If you know me, you may have caught on to how I use gender-neutral language all the time. My own gender identity aside, implying gender in conversation is highly unnecessary. Beyond that, the reason it’s present at all is the sexist culture that’s evolved alongside it. While we can vaguely argue that it holds significance in romantic settings, kinda, it is outrageously unimportant in most conversation and should be no indication of how one is treated. There have been huge strides to make professional titles for women alongside men (businessman, businesswoman) as well as gender-neutral terms (firefighter, opposed to fireman) so that our language may reflect our moral stances, that anyone, man or not, may have a fitting title for their job. Despite this, we continue to imply gender in conversation all the time at restaurants, grocery stores, restaurants, shopping malls, small talk, restaurants. So I decided to make a comprehensive list of words and phrases I catch regularly plus explanations as to why they are problematic, along with my most frequented substitutes. It’s obvious how a lot of these are gendered, though maybe less obvious in why it is an issue. Here’s a strong article that outlines the fundamental problems of upholding gendered language, especially regarding how it favors men. Here are my thoughts on the terms themselves.
”You ladies,” “You girls,” “Ma’am.”
This is easily my least favorite. Beyond the misgendering, there's something vaguely condescending about it as well. As I rarely hear it coming from women, there's some hint to it that the person saying it is posing me and whoever I'm with as the "out" group, a party which the speaker separates theirself from. The acknowledgement of our femininity, as if it is relevant past the apparent spectacle femininity always needs to be it is, at least, something worth questioning the reasoning behind.
Yeah, I consider this gendered. it implies male-as-default, women as secondary/the exception to men, men as "normal". It plays into why 'ladies' and 'girls' feel weird. I don't think any of us take a moment to examine others' gender expression when we casually say 'you guys', but there has to be a moment of pause if one is ever saying 'you ladies' or 'you girls'. It’s a form of othering and I take issue with it. If anyone opposes that, why don't we consider 'lady' an ungendered term? I’m honestly shocked we aren't having greater discussion on this phrase. While an insanely simple gesture of it, making anyone who isn’t male the exception is a misogynistic view of our population. I’ll reemphasize that you read this article if you didn’t the first time I linked it because it explains the issue of it exceptionally. The continued normalization of 'you guys' despite it having multiple fitting substitutes irks me.
Generic “he,” “He or she,” “He/she,” “S/he”
Singular they. The absolute inconvenience of anything other than singular they should be enough, genderedness aside. ‘He or she’ is so bulky, so hindering to what could otherwise be smooth, nice writing, I felt the need to mention it. To say it aloud often prompts a pause with how unnaturally it fits into our everyday language. Taking gender into consideration, generic ‘he’ is not generic for reasons aforementioned. As for singular they, I identify myself with this pronoun. As in, I most effectively communicate my personhood when it comes to my gender identity with ’they’. As in, ‘he or she’ fails to achieve the inclusivity it seems to seek while insisting on using 3 times the effort. If I don’t persuade you, know that there are many, many, many, many sources on the topic, regarding both its grammatical correctness and inclusiveness.
For professional settings, "You two/three/four/+”; if any greater, “You all.”
Since I most frequently get 'you ladies' at restaurants, clothing stores and likewise places and I personally find it uncommon that I'm with more than four or five people at such, this works nine times out of 10. It's simple, equally as practical and not weird. Strategically speaking, I'd think it more useful to verbally remind oneself that they’re serving three people, whose genders they do not know, three cups of coffee, than just keeping in mind their presumed gender identity anyway.
For personal settings, “You all,” “Y’all,” “You folks.”
I have a love for ‘y’all’. If you know me personally, you’ll likely know I say it a lot. I differ it from 'you two(+)' because it may not fly in a business meeting as easily as it’s non-contracted equivalent. ‘Folks’ is a great one too, capturing just the right amount of gender-neutral Southern flare. It’s easy to throw in all kinds of gender-neutral warmhearted terms; I will occasionally say ‘friends’. Some other fun options include pals, mates, and buddies. As non-serious as they sound, we're in the internet age of 'dudes' and 'bros'. I think we'll be okay.
In conclusion, there isn’t much of a point to gendering everyday language. Whatever point it might have seems far-fetched and outdated, along with having large roots in sexism. Though it may seem trivial, it’s faulty to suggest the biases in our language do not impact the conversations we have in our language, therein effecting our perceptions of others. If you don’t think it matters, give referring to any man as 'ma’am' a try. Bonus points if you have a male boss; keep it up for a week and see how that goes. In case he asks you what you’re doing, explain to him how you’re just using the 'generic ma’am'.