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The Language We UseI have a very strong interest in gender studies, so I be approaching...

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missjenn | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

Posted February 1, 2010 at 10:05 AM via web

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The Language We Use

I have a very strong interest in gender studies, so I be approaching this question/observation in a somewhat biased way, but I would really appreciate all view points.

Classroom to classroom I have often seen colleagues address the class as a whole as "guys." For example, if the class is a bit load they may say, "C'mon guys, let us remain on task." 9 out out of 10 times these classes are compiled of both sexes, male and female. I have often wondered what does this do for a female student? Has it been happening so long it is overlooked or is there potentially a negative result as we uniformally group students through our use of language?

 

I have tried my own methods, and frankly I never liked the phrase "guys," rather "folks," yet even that I feel is somewhat exclusive. I have turned to using "ladies and gentlemen." For the most part it has been a very well received practice. The first few times the students seemed somewhat dumbfounded at what I had said.

What are your thoughts on this? Have you noticed this as well? Have you implemented any gender-neutral or inclusive language into your daily classroom vocab you could share?

 

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scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted February 1, 2010 at 10:16 AM (Answer #2)

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I've tried both gender-neutral language and gender-specific language and honestly haven't seen much of a difference in students' response.  I teach in the South, where my students are used to "y'all" which I don't use but which doesn't have any gender related to it.  I grew up in the Midwest; so "guys" is very common there, and I never felt excluded, etc., when teachers addressed the class in such a manner.

As my students come in the door, I will often say "Hello, Ladies" to several girls as they enter, and they usually snicker because it seems so formal to them.  I try to use a variety of terms because what I've found from trying to be too politically correct and sensitive is that students are losing familiarity with older terms such as "mankind," etc., and it truly affects their ability to be able to interpret older texts on their own when they do not realize that words/phrases such as that refer to all humans.

Moreover, the whole gender-specific phenomenon has created a problem with pronoun/antecedent agreement which might not be that important in the real world but is important for AP testing, etc.  Instead of using a singular pronoun such as "his" to refer to "everyone," students use "their" because they don't want to put just "his" or "her" and don't like the wordiness of "his or her."

Overall, I try to create a balance among all the terms; so that my students are exposed to a wide variety of expressions and salutations.

 

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted February 1, 2010 at 10:38 AM (Answer #3)

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It may just be because I teach in a very conservative area, but my students have never been much interested in this sort of issue.  I came to my little rural high school fresh from graduate school with all these ideas about inclusiveness.  Then I found that the students didn't care.  Hispanics called themselves "Mexican" (they are all Mexican in our school) and didn't want their names pronounced in the "proper" way.  Female students don't seem to care about the word "guys."  The only situation where it seems important to my students is in sports -- the teams I coach like to be addressed as "ladies" -- it's traditional at our school.

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missjenn | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

Posted February 1, 2010 at 10:41 AM (Answer #4)

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I've tried both gender-neutral language and gender-specific language and honestly haven't seen much of a difference in students' response.  I teach in the South, where my students are used to "y'all" which I don't use but which doesn't have any gender related to it.  I grew up in the Midwest; so "guys" is very common there, and I never felt excluded, etc., when teachers addressed the class in such a manner.

As my students come in the door, I will often say "Hello, Ladies" to several girls as they enter, and they usually snicker because it seems so formal to them.  I try to use a variety of terms because what I've found from trying to be too politically correct and sensitive is that students are losing familiarity with older terms such as "mankind," etc., and it truly affects their ability to be able to interpret older texts on their own when they do not realize that words/phrases such as that refer to all humans.

Moreover, the whole gender-specific phenomenon has created a problem with pronoun/antecedent agreement which might not be that important in the real world but is important for AP testing, etc.  Instead of using a singular pronoun such as "his" to refer to "everyone," students use "their" because they don't want to put just "his" or "her" and don't like the wordiness of "his or her."

Overall, I try to create a balance among all the terms; so that my students are exposed to a wide variety of expressions and salutations.

 

Thanks a lot for this insight. I guess I possibly should have states I am from the north (New York to be exact).

I agree and like how you point out the pronouns. I definetly agree that "their" is a better way to communicate a group idea rather than the constant "his or her," "his/her," or my least favorite, " s/he."

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maadhav19 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted February 1, 2010 at 1:38 PM (Answer #5)

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I'm rather curious why you avoid the term "folks," which I adopted as a way of avoiding explicitly gendered terms. I also somehow started using "you all" in my face-to-face classes, even though "y'all" was never used in my upbringing. But I think in general I never much need to use gendered terms when addressing the class. Even a term like "everyone," as in "this assignment is required for everyone" avoids it.

I think there are two things at work here. One is the terms by which you address a class. The other is the attitude you have toward a class. I think that the attitude has more of an effect than the terms used. I say this from the perspective of someone who periodically takes classes still, and after the first time I realized I had to set aside my pedogogical eye in order to be a student in a class again. But it did seem that some professors seem to obviously talk down to students, and others don't, regardless of what exact terms they use.  (By the way, if you teach, I strongly recommend taking classes to remember what it's like on the other side of the classroom!)

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Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted February 1, 2010 at 1:48 PM (Answer #6)

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I am not sure if this is a good contribution but it seems to work OK with some of my groups. Those groups who are kind of high end "too cool" I usually refer to as "team" as a whole. Like, Morning, Team, what's up!

I used to say hey, gang! But I refrained from the obvious reasons :)

The reason for that is because I used to teach Spanish, where the gender is marked for everything, and I could not get off the boat of saying "BOYS and girls" in Spanish. Boys always first. The girls were kinda getting tired of it, so I changed it.

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epollock | Valedictorian

Posted February 1, 2010 at 8:21 PM (Answer #7)

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I have used all types of language and if you prefer one to another then that should be what you use. You should try to just use students whenever possible. I have switched to that, or simply people.

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booksnmore | College Teacher | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

Posted February 2, 2010 at 1:52 PM (Answer #8)

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I'm pretty sure I know some people who would be offended by the use of the term "ladies" instead of "women." The funny thing about the word "guy" is that I no longer think of it in male gender terms when it's used in the plural format. I think I use "everyone" or "class" or just say "attention, please."

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linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted February 2, 2010 at 2:27 PM (Answer #9)

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I had a teacher once who was offended when someone referrred to her as a "girl." She was in her late 70s when I met her, and she used to fuss that she had not been a girl for many decades.

I don't like it when a group of girls are addressed as "guys," as in "you guys." And I hate it when a student absentmindedly says "dude" instead of "wow" or "cool." I always say, "Can't you tell I'm not a dude?"

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Jen Sambdman | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted February 7, 2010 at 4:40 PM (Answer #10)

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In college we were taught to not be gender-specific when addressing our classes but I will admit, I have fallen back in to the "guys" language in my classroom. Generally though, I have a lot more boys than girls in my remedial English classroom and the boys are the ones that are mstly unruly and I have to address it by saying "guys, settle down!" The girls know I am not addressing them. When they are getting chatty, I do say "people, ladies and gentlemen, etc" when addressing the whole class, but honestly, I don't think they notice the difference. Anymore, kids think of the word "guys" as "hey everyone" so I don't think it is a detrimental to a female student's well-being as some people may think.

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wakeflyboy | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 10, 2010 at 9:02 AM (Answer #11)

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I have to say that it bothers me when people misuse pronouns, and I think that it does not matter whether you choose the masculine or feminine form.  The problem does arise when you attempt to use "they" or "their" when talking about a hypothetical singular person.  It is equally annoying when slashes are used (such as he/she or and/or).  This is a break away from the use of concise language, and should therefore be avoided.  It is much more offensive to butcher the English language than it is to call someone a "lady" or a "guy."  Either way, when addressing a large group, it will not matter what word you choose to use as long as you are consistant and use the word respectfully.

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enotechris | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted February 12, 2010 at 11:28 AM (Answer #12)

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The famous musical "Guys & Gals" by its very title may have something to import here -- why a little more than half a century ago it was obvious to address a group of men as "guys" and a group of women as "gals" and is not acceptable now is precisely because of this cultural perversion of attempting to be gender neutral.  It's completely backfired -- so much so that "guys" has subsumed any female-equivalent term.  What's a feminist to do? Even when addressing a group of young women, employing the term "gals" would be perceived as slightly derogatory -- that somehow, they're not quite the equal of "guys."  So "guys" is used.  Calling that same group of young women "girls" would be perceived as more derogatory -- even if that's precisely what they are, relative to their male counterparts being addressed as "boys."

In short, the politics of language and those who have advanced the cause of gender-neutrality have done their job supassingly well, and they have inadvertently undermined their efforts to establish equivalent female terms, as all group terms have now become male specific and excluded any female reference.

Whatever the politics of gender neutrality, it violates our very biology -- there are only two body designs, despite what psychologic or social forces may suggest otherwise. To address a group of same-sexed individuals by a given term that is not politically loaded should be quite natural and acceptable.

I would welcome the days of addressing a group of young males as "boys" and not have them perceive their manhood being threatened, and addressing a group of young women as "girls" and not have them perceive they're inferior. I would reserve the use of "ladies" and "gentlemen" to those same groups, when they've earned those respective titles, perhaps once they became adults.

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charlesbuckles | College Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 15, 2010 at 11:13 PM (Answer #13)

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Well "class" why don't "we" wrap this up, and determine that it is basically the same as saying the sun rises when in fact, through science, we now know the earth rotates. Yet we still say sunrise and sunset.

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job518 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted February 20, 2010 at 12:07 AM (Answer #14)

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I have honestly found a complete indifference to the gender specific terms in my classrooms. Maybe one or two individuals would respond "hey, I am not a guy." Students now days are bogged down with all the other opportunities to get upset and get offended that they just don't seem to mind what terms I use as long as it isn't demeaning. In general, guys, you all, students, all seem to work. It seems like the problem corrects itself in most of my classes. Usually it is a group of the same gender that is being corrected, ie. ladies quit talking, guys have a seat, everybody get in the room and have a seat. Much depends on what level of students you are teaching, or what socioeconomic status you are working with, as to whether they will be offended or not. I also think that being offended is highly over rated in our society. It is all part of life and we really should learn how to get past most of it and better ourselves.
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christen14 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 24, 2010 at 12:43 PM (Answer #15)

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from a students point of view..

we don't care

atleast in texas we dont but in post 5 she said that she had adopted "y'all" or "folks"

down here that is exactly what we say especially in big classes

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sevenyrteachereng | Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 28, 2010 at 8:36 PM (Answer #16)

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Having a position in a mostly hispanic high school, I overheard a great teacher address her students as Mr.Ruiz and Ms.Rodriguez to which the students acted appropriately with respect.  It helps  to foster respect to each other.

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mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 20, 2010 at 5:49 AM (Answer #17)

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These days, I don't think it matters.  Formality and politically correct terms are wasted on students.  Honestly, they don't care.

And it shouldn't matter.  You should not be afraid to use a term, regardless of gender.  Don't self-censor.  That's the worst thing you can do: limit your own language.

Randy Jackson from American Idol calls everyone "dude."  That's fine.  It works for him.  No one these days is offended.

I say "guys" and "folks."  They're all empty words, really.  They're there to fill a space.  No one objects.  "Ladies and gentlemen" is fine too.  Just don't say "yous."

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lfawley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted April 20, 2010 at 5:56 AM (Answer #18)

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I think that the spirit of equality that was supposed to be engendered by the use of politically correct language is a good idea in theory, but like many ideas that sound good in theory, they fail in their implementation. Changing language does not change perception. Equality is a concept that goes much deeper than a set of words. Terms that are derogatory on a racially or gender-based scale have only the degree of power that we give them. When we take control of our perception of language, we remove their power. However, no matter what words we use, if the act of discrimination still exists, the rhetoric is meaningless. Until we actually change the way in which we view each other as human beings, the words that we use will not matter except to the degree that language shapes perceptions.

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted April 20, 2010 at 4:44 PM (Answer #19)

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It has been so interesting to read all of the responses to this topic!  As I was reading them, my thought through it all was, "I don't think my students here in the deep South really mind." It was then that I read (and appreciated) "christen 14" as response #15. 

I am very guilty myself of using "guys" to refer to a class, . . . but not necessarily when I am "in my right mind."  Ha!  It's more when I feel like I'm losing control of the class behaviorally.  Saying "Class!" or "Attention!" just sounds too  formal.

My concern is that, when teaching Standard English, we should also speak in Standard English.  If I am going to require my students to write he/she, . . . then I probably should practice what I preach.  Perhaps I speak more informally when trying to connect with the class?  Hmmmm.  Things to think about . . .

Regardless, this is a wonderful topic to discuss!

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted April 26, 2010 at 9:49 AM (Answer #20)

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I must admit, I do sometimes use "guys" though I haven't identified any negative results from its use. On the whole, however, I find I use terms like "class" or "group" far more, which, as you point out, are a lot less gender specific and seem to be more inclusive. I do have to agree with other teachers here though in thinking that the use "guys" is now pretty much accepted into modern "speak" as being equally relevant to both genders - I don't feel that its use will seriously disadvantage female students or is another method of subtle disempowerment.

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swimma-logan | Student, College Freshman | Valedictorian

Posted May 26, 2010 at 4:28 AM (Answer #21)

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I'm a student, and honestly, we don't care. Unless it pertains to our grade, or an assignment, we don't pay it much notice how we're referred to, but subconsciously, there's a difference. The gender neutral, or inclusive terms make us warmer to a teacher, and we consider them more understanding, or tolerant, but we're not offended by "guys"

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