I’m pretty sure that as far back as I can remember—certainly in my college days in the late ’60s—the plural guys has been used to address groups including women, or even (usually, I think, by women) groups exclusively composed of women. There is an interesting “Dear Abby” column today addressing the issue; it opens with the following letter from “Jacki in Wilbraham”:
I had to write regarding the letter from “Disgruntled in Lompoc, Calif.” (Dec. 28), whose pet peeve is waitstaff (in particular) referring to her and her lady friends as “guys.”
Well, 3,000 miles away, I, too, am sick to death of being called a guy. When it happens to me, I tell my server that “the last time I looked, I was NOT a guy!” Sometimes they get it — sometimes not.
I notice that on some of the TV shows I watch, even women refer to a group of people as “guys.” I hate it — and would ask you, with your worldwide influence, to bring the issue forward. We are NOT “guys,” we are “people” or “folks” or “ladies and gentlemen”! Or else, Merriam-Webster will have to change its definition of “guys.” Thanks for letting me vent.
The interesting thing is that “Abby” (Jeanne Phillips) does not simply agree, though she says she too “would prefer to have my femininity acknowledged rather than to be called a guy”—she actually looks in the dictionary, and lo and behold:
And, as to Merriam-Webster’s definition of a “guy,” — my 11th Edition says in black and white that “guy” can refer to “any person” when used colloquially. Frankly, I found it so surprising that I looked in the American Heritage College Dictionary to see if there was agreement, and it also states: “Informal (ital.): Persons of either sex.”
She then presents a selection of other letters on the topic, one agreeing with the original outrage (“My solution is to smile sweetly and ask, ‘Honey, do I LOOK like a guy to you? Because if I do, you need your eyes checked'”) but most either neutral or positive (“As I have told my ESL students, ‘guys’ is acceptable colloquial English”; “It’s not meant to be disrespectful. It’s a regional colloquialism”). It’s nice to see such an open-minded approach to usage on the part of one of the keepers of the flame of mainstream ideas of right and wrong. (Incidentally, my wife agrees that the use in question is perfectly OK.)