Men Và Man, Male Khác Nhau Như Thế Nào?

     

A broad coalition of English speakers—teachers, retail workers, ice-cream scoopers, và plenty of others—is grasping for a more inclusive greeting.

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“Okay, guys,” a female coworker of mine recently began, as she addressed me and a female colleague. Then she stopped herself, said she was making an effort to lớn use more gender-neutral language, & carried on talking.

It was a small self-correction, and a glimpse at the conflicted feelings stirred up by one of the most common greetings in the English language. Guys is an easygoing way to address a group of people, but khổng lồ many, it’s a symbol of exclusion—a word with an originally male meaning that is frequently used lớn refer lớn people who don’t consider themselves "guys."

My coworker is one of many who have started editing themselves in response khổng lồ this exclusion. In the course of reporting this story, I heard from teachers who wanted a better way to get students’ attention, an ice-cream scooper who wanted a better way lớn greet customers, & a debate coach who specifically encourages his students to lớn use y’all. These are representatives of a broad coalition of people who have contemplated, & often gone through with, excising guys from their vocabularies.

There are, of course, plenty of people—including many women—who have no problem being addressed as “guys,” think the word has evolved to be entirely gender-neutral, và don"t see a reason to change their usage. But others aren’t so sure. “I think there"s a really serious and welcome reconception of gender lines and relationships between sex & gender going on,” says John McWhorter, who teaches linguistics at Columbia University and has written several books about language. He says “something has crested in particular over about the past 10 years”—something that has people examining their everyday communications.

Linguistic norms are changing faster than ever.

In my reporting I heard from several people who said that the word is particularly troubling for trans and gender-nonconforming people. “As a transgender woman, I consciously began trying to stop using guys some years ago,” says Brad Ward, a college counselor at a high school in Atherton, California. She added, “When I’m included with a group that is called guys, there’s some pain, since it takes me back khổng lồ my male days in a way that I’d rather not go.”

I also heard that guys could grate on women working at male-heavy companies. In tech in particular, some told me they saw the word as yet another symptom of a female-minimizing industry. “There are a lot of guys in tech and ‘guys’ is used all the time in my work và social environments by both men & women, but since it doesn"t resonate with me anymore, I do feel lượt thích I"m not part of the group,” says Amy Chong, a 29-year-old user-experience researcher in San Francisco.

In some workplaces, people have used technology to gently push back against the gender-neutral guys so that they themselves don’t have to speak up. A group of government employees wrote a custom response for the messaging tiện ích Slack that would have a bot ask questions like “Did you mean friends?” or “Did you mean you all?” whenever a user wrote “Hey guys”; a Spotify employee embraced the idea, & the professional network Ladies Get Paid has a similar feature in its Slack group of some 30,000 members.

As these examples indicate, there’s additional scrutiny these days on communications that happen within or emanate from organizations. This is likely why, after I put out calls for opinions on guys, I heard from many people who worked in education or customer-facing jobs. I heard from one teacher who switched to lớn using folks after thinking about the inclusive-learning environment he’d lượt thích to create, và another who opted for peeps or scholars. Similarly, an employee at an outdoor-goods store told me that her company’s human-resources department had encouraged the use of more-inclusive terms when addressing customers. “Folksy’all were determined khổng lồ be more acceptably neutral and you guys was asked to lớn be toned down,” she said.

Many people are trying to phase guys out of their vocabulary in social settings as well as at work. Coby Joseph, a 26-year-old urban planner currently living in the San Francisco bay Area, told me that he no longer uses the term after considering “how much of our language centers men”; he found guys “lazy & inconsiderate” và stopped using it four or five years ago, except in cases when he’s communicating with people who he knows identify as male.

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This crowd of guys-objectors is not alone historically. People have been resisting the term for decades, and perhaps the most passionate opponent of the word is Sherryl Kleinman, a former professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In a 2002 essay in the journal Qualitative Sociology, she wrote about the problem with male-default terms such as “chairman,” “congressman,” và “mankind.” Kleinman saw them together as “another indicator—and, more importantly, a reinforcer—of a system in which ‘man’ in the abstract và men in the flesh are privileged over women.”

She reserved a special disapproval for “you guys,” which she considered the “most insidious” of these phrases, và with the help of former students made a small thẻ that anyone could print out and, for instance, leave behind at a restaurant khổng lồ communicate their dislike of the term khổng lồ an employee who had used it. “When you’re talking to lớn a group of customers, gender doesn’t really matter, so why not replace ‘you guys’ with ‘you all,’ ‘folks,’ or ‘y’all,” it reads in part.

Indeed, why not? The problem, for those who want khổng lồ ditch guys, is that their language doesn’t present them with many versatile replacements; English lacks a standard gender-neutral second-person plural pronoun, like the Spanish ustedes or the German ihr. The alternatives khổng lồ guys tend to lớn have downsides of their own. Folks—inclusive & warm, but a little affected & forced. Friends—fine in social contexts, strange at work. People—too often pushy & impersonal. Team—its sense of camaraderie wears out with constant use. One might cobble together a phối of pronouns to deploy in different scenarios, but no one term can vì chưng it all.

(I also came across some more-obscure alternatives. Some write guise as attempt to lớn de-gender the word; I heard about a socialist political group that preferred comrades; one teacher, to draw attention to the problem with guys, said she sometimes jokingly addresses her class as ladies or gals.)

Which brings us all lớn y’all, which seems to be the alternative with the most passionate backers. It has many of the necessary features to lớn be the heir to guys—inviting, inclusive, monosyllabic. But what holds it back is its informality, as well as its regional associations, which many don’t know how lớn handle.

I heard from people born & living outside the South who didn’t feel they could use the term naturally. “They’ll say, ‘y’all’? Are you from Texas?,” one Californian told me; another, who now lives in the Midwest, says she feels “self-conscious saying it as a non-Southerner.” và I heard from a Turkish-born woman living in Los Angeles who “felt a bit choiceless” selecting between guys and y’all after coming to the U.S., because of the gender politics of the former and because she didn’t “have the background khổng lồ use the latter.” (She lamented that English lacks a gender-neutral second-person plural pronoun, unlike Turkish, her native tongue.)

McWhorter, the Columbia linguist, summed up the downside of y’all by saying, “You can’t use it at a board meeting.” Might it shed its informality if more people adopt it? "That"s not going to lớn change,” McWhorter said, “especially because it"s associated with two things: the South và black people. & those two things are considered informal, & many people would have less polite things khổng lồ say about both of those things."

Which is one of the reasons the gender-neutral guys has had such staying power. But over its 400-year lifespan, guy’s meaning has already changed multiple times—getting less specific as time went on. At first, the word’s definition was quite narrow: Guy referred lớn an effigy of Guy Fawkes, the infamous Brit who tried and failed to lớn blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. The word’s meaning radiated outward from there, encompassing larger & larger groups. It started khổng lồ be used to signify any effigy, then any fearsome person and/or any man. & then, in the plural, it came to mean—in the U.S. Sometime around 100 years ago—just about anyone.

Many, perhaps even most, American English speakers view this evolution as a process of shedding gendered connotations. This is the view that McWhorter counsels as a linguist: “People are going to lớn continue referring lớn women as guys, and a lot of the people doing it are going lớn be women,” he says.

McWhorter does recognize that even as the word’s meaning has shifted, it retains a certain male “flavor.” In fact, there are some examples in the past of words zigging & zagging in their gender associations. Anatoly Liberman, a linguist at the University of Minnesota, told me about how child started off as a gender-neutral word in Old English, remained so for several centuries, took on a male meaning in Northern England & Scotland, took on a female meaning in other English dialects, & then mostly converged on a neutral meaning again. So, language can change—and change back.

Language evolution tends to be rather random.

McWhorter, though, would not bet on the reformers in this guys debate. He thinks that the gender-neutral guys has irreversible momentum. The question then becomes, he says, “How vì chưng we feel about it? and we can express our feelings, but if you don’t want lớn say it, use folks or people, but everybody"s not going khổng lồ join you. Language changes whether you lượt thích it or not."

Even if guys is widely regarded as gender-neutral, there will still be a sizable contingent of conscientious objectors. They argue, not incorrectly, that dropping guys takes very little effort, và any awkwardness that comes with the odd folks or friends or y’all seems far preferable to lớn making a listener feel ignored. (Personally, I’ve come to favor you all, which carries some of the perks of y’all without being tied to any particular region.)

Plenty will disagree with that, and this is the way language evolves—not in an orderly line, but as a messy argument. Và that is a blessing—words deserve regular interrogation. One such interrogator is a man working at a pharmaceutical company in New Jersey who had thought deeply about the use of guys in his office. “I honestly think my biggest problem with ‘you guys,’” he wrote khổng lồ me in an email, “is the plural possessive form that it has spawned.” His example: “Sorry I missed your guys"s meeting.

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” Any reasonable user of language should be able to lớn agree that that phrase is straight-up ugly.