing male privilege or alienating women or promoting sexism when we say it,” said Jenée in her article.
This gender-neutral semantics conversation gave me an unexpected opportunity to inform my wife that she is in fact “sexist”, but as luck would have it, I AM NOT. How does that work, you ask?
Well, when it comes to gender-neutrality, it turns out that people raised in the South, such as in Texas like myself, are already way ahead of the curve on this one. As I said, my wife is from New Jersey where the local colloquialism is “you’s guys,” however in Texas and much of the South, the local colloquialism is “Y’all” and “Y’all” as it turns out is already gender neutral in both the singular – “Y’all,” and in the plural – “All Y’all.” Who would have guessed that we Southerners would be leading the way on the latest feminist battlefront in the struggle for gender equality. Coincidentally our little Southern drawl, Y’all, is also appropriate for transgender and gender-ambiguous folks as well.
If this gender neutral crusade continues to catch on, we could definitely see Y’all becoming the standard nationwide, or even worldwide. Someone pointed out that instead of saying ‘you guys’ we could just say ‘you people’ but that already has a negative racial connotation, “What do you mean by, YOU PEOPLE?” So, irony strikes again in that not only is Y’all gender-neutral, but it is also racially sensitive.
Who’d a thunk that all of this inclusiveness and equality would be coming from such an often maligned and ridiculed Southern slang word.
Well, Bless Y’all’s Hearts, it’s about time y’all caught up with us here in the South.