The Issue I have with Mary Sue

We all know what a Mary Sue is, right?  We know she is the epitome of the wish-fulfillment character, and she tends to be the most wonderful, special snowflake to ever exist. Let me be honest: I don’t really have an issue with a character being super-duper special. I mean, look at Superman. He’s basically the biggest Mary Sue to ever exist.  Nothing can hurt him, barring Kryptonite (and Batman being mean), and in most incarnations, you can practically see the halo over his head.  Yet, he is beloved.

Superman

Many people know and love these characters, and that’s okay. Wish-fulfillment can be fun! That isn’t really my issue. My issue with Mary Sue is that most of the time she is all alone. Every book I read with dear old Mary Sue has some gentleman, or even the narrative itself, telling her (and me, the reader) “You’re not like all those OTHER girls.”

This appeals to us.  We want to be unique and special snowflakes, and we want to know we are appreciated, and that we are different, and that all other girls bow to our supreme coolness.

specialsnowflake

However, that mindset doesn’t do anyone any favours: lumping all those “other” girls together just hurts us. Having one redeemable female character amongst a lot of silly giggly girls isn’t a feminist narrative. It’s a misogynist one.  Simply saying, “Oh yes, this is my one Strong Female Character ™,” doesn’t get us anywhere, because we are playing by the same rules as the patriarchy. We are generalizing women into one amorphous lump, and saying maybe one or two exist outside those boundaries. We are reaching for the shiny gold star that says we rose above our gender.

That is absolute bullshit (pardon my French).  I refuse to buy into the idea that because one character doesn’t like dresses and giggles less she is better than all the other girls who do. Guess what? Sometimes it is really fun to be silly and giggly with awesome lady friends (especially if alcohol is involved).  It doesn’t somehow decrease my value or worth. So what if I am silly? So what if I giggle? So what if I really want to go out and buy myself a pretty dress? Sometimes I like playing video games and cursing, and sometimes I like going to the mall to get a new skirt. Neither choice makes me somehow worse or  better than my fellow females.

Saying one woman is somehow “better” because she acts a certain way is recycling a tired narrative, one we’ve heard before. It’s saying, “I can only be valued as long I embody some of the gender norms for masculinity. BUT I can’t be too masculine. And I still have to like boys, and listen to the Man when the time comes. Because if I go too far, I’m not awesome anymore. I’m threatening.”  So, that’s it.  I’m calling Mary Sue — and the writers and authors who perpetually re-invent the wheel — out on that crap. Because you know what isn’t threatening the patriarchy? One lone female who happens to act in a way that men find appropriate or “cool.”  You know what is? A lot of ladies together doing what they want and refusing to buy into this crap one more day.

weareallwonderwomen

We have to stop buying into this idea that because women do certain things that are traditionally female, we are worth less. (Or that not buying into them makes us “abnormal.”)  I am tired of hearing typical “feminine” traits degraded, or “masculinity” in women being laughed at because we don’t walk that fine line. I am so freaking tired of reading books with the one lone female who impresses all the men because she somehow (gasp) rose above her gender. I WANT MORE. I want my women to be giggly and like dresses, and I want my women to cuss and like video games, and I want my women to be men if they want to be, and for all of that not to be some sort of arbitrary measure of their worth as human beings.

I am so freaking tired of the idea that I have to wait for some man to label me as “cool” so I can be better than the rest of my gender.  We need each other, ladies. We do. Pretending to exist on an island to ourselves so we can get that shiny gold star isn’t doing anyone any favours.

So, let’s stop playing the game. Let’s start broadening our horizons.  Let’s stop this nonsense of having girls be “special” or “different” by making the men around them go, “You’re not what I think of when I think of females. You’re more like me, so you are awesome!” Screw that. Let’s make female characters be friends with each other, or at least well-rounded enemies.

Maybe wish-fulfillment is okay; I certainly think it is. But is wish-fulfillment at the expense of everyone else around so great of a reward?

Sonja found true nerd love with Lord of The Rings, and has never really looked back to the muggle world. She can found devouring sci-fi/fantasy books, comics, and fantasy RPG video games (especially ones by Bioware). Come on Dragon Age 3!

  • arielletje

    🙁 Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The only way to win is to not play at all.

  • *OrsonWellsClapping.gif*

  • YES. Especially that “being better than other women” issue, which I think contributes to that whole depressing “women are each other’s worst enemy” thing.

    • arielletje

      Truth. I hate the notion that some people are better than others because of what they like or do, and it’s insane hard to stop participating in that kind of thinking myself, because it’s so ingrained in us. And also very disturbing to realize that a lot of the valued traits for girls in fiction are in fact traits that make them more like boys… I hadn’t realized.

  • StephFurlan

    Awesome Article. Totally agree. We tend to put people into categories. But really, we’re all quite well-rounded. I can dress up and be girly, and then the next minute I can be a gamer or rough it out on the soccer field.

  • ElissaS

    I. Love. This. Article.