Musings: The dreaded ‘Mary Sue’

I make it no secret that I’m a feminist.

It’s a shame that I feel I must follow this with: I don’t hate men, I love them. I believe men are worthy of praise and respect, and I get along well with males of our species every bit as easily as the females.

I am a feminist because I believe all humans are capable of greatness and goodness, power and compassion regardless of sex.

I write both my female and male characters, not as perfect because perfection itself is a myth, but as highly capable individuals who do not necessarily conform to limitations traditionally accepted by our society.

I had someone call one of my female characters, “a bit of a Mary Sue,” today and I immediately started beating myself up for writing someone too perfect.

Mary+Sue

What had I done?!?

That’s the worst, right?? Someone annoyingly perfect and unrealistic?! I instantly felt like a failure and that the whole thing should be junked or rewritten, post-haste!!

So, I sat down and thought of ways to improve her, to make her more human and more flawed so she would be more relatable, someone with whom anyone could identify and sympathize or at least understand….

And as I was going over her evolved character profile, I realized something.

She’s the most flawed character in the story!!

She’s a loner, emotionally unavailable, bossy, high-handed, self-righteous, stubborn, has abandonment issues like none other, is insecure, controlling, is not good at everything, though she would never admit it, and is often insulting and rude!! None of this is cured by magic and a good lay, her personality remains consistent in its roughness even as she becomes a better person.

She is also a genius with a fierce loyalty and desire to protect those who actually penetrate her thick exterior, and abilities which allow her to try to do just that. Oh, and she’s beautiful, cause, you know, sometimes people are – in short she’s a damned (and I mean ‘damned’ in the biblical sense) hero with pain and inner turmoil which fuels her vigilante aspirations….

You know, like Batman, Iron Man, Superman, Spiderman, and generally all the supers ending in “-man,” with their tragic back stories and capabilities which make a believable motivation for their fervor.

10458865_10153361840603205_499245344580926364_n

I know I’ve written another male character in the same story who has less depth, less flaw, and more idealistic two-dimension than my newly appointed “Mary Sue,” so… what was the issue?

She’s important? She’s strong? She’s capable?

Is it that she’s the only female I’ve written heavily in a male-dominated story and she’s therefore thrown into sharp relief? Am I just lacking in my ability to clearly communicate her inherent humanity? Is it that she’s good at things, smart, and pretty and this person couldn’t handle the combination so ignored her struggles with right and wrong?

I honestly don’t know because my critic didn’t want to elaborate, and I’m more than willing to take the criticism at face value and just say, “This person does not like my character and that’s totally okay.”

I’m also willing to ignore that “Mary Sue” is an insulting thing to say to an author because it implies wish-fulfillment – meaning the character is “everything you wish you could be and you aren’t.”

Do I wish I was my character?

I’m not going to deny that I’d love to kick some evil ass now and then, but would I like to be her or do I see myself in her? Hell no. She’s not very nice, tends toward sociopathic, and as I said, has issues up the wahzoo. I’m actually very happy to be who I am, thanks, shortcomings and all. I’ve written her this way to explore her damage in a way I can make some sense of her brand of insanity. It’s as simple as that. I write to explore. I read for fantasy fulfillment because I’m terrible at real romance making me pretty-not-great at writing it, and I can’t actually travel the stars.

The real, lingering issue this brought up for me, please, bear with me, was how so convinced our culture is that women can’t be “both” that we actually have a generic term for it. You can’t be realistic and exceptional; can’t be beautiful and a genius or you will be labelled! Fear the label! Fear it, damn you!

IMG_2914

The very point of this rant is that so-called “Mary Sues” can and do exist! It’s not a myth, and the very fact that the label exists is demeaning to my gender.

Exceptional women get “either-ed.”

We either remember them as faceless names that did something important, or we revere their faces as symbols of sex and beauty.

Even women like Natalie Portman, who is incredibly genius (I’m talking MENSA level IQ, Harvard graduate scientist, environmental activist, and phenomenal actress genius), aren’t respected for their accomplishments the way they are revered for their on-screen chemistry with a heart-throb or a nude scene.

Is anyone aware that Audrey Hepburn was an amazing humanitarian, and human rights activist well before and after she no longer graced the silver screen?

I myself could be described as a “Mary Sue.” I’m not Audrey Hepburn or Natalie Portman, but I have always been an overachiever. I strive to be exceptional in every endeavor I undertake. I have excelled in many fields and have always been asked, “Is there anything you’re not good at?” My answer is, of course, “Are you kidding? Tons! Ever seen me try to draw a stick figure? It always ends up looking like a penis,” because, like any other human being, plenty of things exist at which I am complete rubbish!

I’m not perfect. Oh, my God! I am so far from perfect, I’m a cab, a bus, and the subway away from perfect. I am, in fact, a bit of a know-it-all, often an emotional door-mat despite the fact that I can be stubborn as all hell when I believe I’m right, am all over the place with my weight as I’ve struggled with an eating disorder most of my life. I’m too logical to be romantic. I leave dishes in the sink for other people to wash. I have no relationship with half my family because I’m bi-sexual, I have been divorced, I procrastinate, and have a sense of humor which falls into the ‘wrong’ catagory. I’m idealistic enough to get really depressed when the world disappoints me. I can be flaky and lazy. I smoke cigarettes. I eat toast in bed, I say the word “dude” like it’s an adjective, a verb, adverb, an exclamation, a preposition, and a noun, despite the fact that I’m a Grammar Nazi, and I really, reaaaly hate The Great Gatsby. And I fart. Often. Then laugh about it.

The issue people have with me is not that I am very good at what I have chosen to be very good at – and this is the epically unfair part – it’s that because I’m also nice and beautiful, suddenly I’m unrealistic. I cannot be all of it. I must be a secret bitch, or a robot, or dismissible in some way.

I was an honor roll student growing up. I finished my last two years of High School in my Junior year and graduated in the 99th percentile. I was a national and state award-winning competitor in choir and as a soloist, as an actress, and a dancer. I’ve won two awards for Best Costume Design for my avant-garde style of theatre costuming, and was first published as an author at the age of thirteen. My mentor and Junior High English teacher used my poetry to teach class. I decorate cakes and bake, cook, design clothing, write, speak more than one language, dance, sing, play three instruments, teach, love chemistry, biology, astrophysics, psychology, and philosophy, am well versed in both ancient and modern world mythology and religion. I program computer script, animate in four CGI programs, and raise two sons on my own. And yet, I still fart.

I can be pretty and a kind person too, I know, I do it, and know plenty of others who manage to be all these things as well. I’m not limited by how symmetrical my gene pool made my features.

Yet, all my life, when I have accomplished anything significant, I’ve been told, “You’re so beautiful,” or, “I hate you, why are you good at that?” and all my life my aptitude has kept me feeling disjointed and isolated as an individual. I’m socially awkward because I’m afraid of being myself and being the unacceptable “Mary Sue” in the eyes of my peers. Or I get the opposite reaction, which is just as bad! I do not want to be hero worshiped or idealized!! I do have flaws and I don’t have everything figured out. I just like to learn.

Both attitudes are ways of intentionally not seeing another as a human being with struggles and internal battles, when all any of us wants is acceptance and connection to the rest of the living during our short time on Earth.

11667356_10205334148805639_7830272781363364063_n

This is my little family and me, by the way. Hello!

11147137_10205244040472987_5392445695053921950_n

Men, am I excluding you unfairly? I know I have a fair amount of you who follow my blog, what is your own experience? Do you have similar issues? I genuinely want to explore this. Do you find you too are lumped into a too-good-to-be-true category and denied plausibility based solely on your physical appearance and skill? I honestly want to know if this is a prevailing human issue, or if it is something culture and gender based.

My arguments come solely from my observations and I have only one point of view with which to make them.

Are we conditioned by media and the fantasy genre to believe that people cannot be multifaceted and beautiful and still realistic? Is this a gender issue? Is it jealousy which fuels the flame or oppression, or both?

My historical research points to gender. Beauty, power, intelligence = infamy and villainy more often than not, where blood-bathed male monarchs are often lauded and praised for the same deeds. My personal experience also reflects this, but what are your findings? What are your experiences?

And how the hell do we get rid of this ridiculous “Mary Sue” stigma?

Photomanipulation___Wolf_Howl_by_MillenniumSnow

 

Advertisements

8 comments on “Musings: The dreaded ‘Mary Sue’

  1. You got me with the title, lol.
    Let me explain a little.
    Recently I posted something from The Mary Sue website on facebook and tagged a few people. One of them lashed back, demeaning one of my favorite sites!
    I love The Mary Sue! It’s geekism directed at women and I love it!
    They relay well written articles (usually well written any way) about geek culture and it’s directed at women
    If any characters are to be Mary Sue’d in the sense you mean it’s probably my Sookie’s because they are generally shallow and self centered *sigh*.
    Oh, by the way, I had never heard the phrase until I read the title, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, no way!! I’m staunchly defending!

      I’m upset that when we write female badasses they’re demeaned with the label “Mary Sue” who was a “perfect-in-every-way, flawless, loved-by-all, self-sacrificing, world-saving” character on Star Trek. It’s flung around like an insult by some reviewers who think these characters are created as a sort of vicarious living through fantasy writing medium and I had a character get “Mary Sue-d” today despite the fact that the character is obviously flawed. I shrugged it off, but what upset me was the idea that women can’t be badasses without people thinking they’re unreal and dismissing what makes them human by focusing only on their badassery and picking it apart. I embrace the idea that not only can women save the day and be crazy cool, and smart, but also have depth.
      I haven’t heard of the site, but I’m down to visit it! If others are out there taking back the term and redefining it, I am so in!!

      Like

      • Yup! They’re simply called The Mary Sue and they’re everywhere you would expect including Facebook and Twitter.
        Some people are just not happy unless they can make others unhappy *shrug*.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The post I mentioned before just so happened to be about the new rush to include/create female superheros in comics :D. I’ve never read comics because the commentary doesn’t run linearly so I have a hard time following which affects my understanding.
        Meh, he was a guy what do I expect? A guy with very strong views who can phrase what he says in such a way as to make me feel like an idiot no less.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ugh. I don’t know if it’s just a case of comics feeling like a ‘no girls allowed’ club or if the idea of powerful females is frightening, but something’s gotta give. At least there’s a market for the rush or it wouldn’t be happening! I love being able to say my nieces have tutus and capes and no one bats an eye!
        Still, I’m sorry he belittled you. Your opinion is no less valid because you don’t care for comic books and that just isn’t right!

        Like

      • It’s not but he’s always been that way when I post something and he responds *shrug*. Fortunately I rarely see him in person even though we live in the same city :D.
        I think it’s that comic books have mostly been men with the rare female so they feel ‘entitled’ since ‘they were there first’ not that that’s right but that’s how they feel *sigh*.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s