Hot Topic – Sexism and Mary Sues

All over the internet I have been seeing the topic of sexism in gaming pop up. My last article was about the Gamer Girl Manifesto, a video done by several gamer girls expressing their disappointment in the male gamer population for being, well, douches. Now, don’t get me wrong, the majority of the male population of gamers are just there to pwn. All they want to do is level, quest, raid, kill – whatever. But that was the point. That’s all the girl gamers want to do too! And it’s just a small population of the male gamers that ruin it for the rest and give the rest of them a bad name! You know that saying, one rotten apple spoils the bunch? That’s so true here.

But it’s not just something that gamer girls have to deal with. It’s also a hot bed topic for camic book lovers as well. I’ve read several articles about it lately. I was directed to an article written by Dr. Nerd Love (great name right?) about Nerds and Male Privaledge that I thought was just amazingly insightful and well done.

Dr. Nerd Love does his best to explain what exactly male privaledge is when it comes to the comic book world.

If you google search “female comic book characters” and look at the images you are innundated with images of tiny waisted, busty and buxom, half naked or painted on outfits that appeal to the male mind. Now, in defense of comic book art, even the male characters are slightly exaggerated in their buffness or their evil looks, but none so much as the female characters. Women aren’t actually built like that. If their waist to bust proportions were actually the way they are drawn they’d fall over.

If you google search “male comic book characters” you’ll see the way they are drawn. All serious business and brooding menace. Manly men doing manly things. Dr. Nerd Love says it brilliantly:
“Notice how the differences in how they’re portrayed and costumed? The men are fully clothed and deadly serious. They are clearly defined: the mighty hero, the ominous villains.
The women are all about sex, sex, sexy sextimes. With maybe a little villainy thrown in for flavor. They may be characters, but they’re also sexual objects to be consumed.”

Sexual objects to be consumed. As a female this rankles my fur. Yes, there is something about being thought of as desireable and sexy, I have to admit that. But there is also more to a woman than that. As men can attest to, we are complex creatures. There is far more to us than sex, or the promise of sex. We have emotions and minds. More often than not there is a lot going on in our minds. As Ron Weasley said “One person couldn’t feel all that, they’d explode!” And to which Hermione Granger replied “Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon.1”

It’s hard to be a female geek in a male dominated genre. But our voices are starting to be heard. Geeks are not just white straight males anymore. Geeks are becoming universal.

And yet, there are still many hurrdles to overcome, especially for the female geek.

For example, you have the term Mary Sue. If you don’t know what it is, here is the wikipedia definition: “A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in literary criticism and particularly in fanfiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader. It is generally accepted as a character whose positive aspects overwhelm their other traits until they become one-dimensional. While the label “Mary Sue” itself originates from a parody of this type of character, most characters labeled “Mary Sues” by readers are not intended by authors as such. ”

It goes much deeper than that, I think. This is a very…politcially correct version of what a Mary Sue is. Adventures of a Comic Book Girl does an amazing article about the concept of why “Mary Sue” is a sexist term.

Let’s take a look at some fictional characters, shall we?

We have first, an American billionaire, industrialist, and philanthropist. Their parents were brutally murdered right in front of them. Devistating to a young child, no? They swear revenge on the criminals who killed the parents, and in fact swears revenge on all criminals. They become a superhero. They fight an assortment of villains sometimes with help of supporting characters which he treats badly, or at the very least, gruffly. However, unlike most superheroes, this one possesses ZERO superpowers; instead they use intellect, detective skills, science and technology, wealth, physical prowess, martial arts skills, an indomitable will, fear, and intimidation in this continuous war on crime. Sounds like the smartest and most daring character evar. This person is gorgeous, rich, and attracts both the sexes in an almost magical way.

Sounds too good to be true, right? Sounds like a TOTAL Mary Sue, right?

Let’s keep going, shall we?

Here we have another orphan, whose parents were brutally killed in front of them when they were a wee baby. Lived with relatives who treated them so badly it was like they were a servant (and a badly treated one of those too). This person finds out they have magical powers. In fact, the parents they never knew were magical people and they get to go to a magical school where they learn how to do spells and get special treatment because they are part of a prophecy to rid the world of the most horrible evil ever known. They’re famous in this new world and they didn’t even know why. This person was able to defeat this evil once before, and when it comes back they’re the only one who can save the world now.

Another HUGE Mary Sue, right??

TV Tropes says this about Mary Sues: “The prototypical Mary Sue is an original female character in a fanfic who obviously serves as an idealized version of the author mainly for the purpose of Wish Fulfillment. She’s exotically beautiful, often having an unusual hair or eye color, and has a similarly cool and exotic name. She’s exceptionally talented in an implausibly wide variety of areas, and may possess skills that are rare or nonexistent in the canon setting. She also lacks any realistic, or at least story-relevant, character flaws — either that or her “flaws” are obviously meant to be endearing. ”

I think you are getting the point, yes?

The two characters I described? Batman and Harry Potter. Now, Harry Potter was written by the awesome and wonderful J.K. Rowling. She’s female. Does this make Harry Potter, one of the most beloved characters in current literature, a Mary Sue?

What about Batman? His creators are two men, artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger. Is Batman, this iconic superhero, a Mary Sue?
Apparently both are if they are female characters written by female authors. But if they are men written by men they is no possible way they can remotely be Mary Sues. But Harry was created by a woman. So, what about that?

The good thing about all of this is that the topic is getting bumped around the internet and discussed by many people. Women and minority geeks are struggling to make themselves heard and included in the mainstream geek culture.

Believe me, we are not going to go away. We are only going to get more vocal.

Happy Gaming!

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4 Responses

  1. Alkony
    Alkony January 5, 2012 at 12:34 pm |

    One big difference is whether the character “belongs” in the universe based on canon. A Mary Sue is a forced creation that violates certain basic tenants of the story’s reality in order to achieve the outcome the reader/author wants. Batman and Harry Potter are consistent within the realities they inhabit, as well as being central to their own canon, so they do not qualify.

    I think one reason Mary Sue’s are so often female is because of the lack of females to imagine being within some stories. Being a LOTR fan, if I want an active female character to “inhabit” within the story I can pick Eowyn, or.. um… Shelob? Yeah, not a lot of options there that don’t involve creating a character wholecloth or subverting a canon character to be female instead. Not to say that LOTR is sexist, there are several strong female characters, but when the entire cast is ~20 people, the options tend to be limited.

    Other properties, such as Harry Potter, have far broader options due to conditions that allow larger casts and many un-named, potentially participartory “extras” as well as the active female characters (Prof. McGonagall, Luna, Hermione, Ginny, Fleur, the Patils, etc, etc). It is possible to Mary Sue here still, but that would mostly be in creating a character with effectively no flaws.
    The easiest one I can think of is actually a male Mary Sue: rather than the physical tests of the Triwizard Tournament, there’s a competition in magical knowledge and ability. Mark Sue shows up and impresses Hermione with his talents and surpasses even her score by several points. His mind astonishes her, his gentlemanly manners woo her, and his good looks charm her and she flys off into the sunset with him.

    Batman and Harry are not perfect. Bats is sullen, obsessive and has trouble maintaining any relationship that doesn’t involve an enemy or an accomplice. Harry is stubborn, impulsive and “a bit thick” as Hermione would say.

  2. kate
    kate October 30, 2013 at 10:58 pm |

    Been looking at the origins of mary sues. I have come to the conclusion that sci fi superheroes are all mary sues or as I term them- Dick Prick, Rock Bollox or Dirk Quirk. These characters vary in machoness or zanyness but Gary Stu doesnt have the malicious intent of Mary Sue. I think this term has been used to snipe at female writers of female characters. Only men, it seems, can have ridiculous super powers, but if a woman has them, shes a Sue.


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