“How Do You Solve a Problem Like Mary Sue?”

I told you we could do it.

Mary Sue and Spock

I’ve been watching the most recent Doctor Who episodes, and made a post on Facebook trying to express to Steven Moffat that women, since we are also people, are useful as real characters, and don’t have to be plot devices to be justified in appearing on television. This is, as a friend of mine pointed out, the THIRD character since Moffat took over to use the “impossible girl” angle. Amy gets a pass because she was the first one and actually a good character when allowed to be anything other than a plot-tractor. River was also a good character until the plot she was made of started to undermine her. At this point, I don’t even care about Clara. I didn’t like her as Oswin/Soufflé Girl, I liked her less in “The Snowmen,” and despite her very clichéed moving speech about coming along as herself, not as a ghost this week I simply don’t care about her, and I don’t want to find out why she’s impossible. Her name should be McGuffin – she doesn’t even get a personality.

All this reminded me of an article I read this week. While I am not arguing that any of Moffat’s women are Mary Sues, since I think they are mostly written more consciously than that, I do think that a lot of the problems with female characters on Doctor Who and many other genre shows (Grimm only has three women: two girlfriends and a slutty witch) are related to if not tied up in the problem of the Mary Sue.

This article about the origin, development, and problems of the Mary Sue (read it! We’ll still be here), whose title I shamelessly stole, brings up a lot of good information. I had had no idea where the Mary Sue trope got its name, for example. It makes some really strong arguments about the problems with having a trope that sets wish-fulfillment women apart from and below wish-fulfillment men.

On the other hand, as a dabbler in various internet fandoms over the years, I have never heard the term Marty Sue, but have heard Gary Stu used to apply to male characters written the same way as Mary Sues. Wikipedia tells me that both are accepted terms. I don’t think “we don’t notice when they’re men” – or maybe people generally don’t? Personally I have always had a problem with Gary Stus, just as much as with Mary Sues. I understand that characters like Superman (who is not a superhero), and Scott Summers have fans, but I have never understood why – too much glossy, unflappable “perfection” is not only unrealistic and unbelievable, but it’s boring to watch or read about and makes me, at least, feel hostile toward those characters. I absolutely agree, though, that “we’re willing to accept more Marty Suishness in male characters than Mary Suishness in female characters.” This is indicative of a huge problem, and one in which I find myself complicit a lot of the time – I do not tolerate bullshit from female characters, and immediately hate them once they have disappointed me. I’m not sure I am easier on male characters, I just don’t get as attached most of the time, so their disappointing me just makes me not care anymore. Maybe this isn’t true – maybe I do tolerate more crap from male characters. After all, they are frequently presented in much more nuanced, well-rounded writing than are female characters, whose general definitions come down to their major relationships to hero characters.

Somewhat hilariously, I got the link to that article from The Mary Sue, where I also got this link about overstating the feminism of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’m just gonna leave that one here and let the other ladies figure it out.

– Nissa

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1 Comment

Filed under Babes in the Woods

One response to ““How Do You Solve a Problem Like Mary Sue?”

  1. I love the article on not-Feminist Buffy! For the longest time, I thought I was the only one!

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