Here’s a little something MRP came across the other day in Jan Freeman’s excellent column. In “When Girls are ‘Guys’: News from the Battle Over You, Plural,” Freeman takes a stab at making sense of the debate over whether using “you guys” to refer to a group of girls or women is sexist.
Some of the naysayers are objecting, at least partly, to the informality of “you guys.” But even people who don’t mind that — and who address women friends as “you guys” — are still debating a deeper question: whether that usage, which has been increasingly common since the 1940s, is sexist.
This question has been simmering for a while. Twenty years ago, the New York Times published an op-ed article arguing that including women in “you guys” was just like subsuming them in the generic “man” and “he” of textbooks: It treated women as a subset of men, not as equals. . . .
Sexism is not the motivation for “you guys,” of course. Scholars generally agree that it’s simply an attempt to fill the hole left in English when we abandoned the singular thou and thee.
Having attended a women’s college, where the students were sent into absolute fits over being referred to as, say, chicks, this interested me. Nowadays, while I will edit a sentence that comes across my desk employing “fellow” (as in “fellow editors”) or “man” as a verb (as in, “they manned the table”), in speech, I regularly use you guys as a plural form of you.
It’s not done completely without a second thought, but what’s the alternative? You gals or you girls, if it’s a group of females? You hes-and-shes, if it’s a mixed group?
Anyway, I mean, it never bugged me as a kid when Rita Moreno used to shout it on “Electric Company.” So . . . what do you guys think?