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Is it time to stop using “Guys” to refer to groups of people of all sexes?

Image courtesy of Vox.

Image courtesy of Vox.

People often say “you guys” when addressing a group of people, even when the group is made up of a mix of genders.

However, the term is sexist, conveys a sense of male privilege, and makes some women uncomfortable.

Jenee Desmond-Harris, a reporter at the Vox digital media outlet, interviewed past NASW President Jeane Anastas, PhD, ACSW, and other experts for this article that looks at whether “you guys” should be retired permanently.

“Perhaps the time has come for a consensus on an acceptable general alternative,” said Anastas, a professor of social work at the NYU Silver School of Social Work who has done research on women’s issues and in 2013 organized the NASW forum “Feminization of Poverty Revisited.”

In fact, Anastas says she uses terms such as “colleagues” instead of guys when speaking to mixed groups.

Q: Do you think using “you guys” to refer to all groups is okay or should the term not be used?

The National Association of Social Workers is committed to equal treatment for all, including women. To learn more visit NASW Diversity and Equity website.

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  1. In any situation except a group of friends, “you guys” is much too informal. I recently read a “rant” in the newspaper by a restaurant goer who did not like the server referring to those at the table by that term. If it isn’t a work situation, I use “folks” or even, sometimes, “people” to get the attention of a group… as in, “hey, people, lets walk over here”.

  2. I think that the term “you guys” are more of the 1970’s and the 1980’s. I have no problem addressing a treatment group as people. Terms I like using in my professional note taking are either “client” or “Veteran”.

  3. It is great to read that colleague Jeane Anastas is still pushing back

    I’ve long thought it strange to hear women addressing groups of women and mixed gender groups as “Guys”. I usually use “Folks” when I address groups.

    Sam Conant MSSW LICSW

  4. A lot of the responses to NASW’s facebook post linking to this article are from women writing that they don’t mind the expression because it feels like second nature to them and they might even use it themselves. Or they don’t mind it because it reminds them of their hometown roots and has a cultural/nostalgic meaning for them. I’m a woman from NJ, where “you[s] guys” was overused to the point that I probably wouldn’t even notice if someone said it, so I don’t know what “you guys” would feel like to a woman from a region where this expression isn’t used very often. However, when someone calls me “dude,” my knee-jerk reaction is to feel a little jarred despite knowing that it was said out of habit and that it’s even somewhat of a term of endearment, or at least familiarity. I can imagine that “you guys” might make feel lots of women feel uncomfortable for similar reasons. Not to mention that it’s an informal, grammatically unnecessary expression anyway. As an adult who no longer lives in NJ, I trained myself to say “you” instead “you guys” because I thought it made me sound uneducated, not originally because of the gender implications. Alls I’m saying is, I’ll still find plenty of ways to represent my hometown’s annoying colloquialisms without “you guys.”

  5. words. hmmmmmmmmm? I frequently use the term “folks” in my volcabulary as well as in my writing. But I’ve had editors and reviewers describe it as too “informal” or “colocquial.”

    As an undergraduate pursuing a dual degree in “Family & Child Development” (in the College of Home Economics) and Social Work, I was often the only male in classrooms of 20 to 200. And I was frequently assured by my classmates that I was just “one of the guys.”

    Now, except for my work in the hospital, I have extinguished my use of the term “patient.” Similarly cast aside are terms like “consumers” and “clients” in exchange for the (current) ideal of “participant.” Which I like, as in my vision it establishes us all on an equal basis, professional helpers, indiviuals seeking care & support, families, community members…

    But “guys?” Admittedly it is a word of familiarity & association: and one that I frequently use amongst colleagues and students. “Guys,” ” You guys.” & “Us guys.”

    It flows so easily from my lips. But then, well, I’m a “guy.” (Priviledged on so many levels. is that the point? Damn.)

    See, most of my co-workers, (colleagues & peers) as well as the students (learners) in (my) the classes I facilitate (teach) are female. So, do I diminish their identity when I refer to them as women? (girls, ladies, or… folks?) Come on guys….

    Towards the end of the semester I encountered a group of students walking on campus, and a cheerful, “Good morning, Ladies” escaped uncensored from my lips. Twenty feet on it dawned on me that one of the ladies – each of whom I’d known for several years- had recently declared her, uhm, his, uhm, THEIR (singular) transgender identity. (another coloquialism condemned by editors) And I cringed at my error. The next day, I acknowledged my error with a private appology, only to have the student laugh and say, “It’s okay. I think you’ve always known I was “different,” yet you’ve always treated me respectfully. And I respect that. No offense taken. I’m still trying to figure out the nouns and pro-nouns. Besides we’ve sincerely thought of you as just one of the ladies on more than one ocassion. But thats just amonst us guys.” She, damn, he, was grinning ear to ear as …. uhm, they, uhm(?… damn…) said that. I mean, how can you not just smile sometimes?

    Here’s my point folks (dudes and dudettes) : we certainly need to be attentive to our language, but intent is also important. In the scope of things, sincere respect and compassion will carry us far as we mindfull confront the violence, willful ignorance, poverty, injustice, disease, traumas, hate and intollerance. This discussion my offer some insights to how people think. But lets not get too distracted: we got some awfully big challenges before us. GEB

  6. I dislike being addressed as you guys and occasionally used to respond with “you gals” but the male speaker seemed unmoved. It is insulting to women to include them in the category of “guys” and if women like it that means to me that they have absorbed something like self-hatred to a degree and are “identifying with the aggressor” like a women I knew who complained about “women drivers.”

  7. A fascinating turn here: I appreciate that this is a worthwhile exploration. But I would like to note that what is insulting to one may not be insulting to others. And our personal as well as professional judgements can carry an awful and underserved authority.

    To be clear here, I don’t feel insulted by a recent comment here. Disheatened may be much more accurate. Yes, disheatened. That fits.

    Sincerely I am much more discouraged by an implicit judgement that ones personal comfort with or indifference too such a simple and common phrase might be deemed (and publically pitched!) as a marker of self hatred or pathalogical indentification with ones’ oppressor. Are any of us so all knowing? ( And I’m suddenly recalling an old TV game show where contestants wagered their winning on the basis of how many notes would it take them to identify a particular melody. Sorta like, “I can diagnose that dysfunction based upon one word…”)

    Geeze, So much for treating (or imagining) “each person in a caring and respectful fashion, mindful of individual differences and cultural and ethnic diversity… promoteing clients’ socially responsible self-determination… enhance clients’ capacity and opportunity to change and to address their own needs… ”

    and so much for recognizing “that relationships between and among people are an important vehicle for change” and seeking “to engage people as partners in the helping process”

    Gonna go hang out with some of the guys now and ponder our relationships.

  8. I admit: use it a lot. It’s my age doing my talk. Generally, I try to keep it under wraps but I caught my all female class listening to me addressing them with “you guys…”

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