Monday, July 14, 2008

Am I Being Insensitive?

This week I am volunteering as a facilitator at a camp for youth interested in conflict resolution. The camp focuses on fostering helpful dialog between and among those with widely differing viewpoints. The primary areas of difference are gender, sexual orientation, and faith tradition (there are Christians, atheists, Muslims, and Hindus at the camp). It was a very cool experience today. I love getting to know people with whom I have very little in common. I almost always find it interesting, enlightening, and helpful.

That being said, I got a little annoyed at the end of the day.

The facilitators were debriefing. We were discussing what could be done to improve tomorrow and what went well. One lady said she had a complaint. In this context with Christians, Muslims, LGBT people, athiests, etc. her biggest problem... the use of "you guys" when addressing the large group. She said she did not feel included.

Now, I consider myself to be a fairly consistent feminist. When it comes to language, I adopt as gender neutral a tone as is possible in English in my academic writing. I usually go back and forth between "he" and "she" as the subject of a sentence if the subject is gender neutral. I also would love to see the English handbooks adopt a truly neutral substitute for "he" or "she."

However, never have I thought of "guys" as a masculine word. I have always heard it used to refer to a group of people whether all male, all female, or some combination of the two. I will grant that there is a huge chance the life experiences of this woman make something like this way more offensive than I could ever imagine. But, I just don't get this particular issue. It almost felt like she was making up something to have a problem with. Am I being insensitive?


Anonymous said...

"Guys" is totally gender neutral and people who get worked up about it are extremely annoying. Sometimes I'll call an obviously female baby "little guy" and the mom'll tell me it's a girl and I just want to be like, "No shit she's a girl! It looks like Barbie puked on her."

Kate said...

Not that I'm worked up, but it's obvious that men are not women, boys are not girls, and guys are not gals. There is no need to mark the default person as a man/boy/guy. As I noted in my post, the reverse reveals the absurdity of this line of reducing all people to a generic "he". I'm contemplating intentionally (and incorrectly) using a generic feminine term as a matter of principle, to draw attention to this ridiculousness. Rob, Quinn, are you gals OK with this?

Tree said...

"Guys" can no more be gender neutral than "he" can be. There can be more or less acceptance of either as a neutral term, but that does not remove gendered history or connotations. If a man were to say he felt uncomfortable being referred to as a gal, most of us would knowingly nod and say, "of course." If a woman were to say she were uncomfortable being referred to as a guy, most of us would say... too bad? I hope not.

Quinn said...

Crankosaur - clearly I'm a sexist bastard and your sarcasm was needed and helpful.

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