God is Not a Guy, and Neither Am I!

A ViewPoint by Jann Aldredge-Clanton

More and more I find myself responding, “I am not a guy,” to waiters in restaurants, to educated people at conferences, and even to people in progressive churches who refer to groups of women and men as “you guys.” Sometimes these are groups of all women, and still they call us “you guys.”

So the idea for this article has been stirring in me for a while. Its title was inspired by the work of Jeanette Blonigan Clancy, a Catholic lay theologian who writes a blog called “God Is Not Three Guys In The Sky,”  and David Marks, a Presbyterian music minister whose blog is called “God Is Not a Guy.”

Just when I thought we’d about eliminated the so-called “generic” use of “man” because it really is exclusive, up pops “you guys” almost everywhere. Women and girls seem to use “you guys” as much as men and boys do. So why do females think they’re included in “you guys”? These same women usually protest loudly when they are referred to as “men” or “man,” as the King James and other older versions of the Bible do and as many churches still do. So why do they think it’s okay to be called by the male word “guys”?

You may be thinking that I’m just being picky, that there are many more serious problems in the world and even in the world of patriarchal language. But exclusively male language, even the seemingly innocuous “you guys,” devalues women and girls through this exclusion, contributing to a culture in which violence and discrimination against women and girls are still all too prevalent.

Kendra Weddle Irons writes in Christian Feminism Today’s FemFaith blog that many people dismiss as unimportant critiques of the usage of such phrases as “chairmen” for women as well as men. “Yet, we begin to uncover the depths of our sexism if we substitute ‘women’ for ‘men’ in these cases.” We would not refer to a man as “chairwoman,” so why is it okay to refer to a woman as “chairman”?

The same goes for “you guys.” We would not refer to a group that included men  as “you gals.” And we would not call an individual girl or woman a “guy,” so why would we call a group that includes women “you guys”? In the English-speaking world, it finally became clear that a group that includes women cannot be referred to as “man” or “mankind” because an individual woman cannot be called “man.” So the “generic” use of “man” left the grammar books in the 1980s.

But now “you guys” sneaks in all over the place! It is insidious the ways in which our male-dominant culture continues to perpetuate itself. Letha Dawson Scanzoni writes in FemFaith: “In our culture, woman is considered to be subsumed under the category called man, the male being considered the default model or generic representative of what a human being is. Woman, the womb-man, is seen in relation to man.”

Calling girls and women “guys” makes femaleness invisible. It says that males are still the measure of all things. Novelist Alice Walker, in this short video clip, gives a powerful commentary on the “dangerous and revealing” use of “guys” to refer to women—dangerous because it “erases” women.

Calling girls and women "guys" makes femaleness invisible...Likewise, it is dangerous for God to be named and imaged exclusively as a “guy.” This exclusively masculine Deity persists in almost all religions and cultures. Making the Ultimate Power of the universe male gives the strongest support imaginable to the dominance of men and the devaluation of women and transgender people. I have written extensively about the suffering that comes to all people and all creation from male-dominated theology that has at its foundation an exclusively masculine naming of Deity, and about the healing, peace, and justice that come from gender-balanced names and images of Deity.

Sometimes I’ve noticed that churches where I and others have advocated for inclusive language will increase references to Jesus in worship services to avoid gender-balanced language. Hymns, readings, and prayers continue to be filled with “he,” “him,” “his,” and the church feels fine because everybody knows that Jesus was male. Never mind that these churches also teach that all believers of all genders are the body of Christ and that the resurrected Jesus lives in believers of all genders and that scripture and church tradition link Jesus and feminine “Wisdom” (Sophia in the Greek language of the Christian Scriptures).

Just as people think they can avoid exclusive language for divinity by increasing references to Jesus, many people think they’re avoiding exclusive language for humanity by increasing references to “you guys.” Somehow they have convinced themselves that “you guys,” like “Jesus-He,” is inclusive. After all, they’ve given up “man” and “mankind” for mixed-gendered groups, and some have even given up references to God as “He.”

Some women who understand that “you guys” excludes them say they don’t challenge it because they just don’t have the energy to challenge all the sexist language and practices that they experience. And being called “you guys” seems rather harmless compared to much of the other sexism they experience. I certainly understand. I must admit that I don’t always challenge being referred to as a “guy,” and I often let other sexist language slide by in order to be heard instead of dismissed as just “too sensitive” or as a “single issue” person. And sometimes I also get tired of challenging sexist language and practice.

But “you guys” is really easy to avoid. There are plenty of good substitutes. Many people, including women, tell me they don’t like “gals” so they don’t want to say “you guys and gals,” also because this phrase excludes and erases transgender people.  It’s easy to avoid “guys” and “gals” altogether and to choose a truly inclusive term like “you all,” still only two little words like “you guys,” or if you’re from the South, as I am, you can simply say, “y’all.” Another inclusive choice is “you folks” or “you people,” or just “you.” The word “you” can be singular or plural, and it is inclusive of all genders. So instead of greeting a group of people with “It’s good to see you guys today,” say, “It’s good to see you today,” or “It’s good to see you all today.”

This simple change, just like calling God “She” as well as “He,” can make a big difference in the lives of children and adults, helping us all to truly believe that people of all genders are created equally in the divine image.

So I will keep on writing and preaching and saying, “God is not a guy, and neither am I!”

© 2013 by Christian Feminism Today 

 

10 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Jan

    Thank goodness, I am not the only one who is speaking out about the ‘you guys’ thing.
    Here is something I wrote about it last year. The author of ‘the Girl God’ put it on her blog page, because I didn’t want to put it on the internet in my own name, because it would make me into a sitting duck for those who hurl abuse at me for speaking out about sexist language.
    http://thegirlgod.blogspot.de/2013/06/sexist-language-matters-heres-why.html

    ***

    Hey guys? Hi guys!??

    To those women and girls who say they don’t mind being called guys, or that they themselves call everybody guys by default, forfeiting your gender identity in order to assimilate into a dominant group is making a begger out of you, but does nothing to close gender pay gaps, remove rape cultures…

    Respect yourself and other women more than that.

    ***

    “…I have taken the opportunity more than once, when sitting in a restaurant with women friends and being addressed as “you guys” by the server, to ask him or her…”

    And, here is another thing, why are gender lists not in alphabetical order, rather than male word first order? It should be ‘her or him’ , not ‘him or her’. Alphabetical letters don’t mind being discriminated against, but people do.

    ***

    “Dude, look at this bra.”

    Ugh! yeah, I hate being called ‘dude’.
    It is as if we are only included, if we agree to being one of the boys, otherwise we are something else which is outside the cool circle of people who are acceptable enough to be more like men that women.

    ***

  2. When I’ve politely requested not to be called a guy as in, “Do you guys want anything else?” I’ve been asked, “What should I say instead?” I reply, “Just say, ‘Do you want anything else?’ There’s no need for the word ‘guy’ as you are speaking directly to us.” This is usually a wait person however, it happens all the time and makes me cringe.

    I thought I was the only one! Once, I was assisting an group of elderly ladies enjoy an afternoon tea. Our wait person asked, “Do any of you guys want more tea?” I excused myself and spoke to her and her manager to explain how this was inappropriate. Hopefully, we can make a difference, one person at a time.

    Thank you for this great article!

  3. I was in Victoria’s Secrets the other day. I heard a woman’s voice say, “Dude, look at this bra.” I looked up to see two young women not a man and woman as I had expected. :-O I tried to get a pin made of twisted gold wire at a county fair booth which I wanted to say, “I am not a guy.” They wouldn’t make it. I think it is time for a T-shirt or maybe a campaign button. Thanks for this article and the knowledge that I am not alone. Let’s start the, “I am not a guy” movement.

  4. I have been itching for someone to speak out about this for years! I live in Spain and spend every summer in the States visiting family, so I tend to notice changes in contemporary spoken language more than someone living in the US. My first gripe was about 20 years ago when no one had “problems” anymore, they were all simply “issues”. Then, I was shocked when suddenly everything was “awesome” when they had not been so since the 80’s.

    But I was recently mortified when an older gentleman who runs a garden center where we had made a purchase said to my 70-something mother and my 40-something self, “Thanks, guys.” I honestly had to turn 360º to see who he was speaking to. When I realized it was us, I thought it was a tremendous lack of respect towards myself and especially my mother. When did we stop being ladies? And, when did “you” stop being plural?

    I am very vocal about expressing my non-guyness and have been educating those around me, especially my children, which is where change must start. When I was a child in the seventies, Shaggy and Scooby-Doo were the only ones going around calling everyone “guys”. Is the current use of “guy” to address women a result of our television-influenced culture? Jinkies!

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