“Hey guys” and other gender-bending language

gender bending robot
Image Credit: Pablo GutiƩrrez

When I was a high school teacher, I tried very hard to avoid the ubiquitous “guys”.

“Alright guys, listen up.”
“I need all you guys to put your lab equipment back up at the front once you’re finished.”
“Attention up here guys.”
“What did you guys think about….”

“Guys” are male. Half of my classes weren’t. So instead I tried to use gender-neutral alternatives.

“Alright everyone, listen up.”
“I need each of you to put your lab equipment back up at the front once you’re finished.”
“Attention up here folks.”
“What did you all think about….”

Gendered language like this is so commonplace it’s easy not to give it a second thought. Other non-gender-neutral language is more thoughtfully shifting, as roles that historical may have been filled by one gender are much less homogeneous today.

Stewardess–>Flight Attendant

Policeman–>Police Officer

Chairman–>Chairperson

And then there are the phrases like “men at work” and” manpower”. Somehow “personpower” doesn’t have the same ring to it though. (And spell check doesn’t like it either).

I don’t think it’s being oversensitive to want to change the way we genderify language. (I totally just made that word up.) Rather than be an outspoken activist about it, I just infuse language into my conversations. Repeating a gendered phrase back with ungendered words, for example.

“That waitress was such a wench.”

“Yeah, the server was totally rude to us.”

Is speaking with ungendered words important to you? (For me yes). Or does it even matter? (For me yes).

Can gendered language create barriers? (I think so). Or am I just being overly PC? (I say no).