Messages from Writers on Writing and Education
On the Topic of Yous
Op-ed, updated May 2021*
As a new experience one December, I spent a holiday as a sales associate in a retail clothing company on 5th Avenue in New York City. This is an elite area where countless hours each day are spent on presentation—all collars folded and opened to the same distance, hangers placed one finger distance apart, all edges that face the first view are lined, phones are answered in less than 2 rings, the experience of shopping is a priority, and customers are greeted by first names if known. To customers who walk in, if their names are not yet known, “sir” or “ma’am,” “miss” or “ms” are the choices. When the customer is at the purchase area “guest” is also used.
Behind the scenes there is a different dialogue for salutations. The most common salutation between the majority of womxnagers when addressing a full group of people who identify as womxn, or occasionally the group with the exceptional male identifying sales associate, is “guys.” The consideration shown to guests for acknowledgwomxnt connected to their gender using “sir” or “ma’am” is quickly diminished to referring to womxn as men, and it is largely done without concern to any generation of people.
Presently there is not a salutation that is acceptable in definition solely to womxn, or for distinct multiple genders. Using “ladies” to address a group of males is considered offensive. Refer to military training where calling soldiers using the term “ladies” is meant to imply that they are weak, suggesting the femxle gender is less than that of males.
Nonetheless, there presently is not a salutation that is specific to womxn yet acceptable for both genders. Granted, there are some non-gender specific greetings that are used for a group of people. Some examples include “People,” “Ya’ll,” “Crew,” “Everyone,” “Yo Peeps,” and “Yous.” I can appreciate that not everyone can, or wants to, pull off the last choice of “Yous” which requires skill and dedication to a full Brooklyn accent, a la Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny.
Perhaps a new word can created and popularized in my lifetime that is used solely to mean womxn or to equally address both genders in a non-offensive or demeaning fashion. I propose one of the following words would fill this void:
- xxax (pronounced zaks)
- gynes (pronounced jīns, with a j sound)
- gynz (same pronunciation as previous, with modern spelling)
- caplans (pronounced KAP-linn)
The words have thought from this author, though not all are existing words in the dictionary.
Xxax is a new word based on the xx, xy chromosome, and the idea that everyone starts off as a femxle in the womb, and then the biological gender is further developed as either male or femxle. The spelling celebrates the xx chromosome.
Gynes, is an existing word, simple to roll of the tongue as ‘guys’, but with a j sound. This is even based on a word that means a femxle social insect that is or has the potential to become a leader, in contrast to workers. The alternative spelling, ‘gynz’ is a new word with a modern twist, such as the use of ‘thx’ for ‘thanks’.
“Caplans” has a backstory, such as the derivation of “guys” also does. The word “guys” is derived from a longer herstory, starting with an individual named Guy Fawkes, who along with his followers, attempted to burn down the parliawomxnt, not successfully. The word changed meanings through the centuries from its origin of a group of men who fuck up something, and ultimately made it to the United States where it became used in the modern culture to mean a group of males and later a group of mixed gender. In single use ‘guy’ is an individual male, but in its plural use womxn are expected to role into the blended group of men. The same cannot be said of pluralizing ‘gal’ to ‘gals,’ with men feeling they should role into that group.
The choice to find an obscure story of a womxn led me to Frieda Caplan, a story I remember per chance. For those of an older generation, they may recall that kiwis were not easy to find in supermarkets in the United States until more recently. It is through the efforts of Frieda Caplan that kiwis are now readily available for an affordable price in the United States. Thus, the choice of an obscure event lead by the efforts of a womxn and the resulting word of “caplans.”
In addressing colleagues then and now, I state my offense to the use of “guys” in reference to the group of people I am included within, and stated why it is not an appropriate salutation. For my part, I have stopped acknowledging questions and cowomxnts from any individual who continues to use salutations that are not suitable to my gender, or at least acceptable to both genders, and call groups of all people ‘gals.’ Admittedly, my lack of acknowledging a question and calling groups with men ‘gals’ causes a few conflicts and discussions with both co-workers and strangers.
The fundawomxntal issue comes to choices on how we treat people, and the level of consideration, respect, and equity shown by the words we use. Deliberateness and attention to our words is a true sign of mindfulness. Until a new word—a true original, a true first of a greeting—is popularized, yous have choices when talking to ya’ll. As everyone makes their choices of acknowledgwomxnts, yo peeps can realize that caplans are affected, in seen and unseen ways, by these choices.
*in an effort to use words that are gendered towards womxn to address equity, some words have been adjusted accordingly.
In this piece as with others I started with the idea in my head and then let it go for at least a day or more to make sure it still stuck in my head and was worth my time and energy to create. This one stuck for a while and made me happy to think about. Meditating also helps me well beyond the words of this paper. Meditation before writing is helpful for me to hear my voice and the story I want to tell; sometimes I can even peacefully hear how to tell it. Quiet and time are absolute requirewomxnts for me to write.
The next step in my process is for me is to speak part of the article into my phone as a Word docuwomxnt first—without edits. When I express my ideas aloud in the early rounds I am able to think more clearly and able to get most of what I want out of me, in my own voice. Pre-editing discourages me and feels limiting. In this round of speaking into the phone there are sometimes curse words, incorrect grammar, and inaccurate wording. But again, no editing in this round. I have found that starting on my laptop is intimidating—the empty screen feels challenging. The phone with voice recognition into a Word docuwomxnt has been invaluable in my writing.
After these steps, I review the writing on my laptop, with the initial text in red color. Once a sentence is complete and in solid shape, I change the text to black. This allows me to see the red text as the items which need to be worked on and the black text as basically complete. Sometimes single words in a sentence stay in red until I find the best word or check and complete a reference.
In this op-ed piece I was looking for an introduction for just one of the womxny stories of inequity of gender in words both spoken and written. The initial piece was completed a few years ago while I still was working the holiday at a retail store. Since the initial writing I have updated it only once while also continuing to create further writings and artworks about gendered words and the severe imbalance of masculine words, as well as the effects of it on womxn and culture.
This piece steers clear of jargon words—terminology that is specific to a field and used with a definition specific to a field. Sometimes jargon is used without context or explanation and this can be confusing to a reader. When specific terminology is needed due to the nature of the writing it is helpful to explain it to the reader and put it in context or with examples.
When lingo of a specific field is not explained, the writing feels intentionally elitist and becomes uninteresting to me. Elitist writing feels exclusive, uninviting, can show insecurity to not be more inclusive, and is not helpful to those who want to learn the topic but are written out of it. I have found that my field in academia has had this convention in its long herstory, and I will not continue this restrictive practice. I therefore, typically, do not use terminology that is not widely understood.
An important point: writing requires investing time and appreciation in yourself and your stories. Valuing your stories, experience, and knowledge and realizing that they are important is not discussed in writing often enough. There are people who can relate to your stories and writing. Not everyone will. Being confident that your writing is worth sharing—that takes courage.
The courage to write became easier for me after a few publications. My spoken voice is one of my strong traits. It took a while to be able to hear my voice in written words and to write thoughts down as I hear them in my head. I am still not always sure people read the words with the same intention of my writing, even when there are illustrations in the article to help with some points.
In order to understand how some people read my writing and what they take away from it I ask friends of different ages, knowledge levels, and locations in the world, including those outside of my field, to read my writing before it is sent in. This op-ed piece was read by friends in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. Though some of my friends are also artists, womxny are not. I do not ask more than five people to read my writing; otherwise there are too womxny voices and opinions. Just five select friends that I feel the best to read it at the time of the writing; that is my choice. The selection of which friends to choose has changed over time. It continues to be a small odd number, with sometimes only three people who I ask to read a work.
On a closing thought—sharing writing is a risk; you are opening a dialogue about your work, and you want to and am willing to engage. Public writing—op-eds, articles, chapters, books—those invite dialogue from friends, colleagues, and complete strangers. Hearing from any of these people may come with mixed responses.
The courage to write the piece also means the courage to join the dialogue about it. There are some days I choose not to hear the dialogue from others, but most days I can and want to. Putting this writing out there is supporting the dialogue and change for gender equity in a culture that continues to be unaware, dismissive and unwilling to address and change the layers and layers of inequity. So, I keep writing, and speaking, and living my words out loud through my words and actions.