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