Girls and Boys or "Guys"?

// 1 March 2007

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There’s an interesting article from Heather Gehlert on Alternet about the generic use of the word “guys” in relation to groups with both genders in. She considers her Dad’s critical approach to this common language use and discovers, when looking through some blogs, that the use of the word “guys” is much more controversial than she had realised:

Giving credence to my dad’s argument, dozens of postings read something like this: Try walking up to a group of men and women and saying, “Hey, girls, how’s it going?” The reaction won’t be positive. The men in the group probably won’t find the feminine label amusing — and certainly not arbitrary.

So why is the reverse acceptable? Why is “girls” gender-specific, but “guys” is not?

While I have to admit this particular issue has not necessarily been at the top of my own feminist agenda, this article did make me reconsider it. I would also add that I think there are some contexts where it actually is considered amusing to refer to a bunch of blokes as “girls.” One that springs to mind is where a man in a position of leadership disparagingly uses the label (eg: something along the lines of “calm down girls”) when the group are seen to fail to act in a way that he considers appropriately blokey. The men then generally have to let the comment pass (or laugh along), possibly because not doing so would lead to the “she doth protest too much” mirth that is normally preserved for weak attempts to wind up women.

I guess all this still lends support to Gehlert’s point though, as I am basically observing that referring to men as “women” or “girls” by default appears to be widely viewed as somewhat out of place, with the quick male default-for-all generally being framed as more neutral (i.e less loaded). Masculinity, in the socially constructed sense, seems to be particularly hard to challenge, as it requires a stronger stance against the “female” in comparison to the distance socially constructed femininity is expected to keep from all that is thought of as “male.” To put it another way, women are free to pass under a momentarily male label, while still being taken seriously as “women”, but men aren’t free to pass under a momentarily female one, while still being taken seriously as “men.” The underlying subtext seems to be that we still live in a man’s world and that women are indeed still culturally considered the second sex.

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