THE BLOG
09/05/2015 10:04 am ET Updated Sep 04, 2016

Why We Should Stop Calling Women 'Guys'

If Women are 'Guys', are Men 'Gals'?

Around five years ago, it struck me that the term 'guys' had become commonplace in referring to both men and women. The moment it hit me, I thought, "women aren't guys! How has it come to be that girls and women are constantly called 'guys'?" From that moment on, I began to feel uncomfortable when mixed gender groups were all referred to as 'guys.' Furthermore, I began to notice that women were calling each other 'guys' as well. Suddenly, things seemed sort of crazy. We're not calling mixed groups of men and women 'gals' and men don't call each other 'gals', so why has the planet become populated with 'you guys'?

In general, 'guys' is slang for boys or men. So what is slang for girls or women? Today, there's really not a socially acceptable slang term for girls and women. 'Gals' was never all that popular but has all but disappeared. Among friends, women will sometimes address a group of men as 'boys' and men will address a group of women as 'girls', and no one takes offense. Outside of groups of friends, calling a group of women 'girls', could be taken as condescending or worse.

'Guys' seems to work just one way. If we said "Hey gals" to a group of men, it would not be considered appropriate; in fact, it could be taken somewhat as a slight. So why is it, when women are referred to as 'guys' it seems perfectly acceptable.

There is great care to recognize men as men, but for women it apparently does not matter.

Language is a funny thing. We all build a vocabulary of words and phrases based on age and socioeconomic background. That being said, from my own experience, I have heard women and girls call each other 'girlfriend', but in general, boys and men don't call their platonic friends 'boyfriends'.

I hear women saying things like, "I'm getting together with some of my girlfriends" but I don't hear boys and men saying, "I'm meeting up with some of my boyfriends." They say things like "I'm meeting up with some of the 'guys,'" or "I'm meeting up with some of my 'buddies,'" etc. etc.

In the English language there is a deficiency in gender-neutral pronouns, especially that of the second person plural variety (like ustedes in Spanish). This pronoun absence in the English language, coupled with the historical exclusion of women in many aspects of society, has led 'guys' to dominate the classification of groups of people, all people.

The use of 'guys' to describe both sexes started catching on in the 1980s, during a period where women were publicly asserting their rights.

If men wouldn't like being called 'gals', then the take-away message is: there must be something wrong with being a woman. Of course, this is a message most are familiar with: you cry like a girl (what not to do), man up (what to do).

What does this message do to women?

Humans of all genders have a need to be seen and to be recognized. The European Journal of Political Theory, a high-profile research forum, found that without recognition, "it is very difficult, if not impossible, for an individual to develop and maintain the corresponding positive attitudes towards oneself of self-trust, self-respect, and self-esteem."

This is no surprise. Studies have already shown that women's self-esteem plummets during teenage years: "Although boys and girls report similar levels of self-esteem during childhood, a gender gap emerges by adolescence, in that adolescent boys have higher self-esteem than adolescent girls." Indeed, there are a whole slew of negative self-images that girls adopt. The National Association of Social Workers found that "girls are far more likely than boys to feel 'self-conscious' (44 percent to 19 percent), 'embarrassed' (53 percent to 32 percent), and 'less confident' (32 percent to 16 percent)."

Girls' low self-esteem could be linked to a long list of causes, but could it be that terms like 'guys' may have something to do with it? When others do not recognize women for who they are (females), it is difficult for women to recognize and accept themselves.

The European Journal concludes that recognition is "vitally important." Without it "the individual psyche would remain seriously deficient."

'Guys' does not recognize women; it also excludes them. And like the need to be seen, the need to be included is important for healthy brain development. The brain actually responds the same way to physical pain as it does to social rejection, aka an unfulfilled need for inclusion. Fear, anxiety, anger, and sadness do not trigger this response, only physical pain and lack of inclusion do.

Long term, no matter how mild, social rejection causes chronic stress in the brain. Prolonged stress is not only linked to unfavorable health conditions, but it can also damage brain structure and connectivity, inciting mental health issues, like anxiety, mood disorders, and even learning difficulties.

So every time we call a woman 'guy' we're messing up their brain? No, not exactly.

Using 'guys' is part of a larger structure of exclusion that women face. In many fields of work, there is still a long ways to go in terms of equitable gender distribution (Tech, Science, Sports coverage, etc.). It's like death by 1000 cuts. As a female software engineer described her experience in the Tech industry, "even the tiniest little things add up to something big - sometimes it's really death by 1000 paper cuts."

'Guys' is one tiny cut but sliced over and over again and combined with the axe of unnatural beauty ideals, the blade of the wage gap, and the guillotine of domestic violence. It is a paper cut that eventually turns into a scar.

So girls and women, stop calling yourself 'guys'. And guys stop calling women 'guys'. Women are not 'guys' and men are not 'gals'. Rather than phrases like "see you guys later" or "what do you guys think about that?," how about phrases like "see you all later," "what does everyone think about that?" It'll take a little getting used to, but it's time to stop calling women 'guys'. Is everyone okay with that?