Why I Stopped Saying “Hey Guys”
Heads up Medium: here’s the feminist in me speaking.
For years I had viewed the greeting “hey guys” as innocent. Its Dutch variant “Hey jongens” is also normalised as a term used to address a mixed-gender group. I never thought about it twice, until I was introduced to a different way.
“Beta subjects are for boys, languages are for girls”
Choosing a specialisation in high school I was told that “the boys are usually better at maths and beta subjects, while the girls are usually better at languages”. I believed this mainly because I was told so from a young age, pushed into outdated gender-stereotypical roles, actively shielded from exploring what’s on the other side.
Around the millennium the first Social Media sites popped up. Wanting to be a part of this new thing called The Internet, of course I signed up for a few.
On one of these Social Media sites you could customize your profile page by combining fixed images with HTML & CSS to create a full-fledged website within a website. Completely bewildered by one boy’s design (ironically, his design was pink, sparkly and had panther prints all over), I had a go at this too. Of course what I made was hideous. Anything you make at a first try often sucks and looks like a baboon’s behind.
Disappointed in myself, I thought, “Hmm, I guess they are right, only boys are good at this tech stuff” and abandoned the project.
Back to high school. I still had to choose a trajectory.
“Well, I’m a girl, so I guess that means I should follow the language path”. That’s what I had been told.
At the time it was possible to choose IT as an extra subject. In my mind, again I had on replay “only boys will be good at that and you cannot be because you are a girl”. The intimidating and child-disliking engineering teacher was also teaching IT, and I didn’t want to have to deal with him more than once per week during engineering class. So that went out of the window as well.
The curiosity for tech and computers stayed, but I couldn’t get out of my head what I was told to believe throughout my life.
Coding while female
As I got into coding, a more male-dominated industry, I got to know people from the Women Techmakers Berlin community. I learned about their mission to promote diversity in tech and provide a safe, welcoming environment for all. And how changing the language we use to address each other contributes to an inclusive environment.
There I learned that using the phrase “hey guys” to address a group of women and men can sound non-inclusive and lead to some people feeling left out.
But what on earth to use instead?
- A simple alternative where you cannot go wrong can be “Hey everyone”.
- If I must use the phrase “Hey guys”, I will be sure to add “and gals” to it.
- Or “lasses and lads”.
In the WTMB Slack channel there even is a bot that tells you off for writing “hey guys” or anything along those lines. It is so kind to offer a more inclusive alternative.
Once I became aware of this seemingly irrelevant eye-opening detail, I couldn’t revert. It reminds me of how I used to get pushed into gender-stereotypical roles. My mind still twitches when I hear it.
I know the whole world is not going to agree with me on this. Maybe you think this phrase has no meaning other than “hello”. Or that I’m making an issue out of nothing.
I don’t want to speculate. I’d rather stick with a phrase that offends fewer people. Having that said: thank you everyone for reading this piece.
Language matters, so choose your words wisely.