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.
chronolith: (Default)

[personal profile] chronolith 2010-04-13 04:21 pm (UTC)(link)
I think you are painting with a really large brush when you say 'Mary Sues hurt people.' I think it would be better to say that unexamed power fantasies--often expressed via Mary Sue or Marty Stu--are hurtful and we need to study our power fantasies for troubling elements. Not all Mary Sues', given the wide brush we're working with, have the issues that you identified. Some do, some don't.

What you are currently saying can easily be translated into "it's okay for me to flame the crap out of this new, immature writer--who is probably a teenager or tween--because of what they write." Which is not okay, even if the writer may have privilege that their readers do not. Expected a young writer, which most Mary Sue authors are, to be able to be anti-racist when most of fandom isn't and can't seem to get its collective heads around is putting a lot of burden on someone who is probably in the 13-20 year old range.

Hand-holding, there needs to be willingness to do that sort of hand-holding with younger writers. Not just flame them for being misogynistic, or racist--which is how a lot of Mary Sue authors would take your criticism if it was leveled at them. I don't think these issues give someone the right to bully another person, even if the author has privilege.

I get your post and I get your point. I even agree with it. However you seem to be offering it as a rejection to [personal profile] staranise's point. If that was not your intent, no harm no foul. But handwaving away bullying because the author may or may not have privilege is not cool.
la_vie_noire: (Default)

[personal profile] la_vie_noire 2010-04-13 08:16 pm (UTC)(link)
But handwaving away bullying because the author may or may not have privilege is not cool.

Which was something the OP didn't do, by the way.
chronolith: (Default)

[personal profile] chronolith 2010-04-13 10:42 pm (UTC)(link)
Set in the context of the larger debate, which the OTP does, it can be seen that way.
la_vie_noire: (Default)

[personal profile] la_vie_noire 2010-04-14 12:37 am (UTC)(link)
Well, fine, a woman of color is expressing how tired she is of being ignored by the white women. Who are talking about their power fantasies.

You know how what you are doing right now can be also interpreted, right? Unless I'm missing something very big here, but I don't see how talking about the isms going on in a discussion about power fantasies for (white) women in fandom is equal to... bullying women who write Mary Sues and aren't, you know, getting into racist tropes. She never, ever once even implied that it was okay to "bash Mary Sues." (And, for once, let me get this out of my system, bashing racist tropes in Mary Sues =/= racism.)
la_vie_noire: (Default)

[personal profile] la_vie_noire 2010-04-14 12:51 am (UTC)(link)
bashing racist tropes in Mary Sues =/= racism.

And with that I was talking about your comment saying, "And one set of privilege doesn't excuse the expression of another." Because then I don't know which kind of privilege are you saying she could have over the OP.
chronolith: (Default)

[personal profile] chronolith 2010-04-14 01:04 am (UTC)(link)
I ... at this point I'm getting confused about pronouns. Which she are we talking about?

[personal profile] thedeadparrot clearly has some privileges. She's an established fan and she's well educated. These are privileges that one could hold over a younger author. Who may or may not have white privilege, or just the desire to have white privilege. If she, hypothetically, engaged in the sort of Mary Sue author bashing that [personal profile] staranise was decrying, then she would be expressing privilege against a Mary Sue author.

Unless you think that only race holds privilege. Because I'm not sure I can go there with you. I think we all have privilege and expresses itself in a variety of ways. And none of it is acceptable.
la_vie_noire: (Default)

[personal profile] la_vie_noire 2010-04-14 01:14 am (UTC)(link)
thedeadparrot clearly has some privileges. She's an established fan and she's well educated. These are privileges that one could hold over a younger author. Who may or may not have white privilege, or just the desire to have white privilege. If she, hypothetically, engaged in the sort of Mary Sue author bashing that [personal profile] goldjadeocean was decrying, then she would be expressing privilege against a Mary Sue author.

What..? I don't see the relevance of that in this particular discussion. Like, not even from the beginning.
chronolith: (Default)

[personal profile] chronolith 2010-04-14 01:41 am (UTC)(link)
Agh. You asked what sort of privilege thedeadparrot could hold over a mary sue author. I answered. It is relevant to the discussion if you see the conversation within the larger framework of conversation regarding mary sues. Not just deadparrots' post. I was responding to her comment from within that conversation.

Now, I misinterpreted her point which has since been cleared up, but you seem to want to go after me for defending racism like I wanted to go after her for defending mary sue author bashing/bullying. When in truth neither of us were engaging in that behavior.

I think at this point the conversation has gotten so confused it needs a reset button so we can all be clear what we're talking about and responding to.

IjFRcSdHLni

(Anonymous) 2011-08-06 06:12 am (UTC)(link)
It's about time somoene wrote about this.
chronolith: (Default)

[personal profile] chronolith 2010-04-14 01:00 am (UTC)(link)
I think you are missing something very big, probably because I misinterpreted the context in which the OP was supposed to work. I saw it as a direct refutation of [personal profile] staranise's original point, which was that the method in which fandom engages (bullying) Mary Sue authors is deeply problematic. I read her as giving a point in direct refutation of that.

I am not saying that her experience of certain Mary Sue's is not genuine and that they aren't deeply problematic and hurtful.

Unless you are suggesting that racism trumps any other sort of harm that is done and that racist behavior condones other harmful behavior. I was not suggesting that bashing racist tropes in Mary Sues is racism. Or something. I'm not sure where you are going with that, but I have a worrying idea.

The way I interpreted this post was within the context of the larger dialogue regarding how we treat young authors, particularly young authors who write Mary Sues. Which then devolved into a discussion of Mary Sues. I saw [personal profile] thedeadparrot's post as a direct refutation of [personal profile] staranise's post because she set her post within that dialogue. That is not what she intended, but at the time I read it, that wasn't entirely clear.
la_vie_noire: (Default)

[personal profile] la_vie_noire 2010-04-14 01:04 am (UTC)(link)
Unless you are suggesting that racism trumps any other sort of harm that is done and that racist behavior condones other harmful behavior.

Dude, I'm saying that "Mary Sue bullying" is really, really not comparable to racism. At all. And specially if you just assumed she was bashing and didn't read her post about white women power fantasies.
chronolith: (Default)

[personal profile] chronolith 2010-04-14 01:09 am (UTC)(link)
I did not assume she was bashing. I took the post within a larger dialogue and saw it as defending the bashing.

And I do think that bashing Mary Sue authors the way that deleterious and FandomWank do are as bad as Mary Sue expressions of problematic power fantasies in terms of harm within the fannish community. They are both not acceptable and using one to justify the other--which is how the OP came off within the larger dialogue--is not okay.
la_vie_noire: (Default)

I'm going to take a shower. Just that.

[personal profile] la_vie_noire 2010-04-14 01:16 am (UTC)(link)
Well, then you didn't read her post which was about white privilege.

I don't even know how to respond to this. Racism isn't a problem of some privileged kid's expressions, you know.
chronolith: (Default)

Re: I'm going to take a shower. Just that.

[personal profile] chronolith 2010-04-14 01:33 am (UTC)(link)
I read her post. I took it as part of a larger dialogue. One that I do not think you aren't aware of.

And I know that racism isn't a problem of some privileged kid's expression. But in the context of fandom, we are just talking about privileged kid's expressions.

Unless you are calling me some privileged kid. In which case I'm just going to point out that the American genocide of indigenous peoples was not quite as thorough as they like to proclaim it as.
torachan: (Default)

Re: I'm going to take a shower. Just that.

[personal profile] torachan 2010-04-14 06:47 am (UTC)(link)
I read her post. I took it as part of a larger dialogue.

No. What you did is assume a lot of things about the post due instead of engaging with what the post actually said.

This post is part of a larger dialogue. That's why the OP linked to other posts. But I don't know where in her post you got the idea that because she's saying Mary Sues are not unproblematic, everyone should go out and flame people who write them. That is just nowhere in this post at all. And saying over and over again that it is part of a larger discussion is not going to make that true.

In the context of the larger dialogue, the OP is pointing out something she had not seen touched on yet. She did not conclude her post with "therefore flaming is totes okay".
chronolith: (Default)

Re: I'm going to take a shower. Just that.

[personal profile] chronolith 2010-04-14 10:46 am (UTC)(link)
Right. She doesn't. I was wrong.

And I don't think I ever said that I thought deadparrot found Mary Sue's a-okay. Though I did completely lose the fundamental point somewhere in the discussion last night of the fact are harmful to readers, particularly of fen, and thus we shouldn't completely embrace them. The answer to that is yes.

And I didn't even say that she said flaming is a-okay, only that her post could be used as a defense of it on the grounds that the only way young authors will learn to not to be racist is through the Sue shaming mechanisms we have in place.

But I botched that and then just got confused.
chronolith: (utena)

[personal profile] chronolith 2010-04-13 10:59 pm (UTC)(link)
I think when I first read the OP you seemed to be setting yourself squarely in the 'well if we don't smack her nose, all this awfulness will happen.' And one set of privilege doesn't excuse the expression of another.

And now I'm just sort of rambling, prompted by various discussions:

I've been talking on [personal profile] boosette's journal about the need to educate young writers about what they are doing wrong in a way that doesn't shred their egos.

I think Mary Sue is this massive sprawling term. On the one end it's used a catch-all to bash on anyone who writes competent, interesting female character. And under that definition even someone who is writing the canon characters get accused of writing Mary Sues. Just because the female characters are kicking ass. ESPECIALLY if any of the male characters notice female character kicking said ass. Which, sup misogyny?

Then there are Mary Sues which exist to be super special perfect expressions of power. Often times those expressions of power are problematic for a lot of reasons. For the reason you described, because often Mary Sue's perfectness is predicated on really anti-feminist ideals of female perfection. Because they tend to be age-ist, ableist, and classist. And probably a lot of other -ists.

And some Mary Sue's aren't really problematic except that they are poorly written and hurt to read.

I think a lot of teens & tweens have no clue that what they are doing is racist or problematic. Jumping on them the way that fandom gleefully loves to jump on them is a problem. Because fandom isn't hating on Mary Sue because she's racist or perpetuating power structures that are damaging to readers. They are jumping on her for generally completely misogynistic terms. She's good at something, she takes away from a slash ship, etc etc. It's also a problem because it is never okay to bully someone.

I think what worries me is that a lot of fandom doesn't realize that by the simple fact that they are well established, interconnected, and involved in long discussions with each other they have privilege over a new author who is just starting to get involved. When a young author does something that is hurtful or problematic jumping on them via FW isn't even addressing the problem. And whipping out terminology from our various advanced degrees (because fandom is awesome in its education) is just using our educational privilege to pound on them.

The current kinda sink or swim response we have to young authors teaches them a couple of things: 1) don't write women, and 2) it's peachy keen to trash on someone writing something different. We never get to 'don't write racist things' We never engage with them on the they actually did that was hurtful.

My take away from [personal profile] staranise's point was not go celebrate Mary Sue as a feminist ideal, or even to give Suethors a pass, but to re-think how we engage them. Rather than shredding them for being bad writers (which they are) we need to explain to them what they are doing wrong.

And at this point I'm repeating myself and may have been doing so for a while.
la_vie_noire: (Default)

[personal profile] la_vie_noire 2010-04-14 12:12 am (UTC)(link)
And one set of privilege doesn't excuse the expression of another.

What kind of privilege are you exactly talking about here?
chronolith: (Default)

[personal profile] chronolith 2010-04-14 12:52 am (UTC)(link)
In the case of bashing Mary Sue authors, the privilege of an established fan against a new author. And potentially educational privilege. As well as age.

But I think at this point it has been cleared up by the OP that she was not setting herself in directly contradiction with the idea that bashing Sue authors was okay because they may be engaging in racist or problematic behavior.
la_vie_noire: (Default)

thedeadparrot, tell me if you don't want this discussion here, I will move on to my journal

[personal profile] la_vie_noire 2010-04-14 01:02 am (UTC)(link)
In the case of bashing Mary Sue authors, the privilege of an established fan against a new author. And potentially educational privilege. As well as age.

Why? And how are those comparable to racism? "Potential educational privilege"? Because she is educated to recognize privilege?

(The age thing, I can see it. But you weren't even talking about how she was ageist -because she said she once was young and judgmental?-, you were saying she was doing harm to Suethors. I don't see how age has an important role to play in addressing that power fantasies glorify white, able-bodied, cis, etc., bodies.)
chronolith: (Default)

Re: thedeadparrot, tell me if you don't want this discussion here, I will move on to my journal

[personal profile] chronolith 2010-04-14 01:07 am (UTC)(link)
At this point we are getting beyond the specifics of [personal profile] thedeadparrot to the actions of fandom potentially bashing on mary sue authors, which is what I thought she was defending on the grounds that some Mary Sue authors are racist in the expression of their power fantasies.

I mean, power fantasies are almost always going to be problematic.

Why? And how are those comparable to racism? "Potential educational privilege"? Because she is educated to recognize privilege?

I... woah.

So are you really saying that racism trumps any other sort of -ism? That once someone expresses racist, or potentially racist behavior they are fair game to anything else? Or that no other expression of privilege can compare to racism? Because I am definitely not willing to go there with you.
the_future_modernes: (Default)

Re: thedeadparrot, tell me if you don't want this discussion here, I will move on to my journal

[personal profile] the_future_modernes 2010-04-14 01:19 am (UTC)(link)
Racism does not trump any ism. The point that deadparrot was making was that the Mary Sue convo, as per usual for a hell of a lot of fandom convos, focused on white women and left out the experiences of not-white people. Which experiences are problematic. And Whereupon you started to accuse her of ...educational privilege. And ageism. And, being on the internet longer than goldjadeocean.

I am still blinking at your thought processes.


I mean, power fantasies are almost always going to be problematic.

Not if they are critiqued enough.
Edited 2010-04-14 01:22 (UTC)
chronolith: (Default)

Re: thedeadparrot, tell me if you don't want this discussion here, I will move on to my journal

[personal profile] chronolith 2010-04-14 01:37 am (UTC)(link)
I ... I wasn't accusing of her of educational privilege or ageism or being on the internet longer than goldjadeocean. I was, putting it an hypothetical, saying if she engaged in the sort of behavior that [personal profile] staranise was decrying that she could potentially be exhibiting those forms privilege against the Mary Sue author. Within that hypothetical.

I think that this point we're playing a game of telephone which started off with me responding to something that deadparrot didn't quite say. Which I did not and I think apologize for.

Not if they are critiqued enough.

Depends on your definition of 'power' I suppose. I'm a little too wedded to Foucault's definition of power which is almost always going to be problematic.