I love grumpy women. Grumpy is so often used as a negative term, but to me, being a grumpy woman is in large part about seeing the problems in a society that’s full of them – being mad as hell, and not about to take it any more. It’s also about refusing to fit the social narrative so often foisted on women; that we must, above all, be “nice”. (Grumpy women can still be kind, and generous, and supportive, but they don’t conform to “niceness”, because they’ve realised that being nice often means diminishing yourself so that others don’t have to be bothered by thinking about you).
Sara Benincasa nails niceness here. She may not be a grumpy woman, but she’s a sharp and funny as hell one.
I don’t just love grumpy women in the real world – I adore them in stories, too. They break the unwritten but oft-cited rule that female characters have to be “likeable”, and instead become admirable. Here are four of my favourite grumpy women of fiction:
Meerkatnip from Tanis
Tanis is a podcast, so here, have a fanart impression of Meerkatnip, complete with bonus Ally thumb
Tanis, sister show to The Black Tapes Podcast, follows the adventures of host Nic as he tries to unravel the mysteries around a place that may or may not be good, evil, dangerous, healing, part of another dimension, or a TARDIS. He’s assisted along the way by computer hacker Meerkatnip, who is, in this listener’s totally unbiased opinion, the best damn character in the show. MK, as she’s often known, is stoic, snarky, and perfectly happy to give Nic a kick up the backside when he needs it. She’s probably the most competent character in the story, and makes sure that she gets properly paid for the work she does. Over the course of the series, MK proves that she’s a loyal friend, but also that she won’t pull her punches or massage anyone’s ego.
Lapis Lazuli from Steven Universe
Lapis’ situation is slightly different from the other women mentioned here – from what we’ve learned about her so far in the show, her grumpiness isn’t a core part of her personality (which seems to be thoughtful, with a goofy edge that occasionally manifests itself in making fart noises). Instead, Lapis’ grumpiness is part of the process of her redefining her boundaries and taking back control of her life after having been trapped – first in a mirror, then underwater, locked in a harrowingly intimate battle with one of the series’ main villains. Lapis is grumpy because she’s re-establishing her own identity, and after the ordeal she goes through in the series, it’s wonderful to see.
Tris from Circle of Magic
I’ve been a massive fan of Tamora Pierce’s novels since I was a tiny baby geek, and Tris from the Circle of Magic series is one of her most memorable characters. An immensely powerful weathermage, Tris is nonetheless a frequent victim of bullying about her weight, her glasses, and her booksmarts. But she’s never a victim for very long. Whether she’s causing a rainstorm to thunder down onto a group of boys who’ve played a trick on her, or destroying a fleet of pirates attacking her home, Tris makes it clear she isn’t a person to be messed with – and she also refuses to compromise her principles, choosing to retrain as a regular mage instead of using her power for battle magic.
Granny Weatherwax from Discworld
Not only one of my favourite grumpy women, but one of my favourite characters of all time, Granny Weatherwax is the Disc’s most powerful witch, and also an acid-tongued, stubborn as hell, tough as boots old lady. Whether she’s facing down vampires or assisting at a difficult birth, Granny makes the hard choices, always doing what’s right even when it would be easier – and far more tempting – to do wrong. Nothing sums up Granny Weatherwax’s outlook on the world better than this exchange with a priest in Carpe Jugulum:
“Sin, young man, is when you treat people like things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.”
“It’s a lot more complicated than that-“
“No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”
“Oh, I’m sure there are worse crimes-“
“But they starts with thinking about people as things.”
Granny rarely treats people nicely, but she treats them right – grumpily, but right.
These aren’t the only four grumpy women in fiction, but they’re the four who’ve stayed with me. If you can think of any I’ve missed, or should get to know, please tell me in the comments!