The Case Against “Feisty” Girls

I was editing a book that introduced the characters on a popular television show the other day when I noticed both of the show’s lead females characters had been described as “feisty.” My first thought? “Well, they are both feisty, so it’s redundant but not wrong.” Then I had a second thought: “Wait a minute. Were any of the male characters described as ‘feisty’?” I did a search: Nope. The male characters were “rebellious,” “strong-willed,” “aggressive,” “antagonistic,” “cunning,” “caustic,” “combative,” “quick to anger,” and a number of other descriptive terms and phrases. But they were never “feisty.”

Merriam-Webster’s defines “feisty” this way:

M-W "Feisty"

Both examples for the first definition relate to a woman—a “feisty heroine,” and a “feisty widow lady.” So it’s possible, then, that the word is only intended for use with females. Why?

The more I think about it, the more I feel like “feisty” is a crutch used to describe any girl that doesn’t adhere to the calm, demure ideal society has had for girls for centuries; she’s only “feisty” because she’s different from the others, and from what’s expected. It’s also a belittling term; it’s patronizing, in that look-how-feisty-and-adorable-you-are way. She’s not strong—she’s feisty. Like a puppy. Or a ferret.

I’m not the first to have this thought, I’ve discovered. The Guardian published this article in September 2014, listing “feisty” a word to avoid; in it, Daisy Lewis of Downton Abbey is quoted as having said, “Feisty? My least favorite word. …Have you heard a male character described as feisty? I think not.” Dame Helen Mirren’s on the bandwagon, too; she’s quoted in a Huffington Post article as having said, “Only women are feisty. It just makes me gag. …We need new words for female power and funniness and smartness.” I agree.

I did a bit more digging and found that actually, no, the word isn’t only used to described women. It’s also used to describe men—when the intention is either to belittle them (“womanize” them) or to call attention to them overcoming frailty. For example, this article on Politico calls Bill Clinton “feisty” in the headline because he is “pushing back against the idea that he’s become frail and will play a more limited role” in Hilary Clinton’s expected 2016 presidential campaign; we expect him to be frail and quiet, but no—Bill’s feisty instead. That fits perfectly with my first point: Girls are silently believed to be frail and quiet until proven otherwise, at which point they’ve beaten the odds to become feisty.

(Is it just me, or is the word “feisty” starting to look really odd at this point? Am I still spelling it right? Feisty, feisty, feisty.)

I’m guilty of having used this word as a crutch. But I’m not going to any longer. The book I’m working on? Those female characters are now described as “strong-willed” and “argumentative”—because that’s what they are.


On Mindfulness in “Screenworld”

Cartoon by Mick Stevens. Source: The New Yorker via Condé Nast Collection

Cartoon by Mick Stevens. Source: The New Yorker via Condé Nast Collection

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much time I spend each day looking at a screen — computer, cell phone, TV — and how much of that time is useful and focused, versus how much of that time is due to lack of inertia. It was serendipity that, in my doctor’s waiting room today, I came across an article in the August 2013 issue of Mindful that covered the very same subject. The more I read about mindfulness, the more I feel like it’s something I need more of in my life. This article brought up many excellent, provocative points that I want to share and add my thoughts to.

The article is a conversation between three people, all leaders in the technology field, about how they’ve found ways to focus their energy and attention, becoming more productive, creative, and engaged. They certainly aren’t anti-technology, obviously; they are all supporters of using technology in a way that connects us rather than disconnects us, improves our quality of life rather than detracts from it.

I think this piece is a must-read for anyone who finds themselves absentmindedly clicking into a social media site at work, swiping at their cell phone for updates seconds after they’ve just put it down, checking their Blackberry or iPad during meetings, bringing mobile devices into what Irene Au of Udacity calls “sacred spaces, so to speak” (yoga class for her, dance class for me). It’s about being present, and actively engaging in technology only as it serves to strengthen your life. They aren’t saying, “Don’t watch funny cat videos.” They’re saying, “Only watch funny cat videos during the specific time you’ve created for yourself to recharge while watching funny cat videos — and maybe that time shouldn’t take up a significant chunk of your day, yeah?”

Part of the article is a page titled “Take Control of Your Tech Habits,” and that’s something I would like to focus on at this point in my life. With that in mind, I borrow the following goals as my own:

  1. “Come back to your body, to doing one thing at a time and knowing why you’re doing it.” This is key. This mantra can be applied to so many parts of my life — work, food, dance. I want to strive to be in the moment, fully present, as I work to achieve a healthy and fulfilling life. (Worth noting that I haven’t checked Facebook or my cell phone once while writing this post!)
  2. “…agree on when it’s acceptable for each of you to be on your devices and when it’s not.” I’m too often guilty of the terrible millennial trait of putting my phone on the table when I meet a friend for dinner. It’s entirely too acceptable to say, “I’m here with you, until something or someone else pops up, at which time I’ll give you about 50% of my attention, if that.” No more for me, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask my friends and my Matt — poor Matt, always getting dragged into my whims — to join me in this.
  3. “Choose your sources wisely, budget the time you spend there, and when you feel your mind tiring, move on.” Again, this quote is meant to be about technology and information overload, but it resonates for so much more. It’s about choosing where and with who you invest your time. It’s about being an active participant in the way your life is run.

Yes, yes, I do realize the seeming irony of me staring at a screen as I write this post — and, for that matter, of me staring at a screen as I read the rest of the article. (Darn doctors being on time for their appointments and not letting me finish my magazine…) But it’s not ironic at all. It’s exactly the point. I chose to engage myself in this article and this blog post, and I did. And now I’m done with screens for the evening. As soon as I check Facebook. And then I’m really done.

Apologizing for grammar

Part of my daily job is to review all of the sales materials our marketing team creates. I check for proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and review for general correctness. (Is the image of the book cover right? Has the book title changed since marketing wrote the copy? Are the price and trim size OK?) Here’s how a typical e-mail exchange goes:

Marketing designer: Here is an ad for you to check. Let me know if you have any changes.
Me: Sorry, but there should be a comma after [word] and “[other word]” is misspelled. Can you please fix?
Marketing designer: Sure. Here’s a revised file.
Me: Sorry, sorry, I missed that the address at the bottom is incorrect. It needs to be updated. Thanks very much.

I used to think I was being polite, but I’m now thinking Mom’s been right all these years: I’m over-apologetic. I apologize for everything. If you bump into me on the street, I’ll probably say I’m sorry. If I ask a waitress to make any sort of alteration to my order (“Hold the cheese,” “extra crispy,” etc.) I’ll apologize while I’m doing it. I think the worst of it is when I’m walking down the hall, accidentally catch someone’s eye, and quickly apologize. For being seen? For obscuring your line of vision? For existing? Sorry, sorry, sorry!

And so, I’m done apologizing for grammar. It’s the least of my worries. It’s not my fault that you need a period there. I don’t need to feel bad that I’m correcting a misspelled word. Because I’ve talked to that lovely marketing designer, and she has assured me she doesn’t feel personally offended when I help improve the quality of whatever it is she’s working on. In fact — shocker! — she’s happy for the check. So, sorry I’m not sorry, bad grammar. Make your own apologies from now on.

Six things I should blog about, but won’t

One: My most recent webinar. The archive of School Library Journal’s “What’s the Buzz? New Books in Nonfiction” is now up; I come in at around the 18:00 mark to talk about DK, Common Core, and some of our new releases.

Two: My upcoming DK trip to Brighton! I leave Newark on Saturday evening and return Thursday evening. Any advice for Brightonian activities and/or restaurants would be much appreciated; at the moment, my plan is to wander, wander some more, and take advantage of the hotel amenities. I am OK with this plan.

Three: A weekend spent in the Poconos with Matt. It proved to be the quiet, relaxing time we both needed. Lots of good food, good wine, and beautiful scenery later, we’re renewed, recharged, and back with a vengeance.

Four: The lovely Broadway adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella that Lauren treated me to for my birthday back in January. There is simply nothing like seeing a play opening night of previews; the mishaps make it all the more special, and the excitement in the air is tangible.

Five: Attending my first ballet, that being the absolutely stunningly gorgeous Sleeping Beauty at the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center. What I wouldn’t give to have the grace and stamina of a ballerina. But considering I was winded just walking up the stairs to the fifth circle, me thinks this is a bit of a pipe dream.

Six: The writer’s duo that I’ve started with Lindsay, in which she is creating a wonderfully written, intriguing novel, and in which I promise to write each week, but don’t. Sound familiar, blog? Sound familiar??


In which I throw myself a blog-warming party

A new blog! A new web space! A new step into professionalism! I pat myself on the back. Yet, at the same time, I smack myself in the head: Come on, Allie; you couldn’t make the last blog work, so what’s going to be so different about this one?

Why, I’m glad I asked!

I plan to use this web space as a professional scrapbook, not only of myself, but of the book industry. Writing, editing, reading, publishing, digitizing, monetizing… the publishing industry is changing every day, and so am I. I’m infatuated with books, how they’re made, why they’re made, what they can do and what they should do; I’m enamored with editors who post their thoughts on author/editor relationships, query letters, the narrative process, the evolution of the novel; I’m curious how children read, which books are used in schools, what topics interest librarians, how–or, if–opinions of children’s e-books are changing; I’m intrigued by publishers, both large and small, and the decisions they make. I will use this web space to compile others’ thoughts on these topics, and more, as well as my own. I’ll also use it to make often and non-subtle pleas for you to hire me as a freelancer. (DO IT! Excuse me.) In short, it is my most sincere hope that this blog will provide me a place to focus, a place to remember, a place to communicate, and a place to think.

I think I’m off to a good start.