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.


Pub Internships #1: The Search

Before I started working full-time, I took on internships at a bunch of different places. My first one was at a local newspaper in Trenton, NJ, covering amateur sports events. My second and third internships were both for Simon & Schuster, first in their adult production department, and then for children’s editorial. My last internship before landing a full-time gig was the summer after I graduated college; I spent four days a week with one of Penguin’s children’s editorial teams. Currently, at DK, I hire and manage our seasonal editorial interns. I think I’ve directly managed about six now, maybe more.

All of this is just to say, I know a little bit about internships. Especially publishing internships. I’m sure it was Joni Mitchell who said, “I’ve looked at [internships] from both sides now,” and I, like her, think I have some insight to offer. So, let this post be the first in a series where I discuss how to find, land, and make the most of internships in the publishing industry. I’ll probably also deviate from that plan and talk about what it means to hire, supervise, and mentor interns. I’d love for these posts to turn into discussions from both sides, so feel free to post any questions and thoughts in the comments.

Onward! This post’s topic: Finding internships.

There are so, so many ways to find internships online. From general search sites like Internship Finder and Intern Match, to more specific industry-related sites like Bookjobs and Mediabistro, to even more specific publisher sites, it’s easy to find all sorts of internship opportunities on the web. What’s not easy, though, is actually getting these internships, because everybody is looking at these sites. Everybody. Sometimes hundreds of internship-hopefuls apply for a single internship; you don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out those odds.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t check out these sites — and if you do, know that the industry- and publisher-specific sites are probably your best bet. What you do need to keep in mind, though, is that your leg-up will come from finding internship opportunities in more unlikely locations. As anyone trying to secure their first internship will tell you, every leg-up you can get helps. (They say it’s hard to get an internship without internship experience, and you can’t get internship experience without an internship. They’re right.)

I get it. We’re living in an online world. It’s easy to search, point-and-click, mass-apply. But if the searching, pointing-and-clicking, and mass-applying isn’t working, try one of these five alternatives:

  1. Talk to your classmates. If you’re in college, chances are good that you have friends, older classmates, or maybe even a lovely creative-writing-club former president (hey, Aly!) who have either completed an internship or are currently interning. I used to love passing along new names and resumes to my old internship coordinators for two reasons: One, it provided me an excuse to get back in touch with HR, which I hoped would keep me fresh in their mind when I started applying for full-time work. And two, it made me feel cool. (What? It did. Haters gonna hate.)
  2. Talk to your professors. I’m five years removed from college, and I still keep in touch with many of my professors. This is good for you, future interns, because if they ever got in touch with me to recommend someone for DK’s internship, I’d listen. I’d definitely listen. Especially if you’re an English major, it’s likely that your professors have connections at a publishing house, either through friends, former students, or maybe even their own editor. If they like you, maybe they’ll throw you a bone. (Don’t harass them, though. Ask once, ask nicely, then let it go.)
  3. Go to industry panels. Groups like Young to Publishing (of which I’m a member) have specific committees that travel to colleges, talking up book careers and making connections with publishing hopefuls. If you catch wind of an industry panel at your college, or even at a college nearby, and you don’t attend, you’re just silly. I’ll need to have an entire post devoted to networking etiquette, but for now, the basics: Do your research ahead of time so you know who you’re networking with. Bring copies of your resume but don’t give them out unless they’re asked for. Request business cards from people so you can contact them later. Send thank-you notes or e-mails! (Really! It helps!)
  4. Find publishers’ career handles and pages on social mediaThere is a real, live person maintaining these sites, and their entire purpose is to find and connect with you. Facebook pages like Penguin’s and Simon & Schuster’s are great examples. Publishers are on Twitter and Tumblr, too. What’s really great about going this route is last-minute opportunities often get posted; for example, if a Penguin imprint needs an intern to start the next week, you’ll definitely read about it on their newsfeed. It’s worth noting that you should make sure your social media presence shows you in your best light — but, again, that’s another post altogether.
  5. If you want to edit, read the kind of books you’d want to work on someday. It’s not hard to figure out who the editor is on any book; scan the acknowledgments, go to the author’s website, or check industry listings. Once you’ve got that editor’s name, use your Sherlock Holmes sleuthing skills to devise their publisher’s e-mail address formula (it’s usually along the lines of [firstname].[lastname]@publisher.com, [firstinitial][lastname]@publisher.com… you get the idea). Write them a note introducing yourself, letting them know you enjoyed the book, and asking if they have any internships available. Tread lightly here: Be complimentary, but don’t suck up. Be clear and concise. Send one e-mail, and maybe one follow-up two weeks later if you don’t get a response. Don’t send 20 e-mails a day. (That should go without saying, but sadly… it doesn’t.)
We got creamed that day in softball by the CBS Sports interns, but really, what did you expect?

The Simon & Schuster interns of summer 2008 say, “You can do it!”

How did you find your first internship?