Ways Men In Tech Are Unintentionally Sexist

A friend of mine posted this on Twitter:

I really respect the amount of self-awareness it takes to ask that question! It’s easy to disavow the trolls sending rape and death threats, but it takes much more courage to acknowledge that you might be perpetuating harmful attitudes in less-obvious ways.

[Author’s Note: I felt like it was important to establish some context, but you can also skip the 101-level discussion and jump right to the list.]

This question hints at two important concepts: implicit biases and microaggressions.

We have all internalized harmful stereotypes about women — it’s part of growing up in a culture that inculcates gender roles from a very early age. Our culture has deeply-embedded patriarchal power structures (ditto racist and classist and ableist and transphobic and homophobic and so on…) that we all absorb and have to intentionally question and deprogram. We all, regardless of our background or our conscious beliefs, have implicit biases that affect the way we see the world.

Groups that are dominated by one sort of person tend to develop ways of talking and thinking that implicitly center the identities and experiences of that one sort of person, which becomes a self-perpetuating cycle, because it communicates to outsiders that they are different (at best; unwelcome interlopers or second-class citizens, at worst). It can introduce, or exacerbate, the further self-fulfilling prophecies of impostor syndrome and stereotype threat. It can put pressure on people to conform to a certain type in order to succeed.

This context is the heart of why inclusive language matters, why a seemingly-harmless joke isn’t that harmless, and why small things seem to sometimes get blown out of proportion.

Which brings us to microaggressions: “social exchanges in which a member of a dominant culture says or does something, often accidentally, and without intended malice, that belittles and alienates a member of a marginalized group.”

These are little things. Things that many people do without thinking about them and certainly without intending anything by them. Things that individually are meaningless, but in aggregate set the tone of an entire community.

Little things reinforce stereotypes and implicit biases instead of challenging them. They insulate members of the dominant group from having to confront their own biases. They communicate underlying attitudes and community norms. Language may or may not shape the way we think, but it is a powerful signal about what sort of behavior is and is not acceptable, and what your personal expectations are.

Worse, those little things can subtly reinforce the attitudes of actual abusers and signal that they are welcome in our community. (Example: rape jokes are seen as tacit nods of approval by actual rapists.)

Communication is tricky even on the best of days; the best defense against misunderstandings is to develop a finely-tuned sense of empathy, and try to notice as much as possible what we’re doing that might create distance from someone else and keep us from questioning our own assumptions about the world.

Sometimes it’s hard to see these things without getting defensive, or going too far down the road of guilt and excessive self-flagellation. I think it’s important to realize that every single one of us makes this kind of mistake, no one is immune. The determination of character, in my opinion, isn’t whether you slip up, but what you do about it afterward.

If you care about others, nothing feels worse than realizing you accidentally stepped on someone else’s foot. I really think it’s a natural reaction to bristle a bit, to try to minimize it, to protect ourselves from feeling bad. Once I recognized that defensiveness as a natural part of the process, it was much easier for me to realize I was doing it, then apologize and move on instead of digging myself deeper. It takes practice.

The good news, though, is that little things are easy to change. Personally I believe that if you can change the outward tone of a culture, you stand a good chance of changing the actual beliefs and attitudes of that culture.

Caveats: not everyone notices or cares about every single thing on this list, and I’ve probably missed some that my own privilege blinds me to. This is a list specifically focused on sexist microaggressions; while some of the things on this list might also apply to, for instance, transfolk or non-binary folks or people of color, I can’t claim to speak for anyone other than myself.

The post is written as “things men do”, because that’s the question that was asked, but of course anyone can (and does) perpetuate harmful stereotypes.

Finally, this list is written for those who, like me, try to err on the side of being maximally-inclusive. Many of these things are common in our culture, and while I try to model good behavior, I don’t correct others’ usage unless they ask. I consider this an application of the robustness principle.

So, without further ado.

1. Using “guys” to mean “people”.

I fear I’m earning a bit of a reputation for this one among my colleagues, as I sometimes good-naturedly respond to “Hey guys, ?” with “I’m not a guy, but ”. Yes, most people intend this in a gender-neutral way; no, it is not actually gender-neutral. If you think about it, “guys” is only gender-neutral in a situation where maleness is the assumed default.

Many women don’t notice or mind this, but to some in our male-dominated field it can be a tiny, pointed reminder of the extra work they have to do just to fit in, be seen, be taken seriously.

Personally, it can also make me wonder if I’m being seen at all; I often read a message to a mailing list, or in a chat room, that begins “hey guys” and wonder whether the speaker realizes that not everyone on the list is a man. Worse, I worry it sends the wrong message to other women who might observe the exchange. For instance, if a woman was thinking of getting involved in WordPress development, could all the “guys” messages on the wp-hackers list make her think there aren’t any women in that community?

Don’t do the “guys and girls” thing either, which is marginally better but still makes it feel like an afterthought. Try: “folks”, “y’all”, “everyone”, “team”, “channel”, or just “awesome people”. :) If my own experience is any indication, it’ll sound weird for a month or two and then become normal.

Relatedly, avoid assuming male users in your documentation. Just stop worrying and embrace the singular “they”.

2. Similarly: “girls” for “women”.

Yes, I know it’s the best we have as an informal analogue to “guys”, but it infantilizes women and sounds patronizing. It might subconsciously encourage us to take women less seriously. In general, “girl” should be used to refer to female children only. Like “guys”, this will sound weird for about a month and will then become normal.

Some folks are reclaiming “lady” for informal usage, but I’ve found that can be a bit loaded (personally, I don’t think of myself as a lady; when I was a child, my grandfather would reprimand me for wearing jeans or climbing trees, because those things were “unladylike”). YMMV, but for people you don’t know well, I would stick to “women”.

3. “Mom” as an example of a non-technical user.

I know: your mom, like a lot of people, may not be very good with computers. (My mom, on the other hand, while she doesn’t really give herself credit for it, is quite good at figuring computer stuff out. She programmed with punchcards in college and can do things with Excel that I have no idea how to do. It’s my dad who always needs computer help.)

This tired old trope erases the vast number of computer-literate women who happen to be mothers, as well as encouraging condescension. Again, the context here is a society and a professional field where women already struggle to be taken seriously; no need to pile on.

This trope has its own article on the Geek Feminism Wiki, which suggests alternatives: “When the purpose of the statement is to convey the idea that something is “really simple”, ideal nouns will refer to non-human or purely technical categories, such as cat, non-technical user, Ubuntu user, or “newbie.””

4. Using avatars that are male by default.

If the default (or unset) avatar on your site reads as male, you’re making an implicit statement that your “normal” user is male and anyone else is an exception. Personally, I think using a non-gendered (even non-human) avatar can really showcase an app’s creativity.

5. Describing software or algorithms as “sexy”, “hot”, etc.

By sexualizing something that does not need to be sexualized, you’re creating a college-frat-boy type environment, as well as implicitly conflating quality with sexual attractiveness. If I work with you, I want to know that you’re enough of an adult to be able to appreciate something (or someone) without wanting to fornicate with it.

Anyhow, it’s vague. What is so great about it? Is it really efficient, does it solve a problem in a new way, does it scale really well, does it have a great UI?

Related: Referring to hardware (or cars, or whatever) by female names or pronouns. Yeah, okay, grand naval tradition and all that, but it’s still kind of weird. Can you not tell the difference between women and objects?

6. Assuming women they meet are in non-technical roles.

If you meet a woman in a professional setting, like a conference (or the afterparty!), your first assumption should be that she’s there because she’s interested in the material. This seems obvious, but most women have had the unfortunate experience of being assumed to be “the marketing chick” or there with a boyfriend.

Under no circumstances should you ask a woman to prove her technical knowledge to you (even in jest).

Additionally, there’s a lot of implicit misogyny when you feign surprise upon discovering that a conventionally-attractive or feminine-presenting woman is also a geek. If you tell a woman approvingly that she’s “one of the guys” or “not like other women”, well, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say you’ve got some assumptions you need to rethink. (And I’m saying that as a woman who was proud to be called both of those things at one point.)

So, don’t say something like “Wow, I would never guessed you were a nerd!” Technical women often have to walk a fine line between looking properly “nerdy” (at the risk of coming across as sloppy) and looking put-together (but risking being taken less seriously).

7. Fetishizing “hot geek girls”.

It’s not a compliment to get comments like “Wow, a beautiful woman who’s also into kernel hacking?? Will you marry me?”

Rule of thumb: Don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to a man! It’s disrespectful to focus on someone’s appearance instead of their accomplishments.

The “fake marriage proposal” is extra weird because it’s grounded in a measure of success predicated on one’s desirability as a sexual or romantic partner. Women are people in their own right and have value independent of their relationships to men. A radical idea, I know.

An unsolicited “I find you attractive!” remark isn’t a compliment, it’s a note from a boner. I think it’s pretty safe to say that the vast majority of women in technical careers didn’t get into them in order to serve as eye candy or find a date.

We don’t want to be singled out and given extra attention because “ooooh, a woman!”. Yes, being a woman in tech has its unique challenges, but no one wants to feel like they’re only getting attention because of their gender. We want to be treated normally, like human beings who happen to share some perfectly ordinary and normal interests with you.

8. Denigrating things by comparing them to women or femininity.

Don’t casually accuse someone of being “girly” or a “pussy”, or say that they “fight like a girl”, or make fun of them for liking “chick flicks”. Stop policing masculinity with comments about men who cross the line into “too feminine”.

Be on guard for unnecessarily-gendered terms (hysterical, shrill, “man up”, “grow a pair”, ballsy). Notice how those examples are all predicated on the assumption that acting like a man is inherently good, and acting like a woman is inherently bad?

Those are some of the most overt ones, but this kind of thing is weirdly common. I recently called out a cyclist friend for referring to the lowest gear as the “granny gear”.

9. Stereotyping women’s needs… or ignoring them.

Emery boards as conference swag? Really? Protip: Women use battery packs and stickers too.

Conversely, many apps just outright ignore features that disproportionately affect female users (like the conspicuous absence of period tracking functionality in the Apple’s new Health app). The whole issue of swag t-shirts is a big one in this category.

Which brings us neatly to…

10. Using dark UI patterns.

If you write software that enables harassment and stalking, or makes it difficult for users to protect their personal information, you’re disproportionately driving women off of your platform or making them do extra work. Respecting user’s privacy and emphasizing consent in software design is fundamentally an issue of equality — not just gender, but across the board.

Watch out for requirements, such as “real name” policies, that unfairly impact marginalized groups. Commit to writing software that embodies affirmative consent.

11. Repeating generalizations about gender essentialism.

“Women just aren’t interested in programming/math/logic.” This is a thing that people really think, and say out loud. Statistically, the variation between individuals dwarfs any biological differences, and perpetuating these stereotypes has a real, harmful effect.

Even complimentary stereotypes, like “women are better at communicating” or “women have a better eye for design” contribute to the problem by encouraging a “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” approach to gender. This is also known as benevolent sexism.

Similarly, don’t reduce the gender gap in tech to a problem of “getting more women into the pipeline”. The reality is that women leave the industry at every stage of their careers. Solving the pipeline problem is necessary, but not a magic bullet.

On the flip side, don’t excuse bad behavior with “boys will be boys” type excuses. Dismantling gender stereotypes is also about having more respect for men — believing they are just as capable of empathy and self-restraint as any other adult human being.

12. Assuming every woman in tech feels the same way and/or wants to discuss her experiences “as a woman in tech”.

We’re not a monolith, we can’t all speak for each other, and we often want to just talk about our work instead of being seen as women first. See the Ada Initiative’s great post, Breaking The Unicorn Law.

13. Staying quiet when other men do these things.

Finally: this is everybody’s work. It’s not just the responsibility of those affected to speak up — we all play a part in setting the standards for the communities we’re a part of. Leigh Honeywell has a great post about how each of us can help, in the infosec world or anywhere else:

We aren’t doomed to being the harassment and sexual assault capital of the tech world. We can make a difference. And it starts with each one of us standing up for what we think is right, in the moment when it happens.

The concept of “privilege” seems to often come across as an insult, but I think it’s also a statement that you have power in a particular situation, and it’s possible to use that power for good. Those with more privilege have the power to amplify the voices of others, to challenge the status quo without fearing the consequences of speaking up.

Anyhow, that’s what I’ve got. These things serve as a starting point, an MVP, if you will. It’s certainly possible to do more, if you’re willing to devote the time and energy, but these suggestions are the “low-hanging fruit”: small, simple changes that will build the foundation for a better tech culture.

Other great posts along these lines:

Thoughts? Please comment or tweet at me! You can also check out my saved links on Pinboard (basically a firehose of everything I read online).

184 thoughts on “Ways Men In Tech Are Unintentionally Sexist

  1. Brilliant post, it is a post which cover real problem with every aspect. I always think if you really solve a problem you have to include all possible things. I agree that we have to change a lot of things in both to be better.


  2. Interesting post, thank you for providing good material for thoughts. Being a father of a 1.5 year old daughter, I try to be aware of my language use, to avoid gender bias. I hope she grows up free in her choices of profession and career, not barred by gender stereotypes such as those abouth math and logic.

    I (like to think) I am pretty immune to assumptions about women’s role in tech, but perhaps the fact that my mom is in the IT since the late 70’s, which is her entire career, helps a bunch.

    Respecting user’s privacy and emphasizing consent in software design probably contriibutes to gender equality, but basically, software that does not respect user’s privacy is bad software, regardless of the user’s gender, wouldn’t you agree?

    Other commenters have a lot to say about the term “guys”, so I’d like to add my thought here as well. As a non-native English speaker, I find the use of the word “guys” to address a group of women, especially when done by another woman, a bit weird. I think it might be an Americanism – to me it somehow associates with Disney Channel productions.


    • but basically, software that does not respect user’s privacy is bad software, regardless of the user’s gender, wouldn’t you agree?

      Definitely — I mentioned it because women are more often the targets of stalking or threats, which is an issue that tends to be less on the radar for a lot of men. It’s definitely a situation where better cultural norms would benefit everyone, though. :)


  3. I have to chuckle about the “guys” one because it’s a very recent development (I’m a lot older than most people in tech). The first time I heard that used with respect to a woman was by a young waitress referring to my wife and me as “you guys”. I was quite upset at this for two reasons. First, that she referred to my wife as a “guy”, second, that she would talk to her elders and customers in such a familiar and slangy way. So I am totally on board with stopping this abominable practice of referring to women as “you guys”. But, in my opinion, to remedy this you’ll have to start with the young women. In my experience, they constantly refer to each other as “you guys”. If they do it, other people are going to assume it’s ok.

    As to #10, yes for sure! But realize that frequently it’s the marketing department or product managers that define these sorts of policies, not the tech staff. Yes, programmers implement the policies but they do what they’re told in most cases. They and everyone else in company should be aware of and speak out about these concerns, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Modern english lacks a plural second person pronoun, so various dialects are compensating in different ways, and that’s the function that “you guys” is assuming. I see it as a very POSITIVE development that “you guys” is generalizing and becoming useful in gender-agnostic ways. Including this phraseology in a list of “non-PC stuff” seems unnecessary and makes a problem out of something that is actually a natural and healthy development of our language.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. In so many areas the is a chance that usage of most terms risks at least a little offence, girl/woman/lady for example though I tend to find using the corresponding male term so girls and boys, men and women, ladies and gentlemen tends to minimise this.

    Which would you lead with when referring to a girl/women/lady who acts, Actor or Actress? I tend to prefer Actor, as its usually either irrelevant or a tautology or otherwise an obvious detail, such as when introducing someone, its usually clear by their name and appearance which set of gendered pronouns they would prefer and were I to know they differ from that then the he/she I’d commonly have put in earlier (This is Sarah, She is an Actor) should clue anyone in.

    On the ships thing, I’ve always seen it as a form of anthropomorphism, as a look at much of its usage by actual sailors, shows that they commonly assign human personality and emotions, something that doesn’t sit entirely comfortably with objectification (of in this case women) as that involves the removal of such traits. The usage of It when referring to a ship can cause offence as it can be seen as reducing the ship to a mere object. Its still not an ideal situation, but understanding some of the culture around it can at least show that its not as simple a it may seem.

    Its not uncommon to find that what one will take one way will be take another by someone else. I’ve seen a sentence taken as sexist, as not sexist, as an admirable attempt to avoid it where all the existing terms phrases are seen as sexist, and as a sly attempt to appear non-sexist while doing so. A number of different interpretations by the same person, and in most of the cases the internal reasoning was perfectly sound.

    6 Bothers me slightly, or at least the part that says under no circumstances should you ask a women to prove her technical knowledge to you. I understand why its said, but given that in most cases that I’d entrust a job that required some technical knowledge to anyone regardless of sex I’d require some sort of proof of said knowledge. At a conference where its just chatting, someones word or name badge with a role that implies it is generally enough (which is why in absence of such a name badge and assuming they aren’t dressed in the uniform of the venue staff or a waiter or similar I’ll ask, it’s for this reason even as a man I try to avoid black trousers and a white shirt if other appropriate options are available as I’ve been given drinks orders before).

    I feel the most important thing is to understand the need to be flexible, and to be willing to apologise if you are made aware that your words/attitude/etc have caused issues, and to take that onboard for the future.


    • Most style guides recommend “actor” over “actress” these days, I think.

      Good point about how the same sentence can be interpreted many different ways. I never said this was uncomplicated. :)

      I should have clarified that it’s okay to ask someone to prove their technical knowledge in situations where it’s relevant and you would ask it of someone regardless of gender, such as a job interview. The situation I had in mind is a common one (though thankfully becoming less common, I think) where a woman introduces herself as a developer and someone replies by “testing” her knowledge.


  5. Interesting, and on one or two points I think I’ll need to make some adjustments, but it’s interesting that you bring up using “they” etc as a nonspecific genderless pronoun and also use historically-dominant definitions as an argument against words like “guys” being used in a genderless context; I recently had an argument(in the polite sense) on a forum with someone over whether it was more appropriate to remedy the “assumed male reader” problem in wargaming rulebooks by deliberately switching to using “she/her” etc in some or all cases, or more appropriate to use “they/their/they’re” in a nonspecific singular sense.

    The core argument they deployed against said nonspecific singular usage(after I demolished the “it leads to awkward sentence construction in some cases” one – which is true regardless of what pronoun you use and is a problem with the English language in general) was that they are *traditionally* plurals only, and so should remain plurals despite their obvious utility in the context of needing an ungendered nonspecific singular pronoun. My counterpoint, which I stand by, is that language is above all else a tool and, as such, we should take a utilitarian approach to definitions and usage wherever possible – if a word or phrase makes logical sense to use in a new or changed context, but that usage conflicts with some arbitrary rule or historical definition regarding the construction of a particular language, the arbitrary rule or definition is what should change.

    There’s clearly a need in modern English for an informal gender-neutral noun for a group of people that isn’t specific to a dialect, and I would make the same argument regarding “guys” – it makes more sense to me to consciously reinforce the new usage of the word, to strip it of any original gender-specific connotations which remain through continual use in the new context, than it does to try and push the word back into its old box – in the short term using a word with such baggage may act to reinforce attitudes already present in adults, but in the long term having that informal gender-neutral noun as part of the English language will make it more difficult for those attitudes to form in the first place among the young, as having the third option(just as is the case with they/their/they’re used in the singular) removes the necessity for a writer of any gender to make a binary choice and thus reduces the exposure of young minds to the “assumed male reader” and all the baggage that comes with that.

    If the issue is with the singular “guy”, I’d argue the solution is to make the same efforts to de-gender that word as well. It seems to happen already to some degree among peer groups who use “guys” in an ungendered sense(at least in my own experience – the singular was used interchangeably to refer to “man” and “person” depending on the context of the conversation), so I’d argue that the eventual evolution of the usage of the singular is likely a natural outcome of the changing definition of the plural.

    I think at the end of the day the problem is that English is a crappy language – it’s imprecise, it lacks terms that are obviously needed, and its teaching has too long been based on rote learning and rigid adherence to rules which often make no sense at all or have so many exceptions that calling them “rules” at all is a bit of an insult to the word(“I before E except after C, except in these many dozens of examples where that doesn’t apply” is a good example). It’s *possible* to be specific with English, but I contend that the entire reason “shortcuts” like the ungendered usage of “guys” arise in the first place is that such a degree of specificity in English makes it extremely unwieldy and often very dull to read. As I say, better to change the problematic parts of the language’s rules and repurpose words where necessary, than to try and confine ourselves inside a ruleset that clearly isn’t capable of dealing with humanity in a modern context.


    • I think at the end of the day the problem is that English is a crappy language…

      Haha well yes. Also, that human communication in general is inherently messy, imperfect, and reliant on ever-changing cultural subtext. Sometimes I think it’s amazing we manage it at all.

      The whole notion of “reclaiming” or redefining a particular term is a tough one. In some cases it’s certainly possible (and it makes me hopeful to hear stories of kids using “guys” in a more genuinely neutral way), but in others, it proves to be a losing battle against the current of language evolution… and while a word is contested (which is to say, used differently by different people), you run the risk of misinterpretation. I think this is why “you guys” seems more okay to me in person, in a group that is gender-balanced, than it does in a text-based situation or one in which there’s only a few women in the room. If you look straight at me and say “hey guys”, I can be pretty sure you’re using it in a neutral way.


      • Your point about face-to-face vs text is, I’m sure, perfectly fair. I say “I’m sure” because for me, it’s all much of a muchness, I have an autism spectrum disorder so I don’t usually get any more of a feel for that kind of nuance out of “RL” conversations than I do from text.

        The whole concept of “reclaiming” words is one I’ve never fully grasped to be honest with you, to my mind it’s always been a simple matter of “this is needed, that is a rational solution, lets use that then”, but then I often find myself mystified with the ways in which people cling to certain concepts or definitions or ways of doing things. The sooner science enables us to(voluntarily) share experience and meaning directly the better, IMO.


  6. In non-tech life life, numbers 8 (assigning femininity to weakness) and number 11 (gender essentialism) are as big as they ever were.
    I grew up in the 1970’s when, believe it or not, it was said that we were done with sexism. I am saddened when I hear the same old stuff coming out of the mouths of my friend’s kids and grand-kids (basically, all of the items on your list), but glad when I see that there are people still actively recognizing sexism, and speaking of it.


  7. I agree with much of what you said but I feel that your arguments are implying that males only deliver sexual bias and are never the recipients of the same. While working as a male community nurse in the UK I can tell you that females when in the majority are no better than males. I can easily empathise with the woman who works in a predominantly male environment and it can be a pretty lonely existence. As the minority male I tended to get invited to the more formal out of office functions, e.g. the Xmas party, but invites to the Friday night after work drinks sessions were rare. In the working environment as a male I was expected to fetch and carry heavy items or move heavy equipment, something I found particularly galling when in my 60s and the request came from a 20 something female who was probably in far better physical shape than I. When it comes to sexist language females are again no better than males. Just as males make sexist comments disguised as banter the same is true of females. If I pointed this out I was being grumpy, a term which one could construe as being a reference not only to my gender but also to my age. My manager, also female, would often open meetings with, “Good morning ladies” leading me to assume I was an honorary woman!

    Having said all this I did not spend my nursing career being offended by language or figures of speech that were in no way meant to offend. It is easy to take literally a word of phrase and be offended but the meaning and context provide the underlying communication and not the literal meaning of the words and phrases in isolation. There is a world of difference between a calculated insult and the use of words in a metaphorical sense, e.g. to walk into a room and say, “Hi guys” is usually a metaphorical expression of, “Good morning ladies and gentlemen” rather than a sexist statement. Not everyone has the excellent linguistic abilities of the average WordPress blogger so a little tolerance please for the unintentional sexist.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, it’s certainly not true that gender bias doesn’t go both directions — though sexism against men is different in the larger context (doesn’t have the same power dynamic / historic precedent of oppression behind it), of course it’s unpleasant to be on the receiving end of. I firmly believe that gender roles are harmful to both men and women, and I’d love to see that entire concept go the way of the dinosaur. You touched on some great examples of how patriarchy harms men, like the expectation that you’ll carry heavy objects.

      The ageism thing is a big deal in the tech world, too, unfortunately.

      However, I don’t like the implication that I’m going out of my way to be offended by things, or that this post isn’t tolerant of unintentional sexism. The point is that it’s unintentional and we all do stuff like this, but that by being aware of it, we can maybe avoid making people feel the way you felt while working as a nurse. I would equally advise your nursing colleagues to not assume you’ll carry things or dismiss your concerns as “grumpiness”, but I don’t have the benefit of that perspective.

      I don’t tend to get offended when I’m on the receiving end of this stuff, because I know it’s not purposeful… but I would sure like to not put people there if I can help it.


  8. I agree with almost everything and I appreciate this guide. I just hoped it was written earlier, because, I was retarded.

    Not mentally ill, but in french, retarded as a nice touch of delayed, lateness.
    I was always alone growing up and during my education, because nobody would understand my passions. And of course, I was socially awkward, and late in every steps a teenager take to become an “adult”.
    So I didn’t know how to interact with women. Let along flirting, dating and so on.
    When I started to work in tech, I met a woman who not only was here, that was already an exception, but also could teach me a lot of stuff in my passions.
    I was in aw. Not because she was a woman, not because she was intelligent, but because she could understand me, and that was the first time in my life I met someone like her. As a (half) joke I maybe asked her to marry me (I really don’t remember. I maybe said it, but I know it was strongly present in my head). Anyway I surely did something stupid. But she didn’t mind and we had a friendly work relationship since then.

    Of course, I learned along the years to be less socialy awkward, and how to “behave”, so I’m not that “retarded” now.

    But what I’m saying is this : Yes, I’m a privilegied white hetero male. And yes, following this list is a burden that I’m happy to bear. But I wasn’t that privilegied. And I didn’t have the opportunity to learn as a young boy because I didn’t have the possibility to interact easily with other people.
    Maybe having more women early in the pipelines would be an opportunity for the men to learn early socially correct interactions.

    Again what I’m saying is, yes I was stupid, but please forgive me, and please understand that I didn’t had the possibility to learn better.

    So thanks again for this list, and may it help the awkward young males of today.

    [BTW I think it’s the center of this hateful gamergate thing : we are afraid of what we don’t know, and we are clutching at what we know. It’s not easy to teach yourself and to open your mind.]


    • I think it’s definitely true that groups that aren’t very diverse can lead to individuals not developing a good sense of what’s acceptable behavior. Don’t worry, you’re definitely not the only person coming from a place of “Wow, I said/did some really awkward stuff”. I don’t think anyone was ever born just automatically knowing all the right and wrong things to say in social situations, it’s all learned behavior and habits… and, like you said, one of the best ways to learn those things is by getting to know people who are different from us.

      So there’s sort of a chicken-and-egg problem, which is why I think it’s important to pay attention to the little stuff — we have to take intentional steps to break the cycle of “people feel unwelcome, so they don’t join the community, so we keep saying things that make them feel unwelcome, so…”

      By the way, I think I understand why you chose that word, but be cautious about using the word “retarded” — it has some very negative/insulting connotations to native English speakers. It would be better to just stick with the description of delayed learning.


  9. I think this post is so important. There are a ton of ways that we have internalized the stereotypes we’ve been fed so that we don’t even realize when we’re enforcing the existing power structure. I especially agree with your point about not getting defensive if someone points out what you’re doing. A sincere apology and followed by an attempt to change is so rare that I want to stand up and cheer when someone does it.


  10. It’s impossible to disagree with many of your points (eg. “girls” for “women”), but that makes them less interesting.
    I wrote a few lines on a draft for a blog post on two controversial points, but I’m interested in your feedback first (long comment…your piece requires it):

    1) You can’t scale linearly from individual to mass.
    Human beings are complicated: individually, we’re very different; in groups, we create clusters and statistically significant similarities emerge.
    If I’m introduced to a female developer, I should assume she’s good, or she wouldn’t be given that job.
    But expecting that most of my CS students will be male is not sexism, it’s statistics. (Whether it’s a good or a bad thing is a separate issue)
    And also expecting that most women would fight “like chicks”, and that most viewers of “Legally Blonde” would be female is not sexism, it’s statistics. Just like expecting most viewers of Pornhub to be male.
    What I can’t do is assume that any random woman would behave like a statistical sample of women, and discriminate her (positively or negatively) because of that. But when we design technology we do it for millions or billions of people, and behavioural differences of even a fraction of a percentage point result in dramatic increases in success and revenue: should we ignore them for the sake of equality?

    2) We always discriminate.
    In technology, we discriminate every time we choose a font, a size, a colour, a feature… Your point on the period tracking on Apple’s health app is very good, but what if that feature would have come at the expense of something else that most of the users would have enjoyed more?
    Would it be an issue if Pinterest discriminated against men with a design feature that women liked more, as most of their user base if female? Is this a social issue or a market opportunity? Are these ethical questions or commercial questions?


    • Thanks for this thoughtful commentary!

      It’s impossible to disagree with many of your points (eg. “girls” for “women”), but that makes them less interesting.

      Many people are still managing it, though. ;) What’s interesting to me is that there’s not consensus on which ones are “no-brainers” and which ones are “making mountains out of molehills”. Which proves my overall point, in a way.

      You make a good point about discrimination, although I’d phrase it as “we always make assumptions” — I think there’s a difference between making a snap judgment and acting on it, if that makes sense.

      As to the period tracker, I get what you’re saying about business reasons, but I think quite a large percentage of the iPhone userbase is women? The problem is more that tech companies predominantly composed of young white men make decisions about which features are (un)important, possibly without realizing their users don’t necessarily have the same needs they do.

      Sort of related to the question of “ethical or commercial” — I think there are some good posts out there about how more diverse companies are more successful, so although I balk at saying “we should have more diversity because PROFIT”, I think there’s some indication that the two are intertwined.


      • Besides that, almost every woman in the world has a period. Not just a few who like them, or some that are interested in that feature, but EVERY SINGLE WOMAN EVERYWHERE has a period (barring some health crises, which are unfortunately not as rare as we’d like them to be.)


      • Quite a lot of women do not have periods, and many who do, don’t want or need to track them, so it’s not 100% safe to generalize to “every single woman everywhere”. The exceptions are not just health problems, but age, birth control usage, people who are very athletic, transfolk, probably other stuff I’m not thinking of.

        Though it *is* an issue that disproportionately affects women, it’s more accurate to say it affects people who menstruate (not all women, and some men).

        Sorry for the bit of pedantry, but I think it’s something a lot of people don’t realize, and it can be hurtful to women who don’t have periods to be implicitly told they’re defective or lacking.


  11. Your latter points were excellent. I especially liked the points about stereotyping women’s needs. The absence of the period tracker was an excellent point.
    I will be honest though, I almost stopped reading early on with the first 8 points. They felt a little forced, not powerful, and/or irrelevant to tech compared to the end points. Glad I didn’t stop.


  12. You’ve got me thinking.

    With women with whom I can flirt, I have made comments to the effect that competence is sexy, and it usually comes across well *because* we are already flirting.

    Otherwise (i.e.: *before* friendly flirting is established)… well, I learned (yes, the hard way, alas) that it *sounds* like it’ll be warm and funny and cute (and maybe “I didn’t know you felt that way!”?) inside my head, but doesn’t sound that way outside. Usually falls flat, like a lead weight. Hell, like a lead weight trying to imitate an osmium weight, that’s trying to be really heavy and fall really flat. On top of a black hole, though whether a classical or quantum… never mind.

    But would I make the same kind of comment about a competent guy? No. Then again, I wouldn’t flirt with a guy.

    It bears thinking about. Because even though it’s not hideous, harmful, evil, etc.. – it’s making a woman in tech out to be different. I certainly wouldn’t do this in a group setting, but I think I’ll keep it in my repertoire for warm, friendly interactions with close friends.


    • We’re definitely all a lot more risqué with close friends than with colleagues. Once you know someone, not only do you have a better idea of the way they like to be treated, but they know you better, so there’s less chance of misinterpretation.


  13. Very interesting read. As a woman and a feminist, I politely disagree on the topic of the word “guys”. I get it, it seemingly assumes an entire masculine audience however, this word has transcended gender at this point in time. Yes, I would refer to a group exclusively of ladies as “you guys”. The term has evolved.

    Aren’t we lobbying for gender neutral terms? Actor, author, waiter without “ress” tagged on the end. Why can’t “guys” fall into this category? A term that was originally gender specific but now encompasses all.


    • The weird thing is that it hasn’t transcended gender in the singular form (“She’s basically a Python guy”, “I met this guy the other day and she said…”), and less so in the plural depending on usage (“you guys” versus “She’s going out with the guys”, “She’s basically one of the guys”, “That’s more of a guy thing” and so on). I’ve heard some people use “dude” in an equal-opportunity way, so I’d be down for doing that with “guy”… but as it stands right now I think it’s disingenuous to say that it’s already gender-neutral.


      • I disagree! I totally use “this guy” to refer to myself but it’s more to be a smartass then anything else. I do directly refer to female friends in the singular as dude but that might be a SF thing. Oh there’s even a Robyn song where she says “I’m not the guy you’ll be taking home”


      • Final comment, I think maybe you intended to insult me with a word like “uninventive” or “uncreative” or maybe even “incorrect” or “presumptive” but I can promise I’m not being disingenuous in saying I believe “you guys” has become or is swiftly becoming gender neutral.


      • I didn’t mean to insult you at all, I’m sorry! Just meant that no amount of asserting it’s gender neutral for you will make it true that everyone is going to hear it that way, at least not yet.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Agree with all of these, even the ones that make me squirm, except #1: ‘guys’ – this is an example of the common illusion that words ‘have meaning’, the way a candy bar has calories. Words don’t ‘have’ meanings. The meaning of a word is a lot more like the price of a candy bar: People hear words and construct meaning, varying with time, context, and person. And the past meaning of a word doesn’t travel with it like some kind of ectoplasm – once people stop interpreting a word in an old way, that word, for those people, loses the old meaning. Just as ‘silly’ once meant ’empty’ to millions of English speakers: But it did! You can’t feel that? Where did that meaning go? It disappeared. It’s gone. Because none of us has used it that way or heard it used that way in our lifetime.

    ‘Soldier’ used to mean male, ‘pilot’ used to imply male. Hell, not SO long ago ‘voter’ implied male. When I say ‘voters’ do you picture a bunch of men? How about ‘pilots’?
    We’re most of the way there with ‘guys’, we just need to finish the job. If we use ‘guys’ for any group of humans, people will understand ‘guys’ to mean ‘group of humans’, and then they’ll use it that way. And then voila, it has that meaning. Because that’s all the meaning a word has.

    And no, I’m not very concerned that the singular ‘guy’ has gender (more or less) because the idea that the singular somehow ‘contaminates’ the plural is intuitive… and unscientific bunk. Does ‘waves’ mean just the plural of ‘wave’? (Check any dictionary.) Is ‘bits’ exactly the plural of ‘bit’? Listen to some software geeks. Does ‘codes’ mean only and exactly the plural of ‘code’? No, it’s common for the plural form to invoke extra and/or different meanings. Language is complicated, and sometimes our intuition about it is just wrong.

    Plus, I’m all for making ‘guy’ more gender-neutral.
    Q: “Have you got a guy who’s good at Node.js?”
    A: “Sarah’s quite good. Our other node guy is still on maternity leave.”
    It sounds funny now, but in 5 years? You’re changing something that’s almost a function word, those don’t change fast.


    • We’re making the same point from different sides, I think. :) I love the candy bar comparison! I think you could make the some point about a lot of things on this list (common usage / reclaiming versus outdated-but-possibly-changing meanings); “guys” would seemingly win the “Most Likely To Become Gender Neutral” award, but it won’t happen overnight.

      The problem is, how to use it in a way that hurries it on the path to true neutrality, instead of simply reinforcing its old meaning? I think using it in the singular to refer to women is pretty good as far as being mindfully subversive goes.


  15. A guy once told me to “grow a pair”. Without thinking, I grabbed my boobs and proclaimed, “Mine are bigger than yours, I think you’re the one who needs some growth.”

    Probably not a good response in an office environment, but it was sure fun to see his face.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I agree with all points except the ‘sexy’ thing. I think it is based on an attitude that I actually find deeply troubling and hurtful.

    Most women like sex, and most men like sex, and that’s a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with having sex or thinking about sex or liking sex, neither for women nor for men. To me it seems like many people feel that male sexuality is evil, and I think that belief is sexist, and it hurts both women and men. Yes, there are many men who sexually abuse and harass women, but that’s not because they are men, but because they have a wrong view of sexuality.

    The phrase “it’s never ‘bring your dick to work’ day” is sexist, because a penis is just as good and beautiful and sexy as a vagina. I was born with a penis, and I bring my dick to work every day, just like my female colleagues bring their pussies to work every day. What’s wrong with that?

    In a nutshell: Sex is beautiful, for both men and women. Describing something as ‘sexy’ is fine, for both men and women. If we say the word ‘sexy’ is demeaning to women or that only men would describe things as ‘sexy’, we implicitly perpetuate the belief that sex is demeaning to women or that women don’t have sexual feelings.


    • It’s a tough one. I agree with what you’re saying and consider myself sex-positive, but I still think it’s good to be wary of sexualizing professional environments — especially when those environments already have a gender imbalance and a problem with more overt sexual pressure or harassment (which is most often experienced by women, and which they very often, and for good reason, feel unsafe speaking up about).

      There’s also the problem that, in a larger cultural context, men are lauded for conquests, whereas women are punished for them. If that wasn’t true, there would be a lot more space for it to be okay.

      The idea isn’t so much that everyone should repress their sexuality, as that taking things in that direction in a professional setting is likely to distribute discomfort unevenly and in ways that can be very scary for some people, depending on their history.


    • Agree about sex. Disagree about “sexy”. I hate it when people describe technical stuff that way. As attached as I am to my computers and programming, I never think of them “that way” and I always find it weird when people use “sexy” to talk about something that is not sexual. I also think it sounds more like some marketing buzzword than a useful conveyance of meaning.


      • I do feel “that way” about technology. I love that blissful moment when I suddenly understand (or even invent) a beautiful algorithm… it makes me feel warm and fuzzy. But it’s more like falling in love than making love. ;-) Maybe my feelings are unusual, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them. There’s nothing wrong with your dislike either. We simply have different tastes. Does that mean I have to suppress my feelings so I don’t hurt yours? I don’t think so. If we were colleagues, we could probably find some kind of compromise. But I agree that “sexy” is too often used as a buzzword.


  17. Quite interesting, and very well written. I’d like to present one item as a concern to be addressed (and not as a counterargument, by any means). In Item 1, you argued that one way to help promote gender equality is to stop using “guys” as a general term of address for an unknown group, because this form of address “assumes maleness as the default.” This is, no doubt, an excellent way to help reduce such bias in the workplace, and, in any case, the use of “guys” to address a group (other than, I suppose, a fraternity party or something similar) is fraught with other concerns which make it a poor choice anyway.

    What your argument fails to address, however, is that in many languages, assuming maleness as default is not just a matter of choosing between equally grammatical constructs using “folks” or “people” instead of guys, but is, in fact, a requirement of the rules of language. In languages with gender specific constructs, a mixed group must use the male construct – to do anything else is grammatically and linguistically wrong. How do you propose to address this problem when, for a vast portion of the world (Spanish and Portuguese are two such gendered languages, and Spanish remains the primary language for a huge portion of world), defaulting to maleness is not a choice by the inviolable rule of their language?


  18. I am so glad you wrote this, thanks.

    With respect to Guys, i was brought up in the UK and was taught to use “People”, in mixed company… though many of my British friends use the dominant gender of the group, so its either Ladies, or Gents, or in less professional environments guys or gals. These are people in their 30’s so their is clear cultural divide between north america and the UK.

    With respect to Sexualisation, i disagree with you, believe that it is so ingrained into culture across both genders, clothes are sexy, cars are sexy, the words when used in this context no longer have an implied sexual content, for example…. one does not fantasize about copulating with windows 95, but i clearly remember it being described as sexy. As long as their is no implied graphic imagry i am fine with it.

    and as for hot, well quite frankly its been misappropriated by everyone out side of physics, so i dont fret about which meaning is not appropriate when their are so many others to choose from.

    Now extending Sexy to include clear graphic/explicit sexual content/allusions, that’s just in such poor taste, unprofessional, down right scary and frequently borders on harassment. thats just not cool,( in a physics sort of way.)


  19. I am both amazed and humbled by this post. It simply yet eloquently lays out behavior that I have witnessed and, to my shame, also acted out. If I could imprint one fact into the minds of men around the world, it’s this sentence from this piece: “Women are people in their own right and have value independent of their relationships to men” <—– YES!


  20. A campaign should be started to post this on the walls of workplaces around the world.

    I’m very serious. As a CTO person, I’d do so right away if I was not working remotely most of the time. I believe it would help—perhaps with some small adjustments—because it is written in a nice, neutral way, and not in the demeaning, angry way often seen elsewhere.

    I believe the way to get through to people is to be diplomatic, unbiased, and neutral—no matter the issue or argument, no matter how frustrated (triple-pissed) you are, and no matter how much you want to strangle the record-breakingly moronic full-time assholes and part-time cyber-rapists on the other end.

    For example, for 10 years my father has told me I look like a girl, in the most negative ways possible (the same ways that women belong in kitchens). I’ve obviously never changed this appearance because of his arguments. Hence, it didn’t work.

    I get pissed, but I don’t lash out. Instead, sometimes, I argue in favor of my long, blonde hair—that it doesn’t matter, that I like it, that it’s the only thing that suits me, that I’m feminist and feminine in my thinking and personality and it has nothing to do with my appearance, or that women compliment it for being so soft, shiny, and super-blonde (and men—only men—ridicule and bully), and being straight at the time, I’d rather have a woman than a man appreciating and playing with my hair in bed at night, feeling it against her cheek as her head rests on my shoulder and she perhaps falls asleep with a smile, in just a tiny bit fluffier mood—that alone is more than enough of an argument to me.

    Then he looks down, quietly, and his facial expression and body language turns to “I totally get it, but I’ll never admit it; I’ll just shut up about it until next week when I’ve finally forgotten this happened.” (It isn’t even *that* long.) That works, at least as much as anything can work.

    My point is, it’s a fantastic post and it should be read by everyone. Thus, it should be shared and posted on around the real world. If you don’t want to forever be “the sissy that put that feminist bullshit in the restroom stall,” then come in early and do it anonymously and don’t look so damn guilty in the disciplinary staff meeting that follows.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this; I’m guessing it took a while. I hope you realize that you’ve done the world a big favor by doing so.


  21. Good post. I agree with everything except maybe #11.

    There are valid statements, like “Women tend to be better at communicating feelings than men,” that are simply statements about gender reality and not gender bias. What such statements really mean is that there is a statistically significant difference between the values of some statistical measure for the subpopulation of men and the subpopulation of women within some reference population. (And that particular statement is backed up by research. Women have more and stronger connections in their corpus collosums than men, making them (on average) way better than us at integrating feelings with reason.)

    These statements become stereotypes when we use them to paint *all individuals* in a population. There are statistically-valid reasons that chocolate is marketed more heavily to women and beer is marketed mostly to men. But to question the manhood of a male chocoholic or the femininity of a female beer lover would be blatantly pig-headed.

    I hate to dismiss these kinds of differences between genders because they are significant to how organizational culture becomes male-dominated. A business run predominantly by men can end up unconsciously codifying male-modes of interaction into the organizational culture and values. Not surprisingly males in a mostly male culture will interact, well, the way males prefer to interact (many of the items in your list I wold identify as more “male-friendly.”) Less emotion, more reason. Less personal connection, more activity sharing. “Man-up” is male code for “get those emotions out of here and focus on facts, tasks, and accomplishments.” Males construct a defacto cultural “home field advantage” for men that does not feel natural to the way women prefer to interact. When we ignore valid differences between gender in the workplace, we unconsciously create a “home field advantage” that will feel slightly less comfortable to whichever is the minority gender. I believe we can and should become better at creating organizations that honor both male and female modes of interaction without being all judgy about which mode any one *individual* finds most comfortable.

    Cody Clark

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes to creating organizations that honor all modes of interaction, though I’d like to see us move past coding particular styles of interaction as “male” or “female” by nature.

      Whether there’s a “gender reality” of any sort is hard to say, since we’re raised in a society that inculcates gender roles starting at birth. It’s kind of a chicken-and-egg problem. There are a lot of studies that show that women might only be generally better at reading emotional subtext, for example, because they are encouraged in it, whereas men are discouraged.

      In the end I think we’re all multifaceted, and we each have aspects of our personalities that have traditionally been considered more “masculine” or “feminine”.


  22. I think most women in tech, gaming industry or gaming communities in general experience regular sexism and misogyny when they are honest about their gender. This blog post perfectly explains some of the casual ways it’s embedded in our culture #YesAllFemaleGamers


  23. Thanks for a thought-provoking post about some real issues that have bothered me as a (now mostly former “women in tech”). I have a few reactions I thought might be worth sharing, although I’m guessing some of this has been discussed already so maybe not worth picking up again. I have a small baby and no time to read all the comments at the moment.

    1) I think you’re sometimes unintentionally conflating gender with sex. I’ll repeat, I certainly don’t think it’s intentional, particularly because you go on to discuss the problem with gender essentialism. However, it’s a slippery slope when writing:

    “Conversely, many apps just outright ignore features that disproportionately affect female users (like the conspicuous absence of period tracking functionality in the Apple’s new Health app).”

    and then

    “Stop policing masculinity with comments about men who cross the line into “too feminine”.”

    I agree, but where do LGBTA people fit in this schema? Or is there no room for them in tech?

    2) I agree with previous comments about using the ubiquitous term “you guys” – I also use this as a default and find it has been so ingrained it’s difficult to break the habit. I primarily only use it with fellow co-workers or friends in informal contexts, and I would never use it in a formal context. I do see your point about the underlying gender implications, but I feel it’s a bit overblown to extend that into the tech arena without first admitting it’s – as one person here wrote – a problem with the development of crappy [especially American] English over the last two decades or so. I’m in my thirties and believe I started using it in middle school/early 1990s, so it must have become the fad sometime around then. It would be great to change that for many reasons, but it is not specific to tech and thus a bit of a tangent from your main points here.

    Anyways, these are really criticisms, just thoughts as I read. Love the article, glad someone wrote what you did!


    • Thanks! Indeed, I believe that gender is a continuum not a binary, but that’s an entire post all on its own. :)

      Can you say more about how those excerpts seem to erase LGBTA folks? I’ve reread a few times, but I don’t think I’m getting it, sorry. :/

      To clarify, I’m taking issue with the policing of gender roles (against someone of any gender), not with people’s right to choose their own gender expression. The “policing masculinity” sentence in particular seems to me to apply to microaggressions against gay men. A lot of subtle sexism relies on heteronormative assumptions that are exclusionary to anyone who doesn’t fit that narrative, whether they’re genderqueer, non-binary, asexual, or even straight men constantly being told they have to perform masculinity in a certain way.

      I tried to be very careful with the statement about period tracking — I didn’t want to derail my post, but it’s certainly true that not all women have periods (or care to track them), and some men do.

      Just as many of these points aren’t specific to tech, they’re not specific to women, either (and not only perpetrated by men). I tried to write from that single point of focus while still acknowledging that it’s not the only one. :)


  24. Hi. Great list .. but personally I think it would be stronger if you left out #1, possibly #2, and #5.

    I think these three are arguable to some extent (for example, I personally think “guys and girls” is *worse* than a gender-neutral “guys but can see the counterargument). On the other hand, the rest are harder to justify continuing if you are serious about addressing microaggressions (a nice term I hadn’t come across before).


  25. Instead of “guys” my friends use “kids” to describe our mixed gender set of friends. Also rather than describe an object as sexy, we say shiney. And I have called out my former boss (grade A asshole) because our group was discussing how a visiting student from Spain wanted to stay in the states but his wife didn’t want to and my former boss (who actually fired me, btw) said something about buying her jewelry to “keep the wife happy”. And I, the only woman there, said “Dude!?!”

    And reading this I thought of a star trek quote (reed is a member of starflight, talas is an andorian)
    TALAS: You don’t trust me.
    REED: No offence, but when it comes to our weapons frequencies I wouldn’t trust my own mother.
    TALAS: Is your mother considered a security risk?
    REED: It’s just an expression.
    TALAS: An odd one. My mother’s security clearance is higher than mine.
    REED: Really.
    TALAS: She commanded an Imperial Infantry Unit.


  26. great article. I agree with most of these. I, as a male, have fallen foul of some of these. Last year I was introduced to a woman at a conference party and made an assumption she was in Sales, not a technical role. She was in a technical role. That was not my finest hour.

    I struggle with the guys/gals thing though. My wife agrees with you. But I’m left with a problem: how do I informally address a group of women?
    A: I can informally address a group of men “Hi guys – let’s get started.”
    B: I informally address a group of men and women in a similar way. “C’mon guys, let’s get started.”
    C: If it’s just women, what do I say? “C’mon women, let’s get started.”

    I don’t feel that B is casually sexist. I get it that you do, and my wife does, but I don’t feel your justifications are correct. As far as I see it language has evolved. “Guys” is evolving as a word. Sure, in the singular it might still be male, but it’s not just male in the plural (IMHO).

    And I am stuck on C. “C’mon women…” sounds awfully patronising. “Girls” to me, fits better. And, IMHO, it’s EQUIVALENT to “guys”. I do agree that “guy” suggests older than “boy” in a way that “girl” doesn’t, but it’s a term expressing informality, not something that’s patronising.


    • Lots of people use the following informally: “folks”, “everyone”, “all”, “y’all”, “people”, “peeps”, “everybody”, “team”… or just leave it off (“Okay, let’s get started!”). Pick and choose, or find your own.

      Agree with you that I don’t like the gendered-female form either.

      As you’ve found, not everyone hears plural “guys” as gendered, but as your wife has told you, not everyone doesn’t. Do what you will with that information… the issue has been talked to death in the comments, with proponents on both sides. Personally I feel like it’s an awful lot of ink spilled agonizing over a single word, when one could just as easily choose a different one. :)


  27. I like the tern “guys” — I think it depends on contexts really. I mean in gaming community it does presuppose that all players are males but when you reveal you are a girl I think people don’t wanna use “guy” for some internalized reasons of treating the girl with a tad bit of sugar more than others. That’s why I think content and context matters. Because mostly all words carry that semantic field. So, we should appropriate according to contexts and situations.


  28. I really enjoyed your article. It was very eye opening and I hope that a lot of good comes of it. I posted a link to your article on an internal forum and one person had an insightful reply. He said that your use of the phrase “frat boy” generalized men. I wonder how many people might encounter that phrase, come to the same conclusion, and say, “see, we’re not the only people who generalize” as they close their browser tab. People who want to disregard what you’re saying don’t need a reference to “frat boys” to warrant disregarding it but I would love it if they had one less reason for disregarding it. Thanks again for opening my eyes. It has changed how I think and how I view communications for the better.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. 1. Really? Wow. I am a woman and I regularly, actually pretty much always use “guys” synonymously with “folks” etc.
    2. I have been known to use “ladies”, rarely. Honestly “guys” is my go-to.
    3. Yay, I haven’t done this one :) To be honest I have found men to be worse with this. It took my father months of having a mobile to figure out that the sound for a text is not the same as someone ringing you. My father in law was required to do a basic IT class for his role, he got his youngest son to do all his homework so he would pass :)
    5. I do name my cars, but to be fair they have not all been female. My last car was male, “Phantom” because he was the same colour purple and the Phantom’s costume. My new car is “Robin” because she is the colour of a Robin’s egg and just like Robin Williams she makes me smile :)
    7. I once told my then boyfriend he had a beautiful brain and said I wanted to marry it… turns out it is a package deal though. He is now my Husband :)


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