As a kid I was often called "feisty," usually by teachers, or coaches, or anyone who knew me... Never "sweetheart," or "doll," or "sweet pea," like so many of my friends. It never bothered me because I am not in fact a "sweetheart," nor did I care to be called one. I think I tried that role on for a day and it just didn't go ever well.
On the flip side I won't deny I wanted to look like a doll, (more specifically Jon Benet, as I've mentioned before) but due to a crooked smile and a forehead you could play checkers on, a doll I never was.
The thing that bothers me when I think back on this is that I don't ever recall hearing my fellow boy classmates labeled as "feisty." Do you? Seems to me this is a term usually reserved for little girls.
*Also see: sassy, spirited, and spitfire.
I can only speak from my own experience, but the boys in class who were loud and silly were often just called... boys. Boys will be boys. Or the "class clowns." I remember teachers specifically boasting about how "boys are always louder than girls. It's just the way it is."
But why? It never sat well with me.
Thus, I made it my life mission as a little girl to be just as good as the boys.
I like to think I made my first big "feminist move" at age five when it was time for the annual "Sacred Heart Kindergarten Circus." All of my friends wanted to be the gymnasts and tight rope walkers so they could wear the pretty sparkly leotards and ballet slippers. But being the youngest of two other siblings who had previously taken part in the big circus a few years before, I was no dummy. I knew damn well the biggest role was "ringmaster," a part that traditionally went to a boy student.
Well, I got a little "feisty" and demanded I be given the chance to audition for the lead.
Naturally, I Derek-from-Full-Housed the audition and snagged the role. And as I type this I can still remember the top hat and bow-tie I wore as I spoke into the microphone on the gymnasium stage, in my best deep voice and announced, "Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the annual kindergarten circus."
cue circus music.
I'm sure the deep voice impersonation wasn't necessary. I probably could have played the ringmaster as a little girl, but the fact I just assumed I had to do the "boy voice" resonates with me years later.
This happened again in third grade when I had to wear a baseball cap and tuck my hair in a pony in order to play the role of "Juan," a farmer from the Amazon rainforest (another lead role meant for a boy that I demanded I have equal shot at getting.) If all of the big roles were written just for boys well then I'd keep dressing like a boy to get them.
Looking back, this play had a lot of other big problems going other than just gender inequality, lots of racist undertones now that I really think about it. Hopefully this production has been retired.
I need to add before I get in too deep that I also had several really awesome teachers as a kid. Many that encouraged my "strong willed nature," who recognized my love for writing, performing, and making people laugh, and told me to head in that direction.
I'm simply saying that while I don't know what it's like in schools now, I know that when I was growing up more times than not the lead role, whether it was in the play, or student council, or a PE team, was almost always reserved for the boys. The girls came second. And I didn't grow up in the 50s, we're talking mid 90s.
Luckily, I was privileged enough to grow up in a household with a "feisty" mom and an equally "feisty" dad. I was taught to question things, to ask why not, and most importantly to fight for the role I wanted. It's made me who I am and why I am more than happy to celebrate the strong women in my life today on International Women's Day.
It goes without saying that both little girls and little boys should grow up in a place where they feel loved, supported, and like they can achieve anything. I just think that in today's world it's often the little girls who need the extra reminder that they too can be the ringmaster.