…the use of the term Mary-Sue comes with an obvious assumption attached: if characters like this are simply unacceptable by definition, then there must be other types of characters out there that are OK. After all, not every single female character ever written can possibly be a Mary-Sue. Even the people who cling to the term Mary-Sue as if it was their long-lost twin would not dispute that.
The Mary-Sue is a ‘fake girl’. A plastic girl, an unrealistic girl, a perfect girl. Her opposite number in that case must be a real girl. A human girl. A realistic girl. An imperfect girl. Fictional ladies whose failures and flaws are right there on the page. Ladies who cannot be dismissed as ‘too perfect’ or ‘wish fulfilment’. Let’s call this type of character a Sarah-Jane.
Now, because Sarah-Janes are in total contrast to the Mary-Sue, defying all the traits that are supposed to make a Mary-Sue unacceptable, then the Sarah-Jane, by definition, must be acceptable. I mean, obviously they’re not as tightly defined as the Mary-Sue type, and because their major trait is that they’re realistic, they’re going to vary a lot. But they must be the kind of character that readers want to see. The kind that readers will embrace. The kind that they will at least give a chance.
Yeah. No. It turns out the vast majority of talk about Sarah-Janes - realistic, flawed, prominent female characters in fiction - *still* centres on what is wrong with them, and all the reasons they are SO ANNOYING for… not being perfect?
Zoë Marriott, “Real Girls, Fake Girls, Everybody Hates Girls”
This is just a sample of a long and thoughtful essay — check out the rest!
Full disclosure - I’m in the “Mary Sues make terrible characters” camp, mostly because they (and the stories centered around them) tend to insist that this one character is “not like other girls” in her exceptional awesomeness, and leave no space for other female characters to be anything but jealous sycophants and/or flat antagonists. However, this is a very well-thought-out article outlining the reasons why I’m wrong.
Yeah, you really are.
Let’s also remember that the idea that women aren’t entitled to wish fulfilment fantasies is deeply problematic. As comicbookgirl has pointed out, Batman is a Mary Sue, except that we don’t call him a ‘Gary Stu’, he’s just Batman, a male power fantasy. And apparently that’s an OK think for men to have, but not for women. Once again, women are held to a higher standard, and we need to question not only the inequality in holding women to that standard, but the standard itself.
People say that there are way more Mary Sue characters than Gary Stu characters. In fact, this is laughable, because the reverse is true, and every instance of a ‘Mary Sue’ is torn down as being so terrible as a piece of writing, whilst the Gary Stus rake in the awards. Which is why my TV is full of Sherlocks and Doctors and Houses and John Reeses and John Does and Charlie Crewses and Patrick Janes and I gather that there is yet another white male ‘True Detective’ show starting up and my friends sigh at me when I say that I just can’t deal with watching it, even though they say it’s so good and they thought I loved that style of show and… I DO. But I am sick of men getting to be the Gary Stu Super Detective Wish Fulfillment fantasy and that being FINE, where the reverse is not offered to women. Where if we try we are told that the cool character we created isn’t fair to ‘real’ women.
Well, I’m a real woman, and I want to dream, too. I want to feel awesome, too. I want to imagine I’m the best at everything, too. Men walk around with this background culture in which they are bombarded with cool male characters that are the best at everything and they don’t even realise how that affects how they see the world, and how our confidence is eroded by not having that.
And yes, since my ‘On Being Scully' essay four years ago we have had Sarah Lund and Carrie Matheson and Saga Norén and… that's about it. And two of those women are not English language originals. But you know what they all have in common: a gritty realism that undercuts the fantasy. Whilst House has 'flaws' his co-workers and even his boss not only tolerate, but seem to admire them. Sarah Lund's flaws are not so great, and the people around her are not so tolerant. Carrie Matheson's representation of mental health issues is engaging and intriguing, but you can't tell me none of those men above have mental health issues. Do any of them have to undergo electro-shock therapy?
Even our heroes are held to a higher standard that see them brought down by ‘reality’.
So, no, I no longer take any criticism of ‘Mary Sues’ lying down. Because I have realised that what you’re doing is denying me my heroes, and making sure the ones that I do, somehow, get away with, get dragged through the mud.(via rhube)