If she’s female she must be “feisty”

Writers, publicists and producers take note: Beware one of TV's biggest clichés!

2013-05-31_2249TV is full of clichés and stereotypes but one that keeps coming across my desk is that females are too often described as “feisty.”

adjective, feist·i·er, feist·i·est.
1. full of animation, energy, or courage; spirited; spunky; plucky: The champion is faced with a feisty challenger.
2. ill-tempered; pugnacious.
3. troublesome; difficult: feisty legal problems.

In TV synopses, whether in Drama, Reality or Lifestyle, men can be aggressive, but never feisty. Women are rarely tough or hard-hitting. They’re always feisty, sometimes plucky…

I’ve looked back across the blog archive and found a string of clichés used to describe women. I only found one occasion of “feisty” being associated with males and it was used to describe an argument. All the rest were female.

Here’s a collection of those I have uncovered:

“Sarah Peirse as Ted’s feisty and sports-mad wife, –Old School ABC

“It’s game on for our four feisty brides!” – Four Weddings, Seven.

“Susie also delves deeper into her family past and looks back further to another generation to learn about Winifred’s parents and discovers a feisty soul in the form of her great, great grandmother Eliza.” –Who Do You Think You Are, SBS.

“Denise Scott as the matriarch of the Gross family and newcomers Zoe Tuckwell-Smith as faithful Bec, Melissa Bergland as loud and opinionated Jenny, Melanie Vallejo as the fit and feisty Sophie, and returning to Channel Seven is Virginia Gay as high powered workaholic Frances.” –Winners and Losers, Seven.

“Things would be so much easier if everyone listened to him and followed his lead, but his obsessively house-proud wife and two feisty daughters have other ideas. – Citizen Khan, BBC.

“Shirley Frey would have to be the oldest person in Australia to be kicked out of a nursing home. But this feisty 84-year-old is refusing to budge, chaining herself to her room.”- Today Tonight, Seven.

“His employer has just died, his sister-in-law is in love with him, and the feisty spirit of his mother Eden has come to protect the family destiny” – The Gods of Wheat Street, ABC

“There’s no shortage of tension at Wary’s extravagant mansion as Mark’s gorgeous but feisty girlfriend, Sharon, tries to keep his wandering eye in check.” –Mark Loves Sharon, TEN.

“Alice is confrontational and feisty; she will not shy away from a disagreement. She is ultra competitive and looking for Mr. Right.” –Big Brother, TEN.

“Tough talking Charlotte Dawson [feisty Australia’s Next Top Model judge, fashion journalist and ex-model] has taken on the role of mentor…” – Australia’s Next Top Model, Foxtel.

“On stage, she’s a feisty rock chick – a woman with a big voice whose songs can make a bloke feel very small indeed.” – 60 Minutes on P!nk, Nine.

“A terrible tempest ensues killing many on board the ship. The few survivors – sensitive young doctor Anwar (Dimitri Leonidas), Viking warrior Gunnar (Elliot Cowan), beautiful but aloof Nala (Estella Daniels), feisty street thief Rina (Marama Corlett), the calm, insightful Cook (Junix Inocian), and Sinbad – find themselves thrown together on a spellbinding voyage of discovery.” – Sinbad, Sky1.

“Feisty Vicky is Newcastle’s Queen bee who often finds herself getting into scraps with the locals and ‘swilling’ drinks over her love rivals,” –Geordie Shore, MTV.

“…feisty Brit Catherine Ommanney, married to a White House photographer” – The Real Housewives of DC, Bravo.

“Starting over, they rent a house that happens to come with one very feisty caretaker.” –Hot in Cleveland, TV Land.

“They are led by the feisty and passionate Dr Gillian Magwilde (Julie Graham – William And Mary),” –Bonekickers BBC.

“Naomi (Lily Loveless) is a feisty gal – passionate, principled and often locking horns with others in the group.” Skins, BBC.

“The TARDIS lands in Victorian London on Christmas Eve, where Tennant collides with a second Doctor who has a feisty female assistant (Velile Tshabalala) and a sonic screwdriver” –Doctor Who, BBC.

“While trying to put out a monthly magazine, the blokes have to contend with their wily and demanding boss Anne (Leah Vandenberg), and Carl’s feisty P.A. Tina (Sophie Katinis).” –Stupid, Stupid Man, TV1.

” is feisty fiancée Emily (Zoe Telford) is determined to prove his innocence and, aided by both eager journalist Charles Burnaby (James Murray) and Miss Marple” – Miss Marple, ITV.

“Jacqueline de Bellefort, a feisty and clever young woman is engaged to Simon Doyle (JJField)” –Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Death On The Nile, ITV.

15 Responses

  1. Yep, TV is most definitely a cliche ridden medium – from the dreaded feisty female to the inevitable smartmouthed kids who run rings round their parents on American sitcoms. Another cliche I can think of is the maverick detective who clashes with his superiors in order to solve crimes his own way.

  2. Funny how the roles have been reversed over the last few years. Most of the women’s roles in TV are of the leaders, the tough nuts. Where as the male’s role is of the dopey knockabout bloke. Now if it was reversed, that would deemed sexist and inappropriate.

  3. In TV Land there’s only one thing worse than having feisty female characters, and that’s not having feisty female characters. There is a lot of pressure to show women as being strong, capable and active (good luck to you if you pitch an idea to a producer where a woman is a passive victim).

    Feisty is the perfect word to describe such women. What other word could possible be used? Butch? Tough? Rugged? Nope, those are masculine words.

  4. similarly how redheads (and female ones) must, must… must… be “fiery”.

    You don’t hear much about “fiery” blondes, brunettes or males. It’s always the redheads, yet the definition of “fiery” is not related hair colour or gender.

    But any woman who happens to be redhead is instantly “fiery”.

  5. Commercial TV has always been largely a woman’s world. With the exception of sport and a small number of shows (cops usually) aimed at men, the medium is primarily geared to the market advertisers most care about – the women who dominate most of the household purchasing decisions. (Of course, that’s a nonsense too, but advertisers have their own elaborate delusions.) In recent years, as female executives have come to dominate drama departments (and men who value their jobs fall into line), the brief has narrowed even more. Female characters must all be “feisty” and strong and role models, and nobody even much cares about the male characters who are there to support them. So TV drama in Australia has become virtually an echo of the ubiquitous commercial in which a strong, capable woman gets everything sorted, despite the interference of a dopey, ineffectual husband/boyfriend/boss/whatever. HouseHusbands is the classic example. It might seem to be about the characters referenced in the title, but it’s really just another show about hopeless men and their long-suffering capable wives and girlfriends. The TV execs, the producers, the stars, even the poor writers doomed to perpetuate this stuff would all strenuously deny this, of course. But it’s a conspiracy as effective as anything conceived by the Hayes Office in Hollywood, or Joseph Goebbels in Nazi Germany.

  6. Nothing wrong with a few terms being cliched or gender specific.

    The alliteration fits well feisty female. It certainly means that individual is no pushover.

    There are plenty of words that are not specific to groups of people and as long as they are not derogatory/negative that is fair enough.
    It would be good if we could find a fresh word to replace feisty though..

  7. I notice in commercials that when they show a “family” it consists of a mother, father, daughter, son and a dog aka the typical pefect family.

    Also in shows (real life in general actually), women are always seen and talked about as difficult when they have their own opinion, whereas men are never considered as this.

  8. What I hate is to hear actresses complain about the lack of roles for women when we are overwhelmed with tv shows where the lead role(s) is female.

    It is almost like they think that a female lead character is all that is required. This year only House Husbands, Cliffy & Dr Blake have featured males in the lead roles.

    TV is becoming a woman’s world.

  9. Great observation and great choice of Winners and Losers to illustrate a story about TV cliches and stereotypes. The show is riddled with them, right down to the stereotypical gay guy.

  10. You got me going on this David..I promise this’ll be my last post on this..lol.. but..you ever notice..whoever has the most menial job..butler,maid,housekeeper,whatever..even Sid the parking attendant in Seinfeld for pete’s sakes..are always by far the smartest,wittiest guys in the scene..and millionaire employers are always dumb bells.

  11. I like the topic of tv cliches.Two that come quickly to mind..the dad in the cardigan,and the ill-tempered,grumpy, combative housekeeper..almost said feisty there..lol..maybe I should have..wudda been shorter.

Leave a Reply