Posts We are not all guys, we are not all he

We are not all guys, we are not all he

I have to warn you, if you don’t already know the issue with “guys”, you are about to, and this will forever change you. This is an outburst that many women and non-binary people might relate to, and I ask for the men who found this to continue reading and empathize with the cause.

So, what’s the problem with “Guys”

tl; dr;:

Well, the problem is that “guys”, is not as inclusive as you think. People who aren’t men can feel excluded when addressed as “guys,” even if that is not the intent. And, from the moment you (especially if you are not a man) realize this, forever you’ll feel discomfort when people say the two words “hey guys” (and all its variations). The problem is even worst when we have it in the singular form. Recently I heard “I will take this to the RD guy”, but I was the RD person, me, a woman, and the person who said it knew that. It bothered me. And we see this kind of thing every day.

The solution

At a glance, the solution is simple: replace guys with other words, or get rid of that for complete. “Hey guys”, can become “Hey folks”, “RD guy” can easily be replaced by just “RD”. And in the cases where you want to specify a group, why not replace “RD guys” by developers?!

The difficult part here is that we are used to these sayings, and changing them requires a mental effort and some attention. Kate Gregory goes deeper into this issue, even pointing out that “people” also means “men” in her post Thoughts about “guys”, which I highly suggest you read. In there she concludes:

The hard part isn’t figuring out how to reword the sentence to avoid the word guy or guys. The hard part is breaking the habit.

What about the “he”?

How many times you heard or read something like:

Each user of the program will input his login and password.

Notice anything strange? I’ll point to you in case you missed: We are using “his” as the pronoun for “user”, even though we want to be generic. This happens a lot, and if you are not a he, you’ll probably notice that already.

The solution

You could rephrase your sentences saying “he or she”, or “his or her”, which is a much better option, but something that has been gaining some space in the English language, is the use of the singular they. The singular they, as the name suggests, is the use in of the pronoun they or its inflected or derivative forms, as a gender-neutral singular pronoun. I’m extremely pro the use of the singular they, but there might be some public that dislikes it, so its usage is not well established yet. If you feel this is the case of the public you usually speak to, there are alternatives still.

In the article of Gender-neutral Technical Writing by Tech Whirl, we have several suggestions on how to have a gender-neutral vocabulary, without butchering the language. Here are a few examples:

  • Bypass the problem of gender whenever possible: Use imperative mood when talking directly to the user (usually in instructional manuals) or use second person instead of the third person (you vs he/she)
  • Use plural nouns and plural pronouns instead of their single counterpart
  • Avoid pronouns completely when you can
  • Use generally-accepted titles: engineers, programmers, users, etc

Last thoughts

For those who reached here, thank you for listening. At first sight, these might look like ridiculous rants, but the ugly truth is that this is just another example of how (especially) the tech industry is not an inclusive place. Paying attention to the language is a small step towards a better and diverse ecosystem.

After reading, tell me, what do you think of this?

Title partially borrowed by Clare Macrae. Cover photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.