books

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.

Advertisements

a-Webcasting we will go

on24_SLJNonfiction0927121

The vibrant cover of DK’s Super Nature Encyclopedia at the front; love it!

Another successful webcast in the books! Check out the archive of Booklist’s “New Nonfiction for Students” webinar and learn a bit about what DK, Scholastic, Britannica, World Book, and Grey House have to offer.

I found the balance of digital versus print media in the presentations to be particularly interesting here; some publishers focused solely on print (myself included) while another went totally digital, and the rest presented a combination of both. When preparing for a webinar like this, it’s important to consider what your audience is looking for, and it’s telling to see how each publisher focused its presentation.

“Getting to the Core” with School Library Journal

SLJ webcast grab

Last week, I had the opportunity to represent DK Publishing in School Library Journal’s “Getting to the Core” webcast, which was sponsored by DK and three other publishers. I talked about some of our upcoming Fall titles (tripping over only a few words…) and cut my teeth on the webcasting world. You can access the recording and slides on SLJ’s archive.

(And yes, I got to talk up a book about dance! Don’t you just love it when two worlds collide?)

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.