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: (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.