Friday October 21, 2005 @ 10:21 AM (UTC)

Today I was perusing the headlines on the BBC website, and I saw this one: “Zimbabwe’s feisty freedom fighter.” No picture, just the words. And I thought, that article is about a woman. And I was right. I realized that I cannot remember EVER hearing the word ‘feisty’ applied to a fully grown, heterosexual man. Maybe a little boy. Maybe a gay man. I can’t remember those absolutely1; but I’m pretty damn sure of the other.

Dictionary.com defines ‘feisty’ thus:
adj. feist·i·er, feist·i·est
1. Touchy; quarrelsome.
2. Full of spirit or pluck; frisky or spunky.

I would have guessed #2 was more common than #1…I practically never hear it used as a blatant insult. But those definitions do certainly seem to support a feeling I have — that there is an insult under the skin of the word, even when it’s supposed to be a compliment. The ‘spirit’ of the second definition is underlain by the volatility of the first definition, and there is a certain dismissiveness in the whole that grates on me. I’m sure the BBC only used ‘feisty’ for alliterative reasons, but surely a lawyer defending the rights of journalists, who says she was “only doing her job”, could be better described in some other way? Is it ‘spunky’ to defend the Fourth Estate? Is it ‘frisky’ to be a lawyer in general? The word seems somehow infantilizing.

And what am I going to do about it? Well, I guess I’ll blog about it. There was a time when this kind of thing would fill me with an impassioned rage. But now I fear that fighting EVERY battle loses the war. If I complain about women being ‘feisty’, and small women being ‘firecrackers’ and ‘spitfires’ then I’m taking a large battle onto a very small battlefield. And possibly, just possibly, being ‘feisty’ myself.

1 In case it needs clarification, boys, gay men and women are the traditional opposites against which virile, dominant masculinity is defined. Thus, they are often compared to and maligned with each other.


Someone notices, and a woman, no less.

I have never understood how the word could possibly be a compliment. I have always taken this expression to be largely synonymous with combative, when women have used it about themselves. Or at least “someone who would quickly make a guy like me very, very tired.” Not anything close to a compliment, in my world.

But then, I’ve also always thought this might be attributable to my lack of understanding of the finer points of American culture. Apparently, I am not the only one having doubts about the connotations of the term, and the fact that these doubts are expressed by a “native” (quotes for political correctness) made me feel a little less alien today.

Thank you.

Maybe it’s just one of those words that has come to have a “cute” connotation. Men are not “cute” when they fight the system. They’re revolutionary or strong, but never fiesty.

There’s a definitely a dismissive air to it. I think this dismissive air is common in a lot of societal concepts about women. There are times when it can be a help more than a hinderance, however. I have a (male) friend who was being sexually harassed (and assaulted) in his workplace. Despite repeated complaints, nothing was done until he reacted to one of the assaults and pushed his (female) coworker away and against a wall. At which time he was fired.

I’m not saying it was unreasonable to fire him for his actions, but I think it’s entirely unfair and unbalanced (oddly in a sort of Fox News sort of way) that they have done nothing with the woman who assaulted him.

By the by, do you have any idea who I am?

I answered you last time, Linus :p

Musta missed the reply. :)

You can thank Lindsey for helping me find you.

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