Should Women Call Other Women 'Dude'?


While home for the holidays in Beaverton, OR, I caught up with a twenty-something, stay-at-home mom of two. After divulging a few particulars from my past year, my friend enthusiastically chirped, "That's great, dude!" I paused, my heart bellowing in agony: I'm not a dude! You're not a dude! Please don't call me that, I longed to say. But I didn't, because we were having fun, and a feminist rant did not feel fun. I left our fete in peace. I took comfort knowing my careerist female friends in New York and Los Angeles would never call me dude.

A few weeks later, I was back in L.A. making plans with a fellow woman writer. She's someone I look to as an example of the writer I'd like to be: published with much success, a leader at a major advertising firm, and able to console with feminist wisdom in moments when the man keeps other women down. I was looking forward to our lunch when she hit me with, "So sorry, dude. Have to postpone."

What? How could she? Why would she? She, as much as any woman in a male-dominated industry, knows that a lone woman in a room full of dudes does not a fellow dude make. It makes a woman struggling to have her voice heard, if only for a sentence, over an influx of androcentric conversation.

And so I'd been called "dude" by two completely different women in two completely different places on two completely different life paths. What commonality brought them to the word? I wanted to know, so I asked. Surprisingly, they each had the same answer.

"I called you 'dude'? That's funny, I didn't know I was doing that."

Women of the world, this is a problem. We should not be going around using masculine pronouns on each other without even realizing it. Especially after the New York Times Magazine published a piece on how not-so-great it is for men to classify other men using bro-nouns, calling the Jersey Shore expression of "bro" shorthand for "trolls" , "jerks," and "a generalized fatigue with the wielding of white-male power." No, no, no. "Dude" and all other such bro-menclature is not for us.

Chill out, dude, you might be thinking. It's just slang, or whatever. But the words we use to describe women carry weight, as Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast recently pointed out on Lenny:

People need to stop calling women "bitches" because they're strong and empowered. People need to stop calling me a "slut" for my public support of Planned Parenthood, an organization that has saved my life as well as many other men's and women's lives. People need to stop calling me a "whiny baby" because I write songs about heartache and my feelings. Did anyone call The Beatles "whiny babies" for singing the lyrics "This boy wants you back again"? Did anyone call them "desperate" or "needy" for singing "Oh please say to me / You'll let me be your man / And please say to me / You'll let me hold your hand"?

That's why I want to nip the dude thing in the bud before it blooms into any more of a phenomenon than it is. The more I hear female friends, family members, coworkers, and celebrities adopt the word, the more I'm brought back to a familiar sinking feeling I used to get in Spanish class when using the word ellos.

For those who took French, ellos is the pronoun used to replace "group of men," guys, or dudes (if we must), and ellas subs in for "group of women," ladies, chicks, et cetera. However, if a group of people includes both men and women, the masculine pronoun ellos is always the pronoun used. I hated this rule and rallied against it. "What if a group has nine women and one man," I asked. "Wouldn't we use ellas? It's more accurate." The answer's no.

A few years later, while studying abroad in South America, I spent months living in real-life groups of ellos, and it was no picnic. We know Third World women have fewer opportunities and rights than we do in the First, but it's hard to comprehend the extent of the oppression and objectification of women in other countries until we're in it, an ella devoured by ellos, ellos, ellos. For all the ways I've felt ignored and marginalized and been harassed in the United Sates, my time abroad magnified my awareness of being a member of the "lesser sex" tenfold.

Consider the rest of the world: They are counting on us to get our act together, lead by example, and pass an Equal Rights Amendment, laws ensuring equal pay regardless of sex and gender, laws enforcing equal healthcare rights for men and women, and so on. Let's not give ourselves another feminist thing to fix by slipping backward into ellos-land.

I didn't want to reply to my writer friend's dude-laden text, so I stepped away to chill out. I checked my favorite female recording artist's Twitter feed, hoping for a tour announcement. Instead I found this reply to another female artist: Sick track, dude. Look how far we women with guitars have come.

How far indeed, dudes.