"When girls are 'guys'"

Rikki Endsley

ROSE Blog: Rikki's Open Source Exchange

Jun 16, 2008 GMT
Rikki Kite

Our editor in chief, Joe Casad, and I once had a heated discussion about using he/she, he, she, or 'they' when we were referring to a singular gender-neutral person. I thought that if the article's author is male, we should use he, and if the article author is female, we'd use she. Joe thought that we should use they, even though it's technically plural, because they is now commonly accepted as gender-neutral and singular.

Finally, we agreed that we'd use "they" until the English language miraculously resolves this gender issue, but I put my foot down on ending sentences with prepositions. I don't care how acceptable that has become, it still makes me cringe when I see it in print.

Jan Freeman wrote a piece called "When girls are 'guys': News from the battle over you, plural" for Boston.com. The article is about using the term "guys" when addressing a mix of men and women. Frankly, it doesn't bother me and I'll happily accept "guys" as a gender-neutral term. "Guys" is just a friendly, welcoming, casual word that makes me think of potato chips, and what's not to like about that?

Of course, I don't speak for all the women/ladies/chicks/girls out there. I know plenty of women who hate being called girls, whereas being called a woman is less appealing to me than being called a girl. (Maybe it's because my daughter calls me "woman" instead of "Mom" when she's mad at me... )

Using "guys" might not be the perfect solution, but I think it's a much better option than the more inclusive "guys and gals." Any other suggestions?


  • Mix it up

    I will sometimes alternate between he and she in the same article, if it is long enough. Otherwise, I will use "he / she" or "one". There is no easy solution to this problem in English.
  • Guys and Gals

    Shakes head in disbelief of the youth of today.
    'She' is the feminine form of the pronoun. 'He' is both the masculine and the unmarked gender form of the pronoun. If you know the subject is feminine you should use 'She', all other cases 'He'.
    Having said that words change in useage and we can no longer say 'Fräulein' and I suppose the English equivalent 'Miss' will be dropped soon. I cannot see the French dropping 'Mademoiselle', or the Italians dropping 'Signorina' as they are always said with love. All were meant to be a compliment.
    Now we are all Frau and Ms.
  • "Hey you guys"

    I agree with you about the usage of "guys" to mean everyone -- male and female alike. I don't mind it and use it myself. I think the gender neutralism is an Americanism, other English speakers tend to make it gender sensitive.
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