Last year Jackson Katz came to speak to our school. Afterwards, during our next morning meeting, our Dean of Faculty said that from then on she would be more thoughtful about beginning her announcements using gender-neutral language, specifically avoiding the phrase “you guys” and she invited the rest of the community to do the same.
It was awkward for a while, hearing people say “Hey — School!” or “Hello all” with obvious self-consciousness when they began their announcements. Occasionally someone would say “Hey guys” when they made an announcement and the audience would respond in some audible way, often prompting the speaker to start again “I mean, ‘hey everyone’.” It was strange and people made mistakes and it was weird. Change feels uncomfortable. Things felt a little uncomfortable for a bit.
Over time, though, the practice has seeped into our collective mindset. Saying “Hey guys” has become something we just don’t do very often. There are a couple of people who do say this, but the vast majority of our students now say something gender neutral each and every time they make an announcement. Without self-consciousness, without much thought. Just business as normal.
Using gender-neutral language is something I’ve done for a long time as a teacher. I’m not really sure when I made the conscious shift, but at some point it just sounded funny to my ear to address a room full of boys and girls with the term “guys.” I usually say something like “ladies and gentlemen” or “Hey folks!” which sounds funny at first, until it just starts to roll off of the tongue. I can’t remember the last time I addressed a class with “Hey guys, listen up!” or the equivalent. However, I’ve noticed that I continue to use “you guys” with small groups. I’m not really sure why. Perhaps it’s because of the less formal nature of addressing a group of two to four than speaking to the entire class. But for whatever reason, I haven’t–yet–eliminated this from my vocabulary in this context.
Something to keep working on…