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Our conversations are riddled with gendered phrases that center everyday language around men and masculinity. We use these phrases casually, and it’s time we find other ways to get points across that embrace all genders and don’t make assumptions based on masculinity. Phrases that I hear most frequently are “Man up” and “Guys.”

“Man up” equates gender with strength. We use this term when people are not acting with maturity or bravery, and we want to tell them to change their behavior or mindset.  This phrase harms men because it breezes over their feelings and ignores their emotional and mental needs.  This phrase impacts women and gender non-conforming people because it reduces gender to a binary concept and only recognizes the masculine gender.  

“Guys” is a very frequently used informal greeting to a group of people. You may have even heard or used it a dozen times already today.  While this greeting is used to refer to all genders, the literal word is masculine and only truly affirms the masculine male identity. It’s so commonly used that few challenge it, but it does impact many women and gender-nonconforming people who feel unseen and even offended by this exclusive term. It’s a good idea to start shifting away from this term and using other inclusive alternatives.

“Equality can’t be achieved as long as we’re still using outdated language that implies strength or weakness based solely on one’s gender or anatomy.”

Yes! Solutions journalism

What To Say Instead

If you want to highlight immature behavior and tell someone to improve, try “grow up.”  Better yet, speak to the specific issue and don’t sum it up in an overly simplified phrase. If you need someone to change their behavior and mindset, you can get your thoughts across and eliminate non-inclusive language by communicating your point with more detail and accuracy.

Swap out “guys” for something better. You don’t want to make assumptions about how people identify, so use more inclusive phrases like “everyone,” “friends,” “folks,” or “y’all” when referring to a group of people. Words matter, so if we aspire to be a truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive society, our language must evolve to acknowledge and affirm all genders.

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The Editor

Ngozi Okeh is an experienced leader with a history of driving efforts to conceptualize, define, assess and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as strategic business processes. Ngozi is currently the Director of DEI at a leading marketing technology company where she develops and executes enterprise-wide DEI initiatives through rigorous strategic planning efforts, community partnerships, leadership collaboration, strategy evaluation, and careful management of communication and buy-in as well as policies and procedures.  Previously, she worked at an independent mortgage bank, where… View Profile