It starts when we’re little.
I’m making a list of words that are mostly used only to apply to girls and women. I’m starting this list because when I point out the lack of female characters in kids’ films, “feisty” is a term that always comes up in response. People name a token strong female who has a supporting role in a male dominated kids’ film and say: “You’d like her, she’s feisty.” Film critics also commonly use “feisty” to describe female characters.
I started to wonder: What if, for example, Astrid in “How to Train Your Dragon” was described as “strong” instead of “feisty?” “Feisty” is a cute word, it’s said with a smile. “Feisty” ends the conversation. Whereas “strong” is a serious word. It takes the issue seriously and implies concern. “Strong” begins the conversation.
Of course, in a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to use “strong” either. No one would say: “Harry Potter is a strong character.” It’s obvious, redundant. “Heroic” would be better.
In the list below, I put the “male” equivalent in parentheses. Please send me your words for this list and also your idea of the “male” word that corresponds.
I’m especially interested in the gendered terms we use for kids and for artists. It is this intersection that affects how we talk about kids’ media. Try practicing using the gender switch in real life.
Feisty (strong, heroic) Another male equivalent could be “jaunty” but no one uses “jaunty.” Word origin: a commenter writes that “feist” mean “mutt-bitch.” I just Googled it and got “small dog” and “breaking wind.” I will continue my research. Fascinating.
Sassy What do you think this means? My 8 year old uses it to describe other girls, she learned at school, but I can’t tell the meaning.
Bossy (assertive) Common use: “Those girls are so bossy.” Not sure people use assertive to describe male children. Ideas? “Dominating?”
(I’m starting to wonder: do people even use “assertive” for men anymore is it just a given? Along with “brave” and “strong” for male characters?)
Strident (passionate, driven) “Bossy” girls grow up to be “strident” women i.e. “Hillary Clinton is so strident.” Try it out for a male: “Mitt Romney is strident.” “Chris Mathews is strident.” If people dislike Romney or Mathews, and wish to communicate that in a word, maybe they use “tenacious?” “Arrogant?” What do you think?
Promiscuous (Player?) I’m not going to put “whore, slut” etc on this list because they’re so obvious, but “promiscuous” is a word I frequently hear used to describe females or gay men and I don’t think people realize they’re being sexist when they use it. It’s the nice way to say “slut.” People rarely, if ever, call straight men promiscuous. Ideas for male equivalent?
Catfight (duel? brawl? feud? debate?)
Hysterical (Angry? Upset?) If “hysterical” is used to mean funny, it is gender neutral but of course, men are funnier than women. Word origin: hyster mean “womb;” the implication being women are crazy because they have wombs.
Cougar (man) Cut and pasted from commeter: “cougar: older woman dating younger man. Reference to a clawed, hunting animal that I believe disembowels its prey. Male equivalent for an older man dating younger woman would be “man”.
Homemaker (stay at home dad?)
Words used to describe artists who are women and the work they create:
Confessional (first person, autbiographical fiction)
Chick lit (literature)
Chick flick (movie, film)
Chick rock (rock)