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.
minoanmiss: (La Parisienne)

[personal profile] minoanmiss 2010-04-11 07:35 pm (UTC)(link)
I came here from agreeing with the essays you linked to, and I... am of two minds.

I agree that the problems you describe are problems -- I am a woman of color and I've *seen* the story where Spock falls in love with someone who is So Much More Awesome Than Uhura and it was all I could do not to vomit, not to flame the author. I hate OFCs that are there to say that the canon female characters are lacking, and I agree with you that they're awful.

BUT. I hate slash like that too (the kind of slash where the male characters get together because the canon female love interest is depicted as a horrible person -- for example, I've also seen the Kirk/Spock stories where Kirk is so much better for Spock and Uhura can't love Spock like Kirk does, and I find them equally as disgusting) and I still disagree vehemently with the people who say that its existence is a reason no one should write or read slash. I don't think all these problematic fantasies, terrible as they can be, are a reason to stop writing OFCs, which is the most common suggested solution I've seen to the problem of Mary Sues.

I don't think every OFC has to do what you've described. For example, I created a LOTR hobbit character once to be the betrothed of a minor canon hobbit character, so I could write about the effect of the Ruffians' occupation of the Shire on the hobbits' lives. To do so, I had to deal with my own fears of being labeled a "Mary Sue writer and thus not worth reading" and had to fence with a couple of people who cast that label at me. There were no canon love interests for her to push aside, and every reason for her to exist, and I still think years later that the concept of Mary Sue did me no good service in creating that character and her stories.

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.

I certainly don't want that either. Not at ALL. But I respectfully submit that avoiding creating OFCs may be one way to avoid doing that but it is not the only nor, in the end, the most productive.
cesy: "Cesy" - An old-fashioned quill and ink (Default)

[personal profile] cesy 2010-04-13 07:57 am (UTC)(link)
I think part of the problem is that people were starting to use Mary Sue to mean any OFC, and criticising any OFC at all. It got to the point where a lot of people avoided writing any OFCs, because you couldn't do it without someone sporking it for being Mary Sue-ish.

But yes, it's a good point that we should have more OFCs and more writing about female characters of all kinds, not just the kinds that the kyriarchy approves of.