Don’t Call Me Feisty! Why I Hate Being Described As Feisty

Many people seem in the habit of labelling strong, determined, independent women as feisty. I’ve come to really hate the adjective lately, especially when it’s applied to me, and I’m going to attempt to explain exactly why that is.

Firstly, let’s look at what the word actually means –then I can delve into my hatred of the term when it’s used to describe strong and courageous women.

What Does Feisty Even Mean?

Interestingly, the Oxford Living Dictionaries provides two definitions of the word.

  1. (of a person, typically one who is relatively small) lively, determined, and courageous.
  2. Touchy and aggressive.

Meanwhile the Collins English Dictionary explains:

If you describe someone as feisty, you mean that they are tough, independent, and spirited, often when you would not expect them to be, for example because they are old or ill.
[emphasis my own]

So, What’s My Problem With Feisty?

Dont Call Me Feisty Why I Hate Being Described As Feisty

At first glance, the dictionary definition is quite complimentary. Lively. Determined. Courageous. Pretty positive, right?

But take a closer look. Those adjectives are summed up in the term feisty when the person involved is small, frail, old or ill. Someone that wouldn’t usually be expected to be strong, lively and courageous. Someone like a small child.

Or… a woman.  …Seriously?

Why wouldn’t people expect women to be strong, independent, determined and full of courage? Sure, there are many reasons why women have historically found it difficult/impossible to live as independently or as openly as men, due to injustices based on gender. However in 2018 it does feel a little insulting to be so surprised that a woman is strong, determined and couragous that she’s described as feisty.

To be honest, I most often hear ‘feisty’ used in an insulting way by men about women. To describe a woman whose ability to voice their opinions, and strength and openness in various areas of their life, makes the man somehow feel threatened and insecure. In this event it often leads to the use of this term in derision, scorn and complete condescension. A way of trying to to ‘take her down a peg or two’.

Yappy Dogs & Hot Air

What’s even more insulting is that the use of the word to describe a woman is all too often bound up with the second definition. Touchy and aggressive. Feisty is how people also describe small, yappy, bitey dogs. You know, the ones which surprise you with their volume and/or aggression because you simply wouldn’t expect it from such a small-sized, cute pupper.

Dont Call Me Feisty Why I Hate Being Described As Feisty

There’s a reason we describe this aggressive type of small dog as feisty. The Oxford Living Dictionaries provides the origins of the word as:

Late 19th century: from earlier feist, fist ‘small dog’, from fisting cur or hound, a derogatory term for a lapdog, from Middle English fist ‘break wind’, of West Germanic origin.

So there we have it. Feisty: Dog, a derogatory term for a lapdog, oh, and to make matters even worse, farty with it.

A compliment? Not so much.

In Conclusion

Using the term feisty to describe me is in my eyes a way of saying you’re surprised I’m strong, independent, opinionated, courageous –or any number of other, genuinely positive adjectives. You’re saying that you pre-judged I wouldn’t be any of those things, whether based on my gender, appearance or other superficial aspects. It’s a backhanded compliment in my book.

Dont Call Me Feisty Why I Hate Being Described As Feisty

On top of that I’m hearing that I should be praised for showing such facets when it’s not in my nature as a woman to do so, which in itself assumes that the ‘norm’ for women isn’t to be strong, independent et al. As if women with these characteristics are somehow in the minority, a rarity.

Combine this with the small, yappy dog full of hot wind inference and you can hopefully understand why I never want to be referred to as feisty.

Click to read more of Cara Sutra’s Stampy Pants Rants


Dont Call Me Feisty Why I Hate Being Described As Feisty

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  1. I don’t like it much either. Another comment I got recently is that I must be a bit of a handful for my other half. That to me implies I’m like a toddler who needs to be calmed down. I don’t find that complimentary at all. If you’re threatened by a ‘strong’ woman, maybe it’s because you’re not so strong yourself…

  2. Most of the women in my life have been what I understand feisty to mean, they’ve been strong women. I regard that as a compliment to their strength of character, but perhaps I should be careful using the word!

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