What is the female equivalent of ‘guy’?


The Cleveland Plain Dealer had a story about three men who started a business hosting different kinds of networking events for people. They called their venture “3 Guys”.

But later they took on a woman as a partner and now their business is called “3 Guys & A Lady”.

The incongruity of the juxtaposition of the casual word ‘guy’ with the much more formal ‘lady’ is immediately apparent. But what is also clear is that once they had chosen the word ‘guys’ for themselves they were in a bind as to how to incorporate women into the mix. “3 Guys and a Woman” sounds wrong.

There really is no female equivalent for ‘guy’ that captures the same spirit of informality while not being insulting or disrespectful or even offensive. The closest is ‘gal’ but that sounds too old-fashioned and can be seen as demeaning.

I have sometimes seen the plural ‘guys’ used to encompass mixed gender groups but only on rare occasions in the phrase ‘you guys’ but it always felt a little awkward. I don’t think that “4 Guys” would have worked here.

Comments

  1. jamessweet says

    I use “guys” as a gender-neutral term in informal conversation, but I don’t feel great about. To be frank, it is simply a habit that would be too hard to break for the relatively small amount of damage it does. But I try to avoid it for the most part when writing (and therefore have time to think about what I am saying) for basically the reasons you describe here.

    I do find it a little odd that you have only heard “you guys” used on rare occasions to refer to mixed-gender groups. I do it all the freaking time, as do many people I know. (Not that that makes it 100% okay; if I could wave a magic wand and change my speech I’d probably stop doing that)

  2. Loren says

    I think this is a subtle symptom of a patriarchal society. “Gal”, “chick”, “babe”, they all have a slightly demeaning flavor because they signify something different from the “normal” gender.

    Casual familiarity with a man suggests friendliness, while casual familiarity with a woman suggests sexual intimacy to a slightly larger degree because of how women are sexualized and objectified.

    Smash the patriarchy, and you’ll find a true equivalent for “guy”.

  3. bbgunn says

    I use “guys” as a gender-neutral term in informal conversation, but I don’t feel great about. To be frank, it is simply a habit that would be too hard to break for the relatively small amount of damage it does. But I try to avoid it for the most part when writing (and therefore have time to think about what I am saying) for basically the reasons you describe here.

    I’ve started to use the term ‘folks’ when speaking to mixed groups.

  4. Jon B says

    If Damon Runyan is to be believed, it’s “doll.” I expect most women today would object to being called “doll” — although “guy” is kind of offensive too, technically, since it originally referred to the Guy Fawkes effigy that’s burned on Bonfire Night; it used to mean “a ridiculous or silly-looking person.” If “doll” is out, then I’d say the female equivalent is “gal.” But I also think that the gender-free use of “guy” is so common at this point that there’s no real need to work around it.

  5. says

    The same way “mankind” is gender-free?

    The problem is that even though it’s often used on women, it’s not gender-free. Not until you can ask “Who is that guy over there?” when asking about a woman.

  6. jamessweet says

    Yeah, “folks” is the one I usually substitute when writing. And I do sometimes use it when speaking, if I think of it.

    Like I say, verbal habits are hard to change, and this one is just so ingrained, combined with the fact that I don’t think it’s completely terrible. Yes, it’s yet another example of male normativity. But it’s not the worst example. I make up for it by using “she” as the default pronoun — I’ve got so I even do this in everyday speech most of the time!

    Strangely, though, I have utterly failed to do it in two situations: When referring to a specific animal of unknown gender, and when talking about other drivers. I still call both of them “he” no matter what. Go figure.

    Purging one’s spoken vocabulary of unintentionally misogynist speech is fuckin’ hard. It may not even be fully possible as long as you are speaking English. We all just have to try our best, I think.

  7. TGAP Dad says

    I like to stick with alliteration and go for “3 Guys and a Gal” or “3 Guys and a Girl”.
    I also like diverting into whimsy with “3 Blokes and a Sheila” or “3 Joes and a Judy”

  8. jamessweet says

    Not until you can ask “Who is that guy over there?” when asking about a woman.

    Worse, the fact that it was the originally male term that is transitioning to gender free, that fact in itself has echoes of misogyny. Why was it so easy to accept “Hey you guys!” as a way to address a mixed-gender group, but “Hey you gals!” would have been perceived as weird or insulting?

    I agree with Jon B insofar that the non-gendered use is so common that it’s probably not a big deal to use it that way… I don’t think that in practice it probably does much to perpetuate male normativity, or at least, it’s a blip on the radar compared to much bigger issues in our language. But it’s best avoided, if you can. (Which, as I’ve already admitted, I am not always successful at)

  9. says

    ‘Girl’ would obviously be out in the example given by Mano since when applied to adults in professional settings it usually (but not always) has deprecative (e.g. insulting the recipient on the basis of age or inexperience) or sexual connotations.

    Mano has already indicated lady seems off given the informality of the ‘3 Guys’ component. Also, outside of certain uses it has imprecative connotations when used informally (“hey, lady! watch where you’re driving!”).

    —–
    I did a Google search and found people here asserting that the word ‘gal’ has racist connotations in the (US) South. I presume the people asserting this are sincere although without corroborating documentary evidence I don’t know if they’re correct or not.

    I wasn’t aware of gal having any sexualized connotations although this article suggests I might be missing something.

  10. Synfandel says

    I’ve never liked the term “guy”. It annoys me when I’m dining at a restaurant and the waiter or waitress addresses my mixed-gender party as “guys”. My wife is no guy. For that matter, to a waiter or a waitress I am no guy either; I’m a customer and I’m old enough to be the server’s father. I’m not his or her pal even if the server is wearing a name badge that says “Cody” or “Kristen”. Sometimes I try to alter the respectfulness level of the conversation by addressing the server as “Sir” or “Ms”. It rarely works.

  11. says

    I was once in a renaissance music ensemble which was briefly known as “Three Quavers and a Crochet”, although that might be a little too obscure even for the erudite readership of this blog.

  12. cynner says

    In California “guys” is gender neutral for a group of people. The business couldn’t use “3 men and a lady” because that’s a movie!

  13. Corvus illustris says

    #13: neither obscure nor erudite, Peter; just UK. In much of the rest of the world you’d have been three eighth notes and a quarter note (or the equivalent in the local language): five-eighths of a note in all.

  14. ischemgeek says

    I use “peeps” – it’s Canadian university-aged slang for “people” – because “folks” would get me wierd looks since it’s seen as something over-30s say around here (and I’m mid-20s but still look like I belong in high school).

  15. KT says

    Couldn’t they just use whatever the female partner wants? Seems the easiest solution. I would like “Four Guys and a Lady” if it were me, it makes me sound like the classiest one. If my partners get jealous of my panache, they can change it to “gents.”

  16. Dalillama says

    AS far as that goes, IIRC from anglo-saxon etymology ‘man’ originally was the nongendered term, while waepman meant a male person and wifman meant a female. Wifman mutated into woman (and also wife), while waepman merged with man to make the generic term male. I sometimes think that it would be better to go back to something like that: Leave ‘man/mankind/etc’ as the generic nongendered term, and add a prefix for males just like there’s a prefix for females.

  17. SusanP says

    This makes me think of the hilariously creepy college mascot on the television show Community. The Four Human Beings!

  18. left0ver1under says

    Naming a business after an individual’s name is generally a bad idea, and identifying people just as bad. Ford is an exception to failure, not an example to follow.

    As for other gender-neutral and inclusive terms for a small group, here are some I can think of:

    – Chums
    – Amigos
    – Pals
    – Dudes

    And involving plays on words:

    – “Of A Kind”
    – Muscat Ears (especially if they were vintners)
    – Tubbers (as in, “Rub a dub dub, three men in a…”)
    – Cooks (as in, “Too many spoil the broth…”)

  19. says

    It annoys me when I’m dining at a restaurant and the waiter or waitress addresses my mixed-gender party as “guys”.

    Yeah, because it’s perfectly reasonable to expect wait-staff to read their customers’ minds and know who wants to be addressed in gender-tracking terminology, who doesn’t, and so forth. I guess it’d make sense to get upset if you were wearing a name-tag reading “HI MY NAME IS ‘BOB’!” and they ignored it. But, otherwise, what’s reasonable? I’ve seen wait-staff get subjected to lectures for using gender-specific terms, and for not-using gender-specific terms. I know that, as highly compensated professionals, they should do better, but, seriously…

  20. Robert B. says

    I grew up using “you guys” as a generic second person plural, in the same way that other dialects use “y’all.” Lately I’ve been trying to switch to “folks.”

  21. Jared A says

    I’m ok with singular female terms being gender neutral while plural. Chicks, gals, etc. no problem.

    if I’m worried about offending I use the wonderful “friends and neighbors”.

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