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Our conversations are riddled with gendered phrases that center everyday language around men and masculinity. We use these phrases casually, but we must find other ways to get points across that embrace all genders and don’t make assumptions based on masculinity. “Man up,” “guys” and “dude” are perhaps the most common words in this category.

“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-nonconforming people, because it reduces gender to a binary concept and only recognizes the masculine gender.

“Guys” is a 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.

An interesting element of “guys” is that its use can be regional, especially in the U.S. It tends to be less prevalent in the South/Southwest where the already gender nonspecific “y’all” is far more common. In rural areas of the Southeast, “you-uns” is a similar gender nonspecific colloquialism.

Similarly, “dude” is informal and used in gender nonspecific ways. It can be more attributed to the western U.S., although younger people nationwide use the word frequently.

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” or “dude” for something else. Don’t make assumptions about how people identify — 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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