It’s International Women’s Day today, and with this Sunday being the second anniversary of Sir Terry Pratchett’s death, I decided it was time for a long-overdue thank you. When I think of the women who’ve most influenced me, it doesn’t take long for my mind to wander to fiction – as it often does – and the many strong female characters I was blessed to encounter throughout my life, especially as a child.
The Discworld has been a part of my life since I was ten, first introduced to me through the subseries following young witch Tiffany Aching, and to this day the series remains the greatest influence on me, both creatively and on a personal level. Unlike many successful male authors, Pratchett understands the relevance of and what makes a realistic, strong female character, and this is evident throughout the many women we see in the Tiffany series – all unique, all three-dimensional.
So, this is a tribute not only to the tragic death of a wonderful author, but the lives of each of the female characters who deserve to be celebrated on International Women’s Day, if only for the impact they’ve had on my life. Each of them taught a young, impressionable girl something different about what a woman can be, and to them I am eternally grateful.
Granny Weatherwax taught me the value of respect, the power in the way people think: about you, about the world, about themselves. That doing good doesn’t always mean being nice: it’s about doing what needs done, because you can, and you must, and that nothing should ever stand in your way.
Nanny Ogg taught me the power of people – you can have as much power, magical or otherwise, as you want, but it is never more valuable than knowing how people work, and how to make them feel, and feel at home. There is nothing less fulfilling about a domestic life, and it is never a limit, or a symbol of weakness.
Miss Perspicacia Tick taught me that there’s nothing wrong with being a smart-arse, even if people might not always like you for it – you never know what you need to know. She taught me that there is no substitute for hard work, and no amount of wishing on stars will take you anywhere if you don’t put in the time.
Jeannie, Kelda of the Chalk Hill Clan, taught me that wives and mothers and leaders and wise women are not mutually exclusive categories. Even surrounded by men, even surrounded by and living up to gender roles and expectations, there is no reason you cannot still be the most powerful person in the room.
Granny Aching taught me that quiet does not always mean shy, or weak, or stupid – sometimes, it simply means that silence is preferable to idle chatter, and that you can never be certain of anyone’s skill from one look. There is no such thing as a small life: even those who don’t leave their mark on the whole world can still be a legend in the eyes of those they touched.
Miss Level taught me that there is always more to people than you first understand – there will always be secrets, and surprises, and things that you might never guess they would be capable of based on a first glance. There is nothing wrong, nothing weak, about being nice and helping others, even when receiving nothing in return – helping those in need is a responsibility, not necessarily a burden.
Annagramma taught me that arrogance always comes from something – maybe insecurity, maybe the way they’ve been taught. Not everyone can always understand, or do things the right way, but there is nothing wrong with trying to move on from your mistakes and make the best of it anyway, even when ill-prepared.
Petulia Gristle taught me that there’s nothing wrong with being plain. What you want to do doesn’t have to be flashy, or exciting to other people – if it’s what you’re good at, and if it fulfills you, there is nothing that should make you ashamed of it, or bother you from achieving your goals.
Miss Treason taught me that there’s nothing wrong with being dramatic. Reputation isn’t always a bad thing: even when it isn’t positive, even when it’s a blatant lie, you can wield it as a weapon, manipulate it, make yourself a figure known to everybody and nobody. A reputation is never all there is to a person – there are always truths behind it you would never guess.
Letitia Keepsake taught me that traditional femininity is not weakness. Being shy or naive or gentle doesn’t make you any less strong, or smart, or capable – the most unlikely people can have the most unlikely talents, if you will only get to know them, rather than tearing them down or ridiculing them.
Mrs Proust taught me that there’s always value in the ability to laugh at yourself. What others might tear you down for, you shouldn’t hide: you should own them, be proud of them as you would everything else. Your appearance is never something to be ashamed of, and even if you laugh at yourself, you’re always more than just the butt of your own jokes, whether people see it or not.
Eskarina Smith taught me that even if it has never been done before, you can always be the first. She taught me that being a woman should never be a restriction – not on your education, or your capabilities, or your position in the world. There is nothing wrong with making up your own rules and living outside of everyone else’s restrictions.
Amber Petty taught me that abuse survivors deserve support and respect, that they should be helped, not shunned. She taught me that a person’s experiences and background are never the only thing that defines them, their futures, or their abilities to recover and find happiness.
Nightshade taught me that there are reasons why people act the way they do – perhaps insecurity, or the way they’ve been taught – and people deserve a chance to redeem themselves. Learning to grow and apologize is both possible and admirable, and people should be forgiven the previous mistakes they’ve learned from.
But out of all of them, Tiffany Aching has taught me the most: she has taught me the value of choice, of agency in my own life, of facing your demons head-on and forcing them to fear you. She has taught me the value of questioning norms, questioning how people treat others and why, questioning things that people would otherwise have you blindly accept. She has taught me the value of curiosity, of learning, of refusing to let people underestimate what you know, or what you are capable of. She taught me that anger is an energy: your motivations don’t have to be noble, they just have to do good, and righteous anger is not an evil to be suppressed – when what is yours is threatened, you must fight back. When you get yourself into messes, you get yourself out. Those who can’t speak need a voice, those who can’t fight need someone who can, those who can’t take care of themselves need help – you can be all of those things, not because it’s the noble thing to do, but because it’s necessary, and it’s right. You can be more than what the stories tell you you must – you can change the stories, the myths, the legends that will one day be told about you. She taught me the value of being an unstoppable force, an example I hope I can one day live up to half as well as her.
Tiffany and the women in her life are some of many fictional heroines setting an example we see in all of the wonderful women from our own world, the ones we celebrate today, the ones who show the values we must teach the women and girls still to come, still to leave their mark.
These women certainly taught me.
And one day, if I can live up to their example, then there will be a reckoning.