tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
[personal profile] tim
I wanted to make this a new post rather than responding to a bunch of comments and not having it seen by anyone else. The point of the last poll was not to suggest that anyone is doin it wrong (linguistically), but to ask: why is it that a term that clearly denotes a group of masculine individuals ("guys") can also be "gender-neutral", whereas no term that clearly denotes a group of feminine individuals ("women", "girls", "ladies", &c.) can also be "gender-neutral"?

Why does it work this way? In my mind, one reason is because suggesting that someone is feminine is insulting (certainly if they're a person who would prefer to be perceived as masculine, and sometimes even if not), while people, on the whole, are expected to take a judgment of masculinity as a compliment. Compare calling a woman "manly" -- connoting courage and assertiveness -- with calling a man "girly" or "ladylike". Yes, the first can occasionally be an insult (as Janet Reno or Ann Coulter could probably tell you), but I can't think of a situation outside specifically queer spaces where the latter would ever be expected to be received warmly.

And another reason is that, as Douglas Hofstadter wasn't the only one to write about but was one of the most succinct ones to write about, people who speak my language unconsciously call on the idea of the default version of a human being as male, and women as departures from or variations on that authoritative template.

So, I can't think of reasons to treat "guys" as gender-neutral and "women" (and its variants) as gendered that aren't predicated on misogyny. Can you? And if not, I think we ought to retire such idioms, as language is one of the ways in which we all participate in reinforcing and reproducing some varieties of oppression and in resisting others. Yes, it can be awkward to find other ways to communicate. The nature of oppression is that it makes itself seem comfortable and familiar, and resistance seem awkward and disruptive. But awkwardness in the name of liberty is no vice, and it comes with the bonus of getting to think consciously about how you want to use words to relate to other people, rather than allowing yourself to be told what to find natural or comfortable.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-24 07:26 am (UTC)
ivy: Two strands of ivy against a red wall (Default)
From: [personal profile] ivy
I tend to include by way of subversion -- I'll address mixed-gender groups as "ladies" sometimes rather than dropping "guys". It is particularly funny to watch some of the men in my addressed group who have never thought about the gendered use of collective terminology open their mouths to say something, think about it, and shut their mouths again. [grin]

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-24 07:51 am (UTC)
winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)
From: [personal profile] winterkoninkje
I agree in general principle with your analysis and conclusion, but...

At least in my own idiolect "guys" is not marked as masculine, by default or otherwise. I hinted at this in my comment about the fact that the example sentences would sound fine to me if directed at non-mixed groups (in particular, to predominantly female groups for the pregnancy question). For me, the reason those sentences sound odd is specifically because of the contrast between inclusive terminology referring to the entire group ("guys") vs exclusive terminology that clearly singles out a segment of the group ("testicles", "pregnancy"). It's like mixing up plurals and singulars. And it's not just me. Some dialects of English use "youse guys" as the second-person plural pronoun, where clearly the use of "guys" in no way indicates gender one way or the other.

This counterpoint has to do with the specific lexical item you chose for the example, however. I agree that this default 'generic male' assumption needs to go.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-24 11:38 am (UTC)
redbird: closeup of me drinking tea (Default)
From: [personal profile] redbird
I am tempted to start using "guy" only as a gender-neutral term: that is, stop saying "the guys" when I mean "those two men who are part of this group of four." And bring back "boys" for talking about and to men in groups where women old enough to run for President are called "girls." But I doubt it would gain traction. (For example, I am fairly sure that the coworker who used "your guy" to refer to having seen me in our neighborhood with a male partner would not have used that term for a woman; my hunch is that he was avoiding guessing wrong about whether we're married, but that was definitely gendered.)

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-24 05:29 pm (UTC)
winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)
From: [personal profile] winterkoninkje
I am tempted to start using "guy" only as a gender-neutral term: that is, stop saying "the guys" when I mean "those two men who are part of this group of four."

Sounds fine to me. Excepting of course that I wouldn't've been using it in the context you plan to stop using it in.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-24 10:23 pm (UTC)
luinied: Utena, lookin' at stuff and bein' less weirded out than she could be. (curious)
From: [personal profile] luinied
"boys" for talking about and to men in groups [...] But I doubt it would gain traction.

I don't know, I hear this usage not-infrequently, so you might gain more traction than you'd think. (Of course, I don't know if the people I hear using it are doing so for the reasons you suggest.)

Incidentally, I think I have only one group of friends at present where "guys" is commonly used (in this case as gender-neutral), and it's a group with more women than men.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-25 03:37 am (UTC)
luinied: Losing the short game, winning the long game. (out of it)
From: [personal profile] luinied
I just realized that I do use "guys" more than I thought - specifically, I treat "hey guys" valid for greeting a group of exactly two friends, regardless of gender. An I'm pretty sure this is because of an old TV show that I used to watch. Maybe I should try not to do this so much...

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-24 05:53 pm (UTC)
winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)
From: [personal profile] winterkoninkje
Yes, those sentences are equally unremarkable to me.

But you're ignoring the point I raised about why the sentences proffered in the poll did come across as marked. The reason the sentences were marked in the poll is because you explicitly and precisely asked about their usage in a specific context which precludes their usage. And you'll note that I considered both sentences equally marked for this same reason.

Would you consider it natural to say to a mixed group of people "Since everyone here is married to a woman" or "Since everyone here has testicles" etc? No. But the reason is not because "everyone here" is a gendered term. The reason is because you have on the one hand explicitly addressed every member of the gathering (including both men and women according to the context) and then contradicted that address by only speaking to half of the audience. If you had chosen a term of address which only speaks to an individual in the audience, or to a multitude of the audience, or to a generic or arbitrary member of the audience, then it's perfectly fine to go on to talk only to the men or only the women (or only the blacks, or only the...). However, because you have explicitly addressed every member of the audience, you must then follow it up with something which is speaking to the entire audience or else you will sound strange indeed.

For exactly the same reason you'd never say "Can everyone here pass me the salt" unless you really meant for every single person in the audience to pass you their salts. This is very different than saying "Can someone here pass me the salt". If someone said "Guys, pass me the salt" it would have the entailment that everyone should pass their salts, not just the men, and not just whatever person happens to be closest or most able to fulfill the speaker's salt needs. This is quite different again than if they said "Gentlemen, pass me the salt", "Boys, pass me the salt", "Ladies, pass me the salt", "Girls, pass me the salt", and so on, all of which would entail that only the addressed portion of the audience should be passing their salts.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-24 05:55 pm (UTC)
winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)
From: [personal profile] winterkoninkje
Yes, those sentences are equally unremarkable to me.

In contraindication of your claim that "guys" is clearly not unmarked for me.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-03-24 02:22 pm (UTC)
talia_et_alia: Photo of my short blue hair. (Default)
From: [personal profile] talia_et_alia
I substitute "folks" as a similarly casual, one-syllable, collective noun for addressing a group. It seems to work well for me.

That said, I am having a really hard time restricting my use of "dude" to appropriate circumstances. Sometimes I shift the phrasing ("Yo, what the hell?") but it's not a tidy solution.


tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

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