Shut Up, ‘Guy’ Is A Unisex Term

(wow, two straight posts with a word in inverted commas in the title)

Forgive me, if I use a diagram to illustrate my point here, an idea perhaps unusual for someone who likes using words for things, but I think this is a pretty apt indicator of what I’m talking about:

Woman           Man
|                      |
Girl                  Guy
|                      |
Girl                Boy

Now, this clunky, formatted-on-WordPress-because-I-can’t-be-bothered-to-do-it-in-Gimp thing clearly shows, to me at least, the different words we use to refer to men and women of loosely different age groups (also sorry that this post is only focussing on those two genders, but they’re the two genders I feel most comfortable writing about), that children are “boys” and “girls”, adults “men” and “women”, but there’s this weird middle ground I’m not sure how to cross in normal conversation.

For instance, I’m eighteen, and would consider it a bit demeaning to be referred to as a ‘boy’, outside of the endearing, manly world of going to Powerleague where the shout ‘come on, boys!’ is perfectly fine, but don’t think I’ve done enough adulty things, like living alone for a period of time, buying a house, paying bills, or other actual, real-life responsibilities, to deserve the male adult title of ‘man’, which I guess I associate more with mature actions, like an achievement to be won, than arbitrary age.

So what do I call myself? Well, “guy” seems to be the least irritating choice – much prefer to be called “a guy” than “a man” at this point in my life. But what about for women? I’ve seen women of a similar age to me, who have also not had any particularly adulty responsibilities, be referred to as “girl”, and refer to themselves and female friends similar to them as “girls”, which confuses me slightly because I wouldn’t like to be referred to the male child equivalent, “boy”, in that same way.

Which means that “girl” must serve to referential functions, for female children, and female young adults who aren’t comfortable being called a woman yet. And, briefly, this pisses me the frak off.

I know that there’s an argument here for me being too much of a bullshit pedantic feminist on this one, and the fact that women comfortably use this system with no discontent may suggest I need to stop sticking my nose in where I don’t understand what’s going on, but I don’t like the idea that women can be colloquially called “girls”, a childish term suggestive of innocence, dependence and, if you really want to push it, purity, somehow unmarred by the shitty adult world, and free to watch My Little Pony and have egg-and-spoon races or whatever kids do these days, which has obvious sexual connotations too.

The reason that I’m drawing attention to this is that I think a lot of the gender-based problems we have in society these days operate on an individual level, instead of an institutional level. Of course women still get a shit deal in almost every industry and workplace, but at least women can have jobs now; I’m not saying we need to stop pushing for greater equality in the workplace, but everything from GamerGate to Dapper Laughs to that woman walking in New York for ten hours shows us that while some progress has been made in removing sexism in institutions, comparatively little progress has been made in reaching individual people, for whom gender roles and expectations are so entrenched that it’s become part of the lexicon, where young men are casual, friendly “guys”, while young women are naïve, silly “girls”, a distinction most of us probably make without even realising it.

I also don’t think this is getting too nit-picky on this; our words are both representations of our opinions, and influence our opinions, creating a two-way system of influence between thoughts and words; look at Jim Crow laws in America, where the relentless use of words like “negro” and “colored” were intended to use repeated divisive language to make people think that actually, yes, those people are somehow different to use – we’re white and they’re colored – and should be treated the same. It’s the same for gender roles, that if you keep referring to half the population as if they’re immature and in need of looking after, you’ll eventually form the opinion that you’re doing the right thing in talking to that woman, and inviting her to your place.

My solution has been to use “guys” for everyone, individuals and groups of people – which has led to some people assuming I’m always talking about men, which just annoys me even more because I’m actively trying to not bring gender into stories about what I’ve been getting up to at uni – which might seen impersonal to some, or too personal to others, but I don’t really care. This way I won’t be belittling anyone through words because of their gender, or making a decision about who deserves to be called a “man” or “woman”, and who still behaves like a “boy” or “girl” despite being 21, when it’s not my place to make one.

Hope at least some of that made sense – I’m writing this in my “break” from today’s story so my mind might be fried – and I’ll see you guys tomorrow.

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10 thoughts on “Shut Up, ‘Guy’ Is A Unisex Term

  1. You have a very interesting take on things. I agree, the way females are called girls when they are technically women or in that in between age grates on me a little bit as well. I don’t want to use the term guys though. I know that in a variety of languages groups of men and women usually take on the masculine pronoun but i don’t want that.
    You refer to the negative connotations of the word ‘girl’ and that it often implies ‘silly’. I agree. However rather that stop calling females in that in between age ‘girls’ I want the connotations to change. Girls arent actually silly, they are clever and capable.

    1. I agree – the best solution is to change those connotations, rather than ignore them. I thought that ‘guys’ was a simpler term to use, one that has fewer gendered connotations to begin with, rather than using ‘girls’, which has more gendered connotations, and that I’d feel obliged to follow up by explaining in great detail exactly which connotations I was and wasn’t intending to imply. Guys is just easier in individual conversations, I guess, even if it’s not a valid long-term solution.

      And I’m using ‘guys’ because its the closest thing to a genuinely ungendered term we have in English – I know the thing you’re talking about that other languages do, and it pisses me off no end, so I try to avoid it. Sadly, ‘guy’ has more masculine connotations than I’d like it to though.

      1. Yeah I totally understand your frustration. I have taken to using people or they although more often than not I accidentally use guys anyway. Language is so important and so hard to change!

        1. Especially in European languages with gendered nouns. Like why on earth is ‘bedroom’ in French feminine? Aren’t I allowed a bedroom? Is my bedroom less valid than a woman’s? It just creates division at the point of language, which creates division at the point of ideas that are behind that language.

          And yeah, individuals can’t really change language :/ We’ll have to invent immortality quickly so we can see if the world is any better in like a hundred years time.

  2. ‘Girl’ doesn’t really have negative connotations for me, but on the other hand, I refer to most people of the male variety as ‘boys.’ (Sorry…) For me, the words don’t imply dependence, just youth. Maybe we’ve had different experiences with the word?

    I love your site, by the way!

    1. I hadn’t really thought about it until I saw a women’s rugby game where the ref asked the players if they preferred to be called ‘girls’ or ‘ladies’ before kick-off, and I suddenly realised there’s a difference in meaning there that I think is less emphasised with male words – would a ref have asked if they preferred ‘boys’ or ‘men’ in the same way, I wondered. But I could be reading way too far into it!

      And thank you, for both reading this and commenting on it!

      1. That’s really interesting, because I actually kind of hate the word lady, when it’s not used in a historical context. A lot of people seem to use it as a substitute for something else, if you know what I mean–especially during road rage incidents. It can also be very condescending, IMO.

        And no, you’re right, the ref probably wouldn’t have asked guys that!

        You’re welcome! Thanks for writing.

        1. The problem with language is that it means different things to different people – lady can be indicative of rank, of age, or used as an insult. If we could separate factual connotations of words – like lady referring to an older woman – from their personal ones – lady being intended to offend – it’d probably be a lot easier to, like, talk to each other and stuff.

          We would have like a bajillion more words in our language but it’d be worth it!

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