Feisty, frigid and frumpy
August 9, 2018 5:45 AM   Subscribe

 
I was surprised this didn't show up here when it was new, but I feel like it could have a little more substance to it, so maybe that's why.
posted by Caduceus at 5:47 AM on August 9


Sassy, adj
Commonly used to describe a woman with a strong personality and often linked to sexuality and race. Rarely ever meant in a positive context unless, as it reduces women to stereotypes.


It may not have crossed the pond, but I will always have a positive association with sassy.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:51 AM on August 9 [15 favorites]


They forgot “catty” and “dramatic.”
posted by thivaia at 5:56 AM on August 9 [10 favorites]


Also jewel/gem. Sure, it’s usually meant to be positive, but it’s so vague as to be useless, implies women are merely decorative, and is never, ever used to refer to men.
posted by coppermoss at 6:02 AM on August 9 [7 favorites]


Difficult

Complicated

Trophy (wife)

Amazon

Goddess

Exotic

Dewy

Ice queen

Unfriendly

Cold
posted by medusa at 6:17 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


It may not have crossed the pond, but I will always have a positive association with sassy.

yes, most of the people i know use sassy and feisty as compliments. as in puts up with no bullshit. however, the article about the baseball ump posted the other day called a man fiesty and it did strike me at the time as something you don't see often, so it is true it is usually used to describe women.
posted by domino at 6:23 AM on August 9


I love things like this. As they say, these words aren't technically gendered but they get used as such.

A quick query about 'Bolshy', is that in any sort of current use? Especially negatively? I know I'm in weird circles, but it doesn't seem like an insult from here.
Or rather it seems like conservatives consider it an insult, but I think most women I know would wear it as a badge of pride. Still, I'm always looking for more information.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 6:29 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


> Goddess

"You're a god" is a common phrase in gaming used when someone succeeds at doing something so stupid it can only be explained by them having divine influence.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 6:29 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


‘Frigid’ is so commonly used to describe a woman ‘lacking sexual responsiveness’ that even the dictionary defines that meaning as being “especially of a woman.” It smacks of Victorian notions of female sexual arousal disorders.

Interestingly the OED examples from its first use in 1660 refer to men:

1660 R. Coke Elements Power & Subjection 78 in Justice Vindicated If either party were precontracted, or frigid; these necessarily preceding the matrimony do dissolve the bond.
1699 B. E. New Dict. Canting Crew Frigid, a weak disabled Husband, cold, impotent.
1732 Swift Beasts' Confession in Wks. (1755) IV. i. 268 He was not much inclin'd To fondness for the female kind..Not from his frigid constitution, But through a pious resolution.

It crops up in a biography of Michaelangelo in 1893 and after that the C20th uses are all with regards to women.
posted by biffa at 6:31 AM on August 9 [5 favorites]


I saw someone on Twitter today point out that female comedians are "quirky", whereas male comedians are "original" or "inventive".

(The Edinburgh Festival is in full swing, so there's a deluge of comedy reviews being published and a smaller torrent of criticism of the reviews' biases and other problems)
posted by metaBugs at 6:32 AM on August 9 [11 favorites]


It's probably says good thing about the people around me that at least half of those words don't have any gender connotation for me. For example, 'hormonal' is a term I hear used a lot about young boys and their male hormones. 'Ambitious', 'abrasive', 'bolshy', 'bossy', 'breathless', 'emotional', 'pushy', 'whinging' are all words I hear being used about men as often as women. Having said that I don't find them gender-specific, I'd still want to avoid them when referring to women, except in circumstances where they're clearly appropriate and not being used to 'punch down'. It does seem like the more you look at language, the more it's clear that it's used to oppress and marginalise people in all sorts of ways.
posted by pipeski at 6:33 AM on August 9 [11 favorites]


I never hear 'feisty' except as infantilizing. As in "aww, its so cute, she thinks she's tough."
posted by Karmakaze at 6:36 AM on August 9 [21 favorites]


The only times I hear feisty are: 1. referring to a pony and 2. in reference to a woman who is prevented from wielding power but nonetheless tries. I think spunky is the same.
posted by Emmy Rae at 6:39 AM on August 9 [24 favorites]


perky
matronly
loose / promiscuous (although lately I am starting to notice men referred to as promiscuous)
shrill
battleaxe
matronly
cougar
crone
hag
cunt
clingy
ingénue
starlet (meaning young female actor - don't think there is an equivalent for young male actors?)

I never hear 'feisty' except as infantilizing. As in "aww, its so cute, she thinks she's tough."
Same, I think feisty and sassy are "pat on the head" sorts of words used to patronize.
posted by the webmistress at 6:40 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Running these through the ol' Google ngram viewer (which is far from perfect) I found that abrasive man is about twice as common as abrasive woman. The phrases "he is abrasive", "he was abrasive", and "he could be abrasive" also all appear more frequently than the female versions.

The rest are...oof. Often it's so lopsided that the male version doesn't even appear in the corpus.
posted by jedicus at 6:41 AM on August 9 [11 favorites]


I've heard 'bolshy' and 'whinging' used to describe the British worker in general, at least.
posted by entity447b at 6:41 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


'cunt' is really commonly used to refer to men in British English.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 6:42 AM on August 9 [8 favorites]


A quick query about 'Bolshy', is that in any sort of current use?

I was curious about that one as well; I've only ever heard it applied to, like, college kids who've just discovered Marxism, not as a synonym for "bossy" or "abrasive" at all. Is it a britishism?
posted by ook at 6:44 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


> Goddess
"You're a god" is a common phrase in gaming used when someone succeeds at doing something so stupid it can only be explained by them having divine influence.

It's interesting, though, that describing a woman as a "Goddess" generally has a different connotation (physical beauty, or at the very least a certain physical bearing), while describing a man as a God in that sense has to do with skill. Indeed, it wouldn't surprise me that a woman with unusual, nearly supernatural, skill in solving a complex problem would be described as a "a God" of their activity, and not a Goddess.
posted by drlith at 6:46 AM on August 9 [8 favorites]


I get on my son for being bossy all the time, but it has occurred to me that this may not be typical.

I have a history with the words 'frigid' 'cold' and 'tight.' These words were all applied to me before I was even old enough to drive. (Let that sink in for a sec, fellas.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:49 AM on August 9 [11 favorites]


Bossy. Ugh, I hate that one. Watching grown adults label my niece as bossy when she was all of four years old took my breath away. Behaviour and language that would (likely) be labelled as decisive or indicative of organizational/leadership skills in a boy-child was criticized or discouraged in her (in both subtle and un-subtle ways).

Even during imaginative play involving just her and a caretaker adult she would be judged for making decisions about what should be done next. Like no you jerks, if she wants to decide that now we're going to the imaginary supermarket she can do that, I'm here for her. She doesn't need to ask me nicely first, or negotiate, or ask me what I think we should do next. She should have been free to grab my hand and declare "Now we're going to the market! Here, you be the cashier!" without adults loud-whispering in the next room "See? We told you she was bossy"
posted by Secret Sparrow at 6:50 AM on August 9 [11 favorites]


I've only ever heard it applied to, like, college kids who've just discovered Marxism, not as a synonym for "bossy" or "abrasive" at all. Is it a britishism?

British, yes, but also used in Australia in the same sense of "uncooperative, recalcitrant" (OED) - though there it isn't gendered, or at least wasn't when I was growing up there late last century. "Whinging" is also non-gendered in Australia.
posted by rory at 6:55 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


Maybe some of these are coloured a little by class or region? I certainly hear whinging applied to men more often than women in working class Midlands environments (as they tend to be more likely to moan about routine work in the places I've worked, anyway).
posted by Dysk at 7:12 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


in reference to a woman who is prevented from wielding power but nonetheless tries.

If I were asked to define “bitchy” or even a historical idea of what a “witch” was, I think I’d probably go with “a woman who was impermissibly comfortable wielding power.”

I think “bossy” is the juvenile version. Like a warning, kind of.

Fuuuuuuck everything.
posted by schadenfrau at 7:16 AM on August 9 [17 favorites]


Same, I think feisty and sassy are "pat on the head" sorts of words used to patronize.

When it is used for men, feisty often seems to be aimed at men coming from a position of little power - they are small stature or old or "puny" in some way and the reaction is often of the tone of "aw cute they are fighting back against authority - adorable". FWIW as a man I've been labeled Difficult, Complicated, Unfriendly, Cold. Usually by extroverts.

Sassy is one I hear often from teachers at my child's school and always aimed at the more outspoken girls with the learning challenges from lower income families. From its use it is always very clearly coded language. Another I hear that is often associated with women, akin to pushy & bossy, is "being a bulldozer" or prone to "bulldozing".
posted by Ashwagandha at 7:30 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


Note also that "sassy" has an additional connotation when applied to women of color.
posted by Karmakaze at 7:32 AM on August 9 [18 favorites]


Also jewel/gem. ... is never, ever used to refer to men.
Demonstrably untrue. Of either word.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:40 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


why are women referred to as bolsheviks in the UK, what is happen

also i almost exclusively use shrill to describe small children and male gamers of any age and i will never stop.
posted by poffin boffin at 7:56 AM on August 9 [6 favorites]


I have used at least three quarters of these to apply to men. I routinely call promiscuous men sluts. When some guy is touted as having lots of conquests my reaction is always verbalised as "Wow! What a slut!" In my experience feisty, which originally means flatulent is applied to frail older people who won't quit. I definitely don't use the term Ice Queen or Ice Princess to apply to guys, but I did call my favourite man an Ice Prince for several years. (Also frigid, but I avoided calling him that 'cause it wasn't kind.)

I think it all depends on where you travel. If you travel among conventional people they have the conventional vocabulary - a more limited one because they want to use trendy terms and not come across as incomprehensible - and they are probably quite sexist because most people of both genders are.

I'm thinking that the solution to this if you find it troubling is to look for some words commonly only applied to men and start applying them to women, and some words commonly only applied to women and start applying them to men. There is nothing like setting a good example and starting a trend but it will also spice up your vocabulary as the slightly new setting will make them sharp and vivid, but also be completely clear as to your meaning.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:58 AM on August 9 [8 favorites]


In terms of gendered words, pushy is very male to me. From experience, it's usually preceded by a meaningful pause, as in "He was a little too... pushy." or an exaggerated eyeroll "That guy is SOOO pushy."
posted by Ruki at 8:07 AM on August 9


A lot of these "girl words" are also frequently used on gay men: Hysterical, Bitchy, Sassy, etc. It's a similar way of moving them down and away, and marking them as non-peers.
posted by Cris E at 8:09 AM on August 9 [19 favorites]


‘Frigid’ is so commonly used to describe a woman ‘lacking sexual responsiveness’ that even the dictionary defines that meaning as being “especially of a woman.” It smacks of Victorian notions of female sexual arousal disorders.

Interestingly the OED examples from its first use in 1660 refer to men:

1660 R. Coke Elements Power & Subjection 78 in Justice Vindicated If either party were precontracted, or frigid; these necessarily preceding the matrimony do dissolve the bond.
1699 B. E. New Dict. Canting Crew Frigid, a weak disabled Husband, cold, impotent.
1732 Swift Beasts' Confession in Wks. (1755) IV. i. 268 He was not much inclin'd To fondness for the female kind..Not from his frigid constitution, But through a pious resolution.


The early male applications were probably literal and referred to men suffering from serious circulatory problems that would produce both impotence, colder to the touch skin and other health related correlated properties like weakness and lack of vigor. Probably once the literal negatives were firmly established it was applied metaphorically to women and the literal use was abandoned.
posted by srboisvert at 8:09 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


I can also think of calling an outspoken woman a "pistol" or a "live wire." I like those expressions -- I don't want to scrub the language -- but I wouldn't use them for a woman that I wasn't certain would like to hear them. That limits them to Southern ladies over sixty.

I have only heard "groomzilla" once or twice. It carried the connotation of a truly frightening man, somebody that no one ought to marry. Women are expected to become "hysterical" about weddings, but a controlling man at a wedding? That's sinister.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:17 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


It may not have crossed the pond, but I will always have a positive association with sassy.

And here is the extension of that - the Saturday Night Live Sassy sketch: Phil Hartman Sassy's Sassiest Boys This is the actually inferior original sketch, the second one has the more-famous line "If there was a country called Sassyland, and you were the mayor of the capital SassyCity, in one word how would you describe yourself? SASSY!" but sadly, it doesn't seem to be online.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:17 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


I am certainly guilt of using these words only to describe women. Though I have used fussy to describe some straight male coworkers.

Now, I will have to start using more of these for men.

Looking forward to the reaction when I call a straight guy frigid.
posted by KaizenSoze at 8:21 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


A lot of these "girl words" are also frequently used on gay men: Hysterical, Bitchy, Sassy, etc. It's a similar way of moving them down and away, and marking them as non-peers.

They also tend to be used for small dogs. Never big dogs.

In terms of words gendered the other way - I really can't bring myself to refer to a woman as an asshole. To me that word is exclusively for men but damned if I can explain why.
posted by srboisvert at 8:25 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


For me, Sassy will always be associated with Phil Hartman first.
posted by Wild_Eep at 8:28 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


They also tend to be used for small dogs. Never big dogs.

I have this feeling that jokes about violence towards small dogs are coded misogynistic, but I would have to watch a lot of depressing bullshit to support the thesis, so I'll have to let it pass.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:32 AM on August 9 [6 favorites]


They also tend to be used for small dogs. Never big dogs.

Semi-related, back when I was a linguistics student I did a project for a sociolinguistics class where I analyzed the profiles used to describe adoptable dogs across a number of animal shelters - while I no longer remember the exact results, there was a definite correlation between the dog's sex and whether they were described using terms like "sweet/loving" or terms like "rugged/active" ... I want to say there was even a greater likelihood that the dog's appearance would be mentioned in the profile if they were female.
posted by DingoMutt at 8:38 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


"Leggy" is reserved for ladies and plants, which is such a missed opportunity.
posted by Iris Gambol at 8:45 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


My son (the bossy one) is and always has been small for his age, both short and extremely slight. When people talk to us, the word that gets used the most in reference to him is "big." And not as in "Wow, he's gotten bigger than the last time I saw him!" but people who have never met him before saying "He's so big!" He's so noticeably not big that saying this approaches gaslighting. But I quickly realized that this is the standard compliment for boy children. Girls get "Oh she's so pretty!" and boys get "Oh he's so big/strong!" (Note: Yes, my child does have a t-shirt that says "STRONG LIKE MOM" and I still let him wear it even though it's 2 sizes to small at this point because fuck yeah.)

But in the past year he's grown his hair long and now looks more gender ambiguous and the results in how strangers talk and relate to him have been interesting.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:49 AM on August 9 [18 favorites]


For reasons best known to a bank of neurons I cannot access, I sometimes address male dogs and very small boys as "big man" or "handsome." It's down there with the impulse that causes me to say "You too" to staffers who say "Enjoy your meal" or similar, so I have to work on fixing it.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:57 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


These are definitely UK flavoured. I'd like to see if the Telegraph actually changes its usage. Maybe this is one area where "what if it was the other way round?" is actually legit. Either call Tom Cruise spunky too, or retire that word.

Then again, perhaps the culture will change the language: we don't call anyone impious any more, nor do we speak about illegitimate children, because we don't value piety and we don't care (largely) about the marital status of parents. Once female leadership is no longer a thing worth talking about, "bossy" will be redistributed to people giving too many instructions, without the undertone that women get a lower limit on "too many". Although it might end up in the adjectival sin bin next to "articulate".

Also "beautiful" is weirdly gendered, at least as I learned it. My personal project is degendering it, 'cause it's a good word.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 9:12 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


Now that my daughter has hit 11, she's getting called "pretty" a lot.

I never once got called "pretty".

(It's all women calling her that, so I assume that it's considered harmless and uplifting, at least by them.)
posted by clawsoon at 9:39 AM on August 9


I never hear 'feisty' except as infantilizing.

Yeah, sometimes it is used to describe someone who is objectively outmatched, who is not big enough or powerful enough to win, but keeps fighting anyway. But even then it's something you would say about a kid or a puppy, not a peer that you admire for their persistence.
posted by straight at 9:45 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


"Spunky" isn't in the Telegraph article, but was mentioned above in this thread, by someone based in the U.S. I don't really associate the term with the British, because for them "spunk" means not just spirit and mettle but also semen.

But many Brits will know the Australian use of the word from our soap operas. When I was an Australian teenager in the 1980s, "spunky" didn't mean "spirited", it meant "sexually attractive", and was totally non-gendered. The noun form was also common: "he's such a spunk", "she's such a spunk". Which would have amused the Brits watching Home and Away, I'll bet.
posted by rory at 9:48 AM on August 9 [7 favorites]


I have this feeling that jokes about violence towards small dogs are coded misogynistic, but I would have to watch a lot of depressing bullshit to support the thesis, so I'll have to let it pass.

This is absolutely true. You would not believe the number of people whose heads explode when they see my small dog stand up for himself to much larger dogs, or even (the horror!) hump larger dogs*. He's very confident and people hate having the idea that size=status challenged.

*I of course discourage this and stop him, but he was a stray who was neutered as an adult so he still has the humping habit and stuff happens at the dog park.
posted by medusa at 10:36 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


I'd add "peppy" and "perky," having "moxie," being "effervescent," "bouncy," or "chirpy," and it's women, not men, who get "tipsy." (I'm not a linguist but a lot of "coded female" words seem to end in that diminutive "-y" "-ie" sound).

There's also being a "fashionista," (which is typically "glamorous,") and women are often a "Girl Friday" (originally from "Man Friday" which is never used anymore) but men get to be the "right hand man," "adviser," or the much more imposing "consigliere."

And of course, it's always women who "nag."
posted by castlebravo at 11:15 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


Once upon a time, "pushy" was used to describe Jews (male and female) who got into places they weren't historically welcomed. Like, you know, Ivy League colleges.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 11:17 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


Anyone want to join me as well in my quixotic crusade against pop culture slang used only for parts of women's bodies? Sometimes not demeaning on the surface but always intended to draw attention to ways that you are flawed and could be better.

cankles
bingo wings
muffin top
thigh gap
buddah belly
pooch
saddle bags
thunder thighs
posted by Squeak Attack at 11:41 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


Bossy. Ugh, I hate that one. Watching grown adults label my niece as bossy when she was all of four years old took my breath away. Behaviour and language that would (likely) be labelled as decisive or indicative of organizational/leadership skills in a boy-child was criticized or discouraged in her (in both subtle and un-subtle ways).

I once told my grandniece (who, if I am colouring with her, assigns me specific colours to do) that if anyone called her bossy she should tell them, "I am not bossy. I have executive ability."
posted by orange swan at 11:49 AM on August 9 [22 favorites]


Language reflects culture. Also "asshole" is strangely gendered in English, although everybody has one.
posted by ikalliom at 11:58 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


I'm all for ridding the language of sexist usages, but we allow "thunder thighs" just as long as it's being used in this video.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:59 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


I have the same uncomfortable reaction to "bad ass" -- it's meant to be a positive but it's usually used solely for women and has a bit of "ooh that's unusual". Why not just strong or decisive or ????
posted by travertina at 12:54 PM on August 9


A word that never fails to set my teeth on edge: "coltish", which for some reason I only see used in describing a young girl's legs. Haaate.
posted by XtinaS at 1:03 PM on August 9 [6 favorites]


"bad ass" -- it's meant to be a positive but it's usually used solely for women

I don't think of this a gendered expression.

I've heard of Thunder thighs and have seen muffin top used for both sexes but the rest? I've never heard of any of these. Bingo Wings? What part of the body is that referring to?

Nag though is one that I have purposely removed from any usage. That and "on the rag" always rub me the wrong way when I hear my male friends use them. Both are terrible.
posted by Ashwagandha at 1:25 PM on August 9


Anyone want to join me as well in my quixotic crusade against pop culture slang used only for parts of women's bodies?

Man, I can't count the times I've learned something was wrong with my body because I heard a slang term that meant something that I had. "Muffin top," "thunder thighs," others I can't bear to mention . . . "Coltish," too, turned up in novels I read as a kid. I was uncomfortably aware that my legs weren't that. They weren't like a colt's, they were already like a woman's, and I wasn't sure if that was okay.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:33 PM on August 9 [4 favorites]


In my experience, “bright” is usually applied to females.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:10 PM on August 9


Pipeski mentioned 'emotional' and I just want to repeat it. Men can also be very emotional, even if they never cry or change their tone of voice, and they're called something else such as angry or fed up. And when emotional, men are just as irrational or hard to communicate as any emotional woman.

And 'miffed.' "She's miffed" means, "She's bothered about something that shouldn't matter, and she's not significant enough to earn the word 'angry.'
posted by wryly at 6:22 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


From reading the above, it's obvious that this area is hugely culturally-specific. a good half of the original list are equally applied to males here.

Bolshy BTW is not used to imply marxism, but someone will not take a transgression lying down.

And stuff like miffed and tipsy are completely non-gendered.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 10:07 PM on August 9


I've heard most of these words applied to men as well as women in my experience.
posted by The Seeds of Autumn at 10:07 PM on August 9


Yeah, tipsy is very much an equal opportunities descriptor in the UK. And I don't think I've heard miffed used as a third person identifier meaningfully often, but people (mostly men, I think, but definitely people of all genders) use it to describe themselves more often.
posted by Dysk at 12:19 AM on August 10 [1 favorite]


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