thedeadparrot: (crouching tiger)
thedeadparrot ([personal profile] thedeadparrot) wrote2010-04-11 09:43 am
Entry tags:

My Problem With Mary Sues

So there's a few new conversations about Mary Sues that have come up lately:

on mary sue policing and why i cannot abide it by [personal profile] niqaeli
Such stuff as dreams are made on by [personal profile] staranise

I just wanted to make a point that hasn't really come up yet about how deeply problematic Mary Sues often are.

First off, I do have to say that a lot of gut-level hatred for Mary Sues tends to be overblown, and I will say that I did tend to experience such hatred when I was younger and more judgmental. I really don't believe that we should police anyone's desire to write Mary Sues, and I don't agree that we should shame people who write them.

But seriously, I am getting sick of hearing about how awesome and feminist Mary Sues are, because 90% of the ones I have read are predicated on the idea that the canon female characters are not good enough for the hero, and, of course, Mary Sue is there to give the hero someone he could ~*really love*~. One of my first fannish experiences with Mary Sues was in the Legend of Zelda fandom, where Link fell in love with a new girlfriend who was awesome because she could shoot arrows on horseback and because she was so much better than Zelda, that lame, prissy, jealous harpy. This was even in Ocarina of Time canon, where SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER happened, and I remember the gut-level anger I felt at the way the author dismissed Zelda that way. Because I like Zelda, and I really hated seeing her treated as if she were less than nothing, insignificant, in comparison to this new character who I had never met before, who I didn't even know.

Recently, I read a Jed/Abbey story where the two of them sort of got Stued/Sued, and everyone wanted to fuck one or the other of them, and all the other female character were so mean and also jealous of Abbey (except CJ, I think). Look, I love Abbey like crazy, which is why I was reading the story in the first place, but all the women except her were treated as if they were flawed for not being her, for not being beautiful and sexy and loved by everyone and having the perfect husband and having wonderful children. If this is our idea of empowerment, tearing down other women for not fitting into some perceived feminine ideal, I don't want into it.

And if you don't think that this fantasy is not harmful in any way, imagine being a WOC who identifies heavily with Uhura and then running into Spock/Mary Sue with long descriptions of how much more beautiful and amazing and better for Spock the white Mary Sue is than Uhura. Imagine that you're a WOC and once again, you're reading fic that reminds you that the ideal woman is not you and will never be you. Fantasies are not inherently unproblematic, not inherently unharmful. There's a reason why feminists are always calling out porn that's made for men, and a reason we're always calling out story lines/images/characters in our canons that are meant to titillate men. Yeah, fanfic does not have that same cultural power that our canons do, but to think that white women in fandom cannot harm WOC in fandom through their fantasies is something we've gone over before. And race is just one axis along which this true. There are many, many more.

I am not exempt from having my own Mary Sues in my head, and I'm sure a lot of us do, but you know what? I've had a few different ones since forever and at least half of them were white (while I am not). Some of them were even male. None of them were disabled, fat, transgendered, or lower class. Mary Sues will always be a power fantasy, and they're also a power fantasy that uses the kyriarchy's standards of power and importance. It's one thing to let these fantasies live in our heads. It's another to actually have them contributed to the fannish conversation.

I found this quote off of TigerBeatdown, and I think it hits on something important:
We seem to be special women here, we have liked to think of ourselves as special, and we have known that men would tolerate, even romanticize us as special, as long as our words and actions didn’t threaten their privilege of tolerating or rejecting us and our work according to their ideas of what a special woman ought to be. An important insight of the radical women’s movement has been how divisive and how ultimately destructive is this myth of the special woman, who is also the token woman.

- Adrienne Rich, “When We Dead Awaken”

Mary Sue the ultimate special woman, the ultimate token woman, and the ultimate celebration of her existence as a cultural construct. I can't embrace her, and I don't know why I would even want to. Yeah, it is true that the amount of vitriol directed at Mary Sue tends to be greatly disproportionate to the dangers of her existence. But don't tell me she is not problematic in other ways besides offending our sense of taste.
lady_ganesh: A Clue card featuring Miss Scarlett. (tea)

[personal profile] lady_ganesh 2010-04-14 01:07 pm (UTC)(link)
Here from metafandom. As others have said, and I did up above, I think part of the problem is both the gendered nature of the "Mary Sue" label and the elastic all-encompassing nature the term has seemed to get; that even canon characters get called Sues or "Sued" and the like. [personal profile] lucidity's got it above when se says Basically, you know that shit is fucked when both Uhura and the OFC invented for the sole purpose of humiliating and replacing her have been called the same thing.

So a lot of my desire to replace the Mary Sue label is simply that it's so gendered and it's so over- and inconsistently used as to be useless. But I'm glad you pointed out some of the issues that can come hand-in-hand with OFCs.
lovepeaceohana: Eggman doing the evil laugh, complete with evilly shining glasses. (Default)

[personal profile] lovepeaceohana 2010-04-15 08:10 pm (UTC)(link)
Here from [personal profile] wistfuljane, and this whole discussion is blowing my mind a little. I haven't really felt comfortable commenting on it before now, but I'd like to pull some thoughts together for this post.

I've been lurking around this Mary Sue debate as something of an outsider. I used to write fanfiction, and have lately considered writing more. And here's the thing: I went back and thought about my old stuff, including original fic, and realized: a. Look, self-inserts! and b. Holy shit, why are they all white? Whereupon I was promptly glad that my previous fanfiction career ended up lost on a 3.5" floppy disk before the internet and I were introduced.

Both of the posts you linked, I read, and I appreciated that these folks seemed to be advocating taking a non-bullying, constructive-criticism approach to new writers whose wish-fulfillment stories were otherwise causing eyestrain with poor writing, worldbuilding, characterisation, whathaveyou. At the same time, there was something about what I perceived to be the championing of the Sues/Suethors that bothered me, and until I read this post (and subsequently went back to mentally peer at my old fanfic), I hadn't quite been able to put my finger on it.

Because, yeah: some of those Sues do cause harm, in the sense that they can further contribute to the squeaky clean whiteness (or insert other privileged class here) and/or problematic issues of a particular fandom, or of fantasy/scifi culture at large. That isn't necessarily a flaw on the writer's part (although it can be, if we're talking about cultural appropriation or tokenism, and that's definitely something that should be addressed regardless of the author's age or newness-to-fandom/writing), but it is something that I don't think can be stressed enough. Particularly when, as [personal profile] thedeadparrot has pointed out, defenders of Suedom are asking, What the hell harm does it do for someone to write their ridiculous self-avatar? - they've asked, and [personal profile] thedeadparrot is offering an answer.

Shorter tl;dr: This post is truth.
belderiver: Aeris during the ending of FFVII. (Aeris)

[personal profile] belderiver 2010-04-17 11:56 pm (UTC)(link)
Yeah, this is a stupid post, your concept of Mary Suedom here is pretty much a straw man. What you're actually advocating is that women not be torn down for other women or made to look imperfect compared to one another. Mary Sues may be one device for doing that, but they are hardly the cause and it doesn't make sense to treat them as they are.
belderiver: Aeris during the ending of FFVII. (Default)

[personal profile] belderiver 2010-04-18 04:03 am (UTC)(link)
You haven't actually made the point that Mary Sues are a symptom of internalized misogyny. You've just pointed out how they can be used to marginalize other female characters. Surprise! So can non-Mary Sues. Is the solution to never write women again? I think not.
belderiver: Aeris during the ending of FFVII. (Default)

[personal profile] belderiver 2010-04-18 07:23 am (UTC)(link)
I understood your post just fine, but thanks for the condescension.
lanjelin: Fai from Tsubasa reservoir cronicle (Default)

[personal profile] lanjelin 2010-04-29 12:00 am (UTC)(link)
I think you make some very good points here. Since what I've always understood a Mary Sue to basically be is a character that twists the characterisation of the characters and world around it, I've seen it as synonymous to bad writing.

And, as you say, often used to put down other characters. In fact, in every instance where I've seen a Mary Sue that's what's happened.

I've also always used it for both male and female characters, though I know its origins of course. I'm beginning to wonder if that's not what fandom at large does? Or maybe it's just media fandom? Things do sometimes work a little differently in the Japan-originated fandoms.

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