You Are The Problem
In Defense Of Mary Sue: She's Not The Enemy
trigger warnings: misogyny, internalized misogyny, poke me if I missed something.
I'm going to assume that I don't actually need to define Mary Sue for you, and arguably it's a tough thing to clearly define for anyone at this point in fandom and the history of the term, but I'll open with an attempt to do so anyway because it's relevant to how I'm approaching this.
Mary Sue is the character that only her author can love; she's beautiful, intelligent, powerful, influential, and she gets the guy (usually- Mary Sue stories tend to follow fairly heteronormative patterns). Sometimes she gets multiple guys, and they fight over her! She's unique - she's special - and she'll probably save the day with a little-known fact (or made up fact) that her aforementioned unique history has been uniquely tailored just so that she'll know just the right thing at just the right moment.
She's unrealistic in every way. Here's my question: so what?
The writing is so bad, you guys.
I know. I do. I understand where you're coming from with this - I've been there on both sides of this argument, as the baby writer who had no idea what she was doing and as the frustrated late teen who just couldn't deal with such tripe. Here's the thing: most of the authors of the most egregious examples of this trope are really young. You almost certainly already know this. What was your writing like when you were in the twelve to fourteen range? Were you pumping out homage to Tolstoy? I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that you, like me, probably weren't. We all made our mistakes. For those of us who made them on the internet, we're probably sitting here right now thinking 'god I wish that wasn't still archived for people to stumble across'. Maybe you've even experienced that sudden embarrassment of getting a FF.net review on a seven year old story, someone's well-meaning offer of critique and you just want to scream- I'M BETTER THAN THAT NOW! I'VE LEARNED!They're so unrealistic!
They're going to learn, too. Or they're going to find a new hobby that's better suited to them. Or they're going to continue enjoying their escapism, just like the rest of us, and no one is obligated to participate in it. It doesn't hurt you.
There's a relevant word I just used in the section above: escapism. These stories aren't about realism. They aren't about meaningful examinations of the darker side of humanity - these stories are about getting away from the mundane and feeling good. These stories are a game of pretend where you get to be the hero, and you're the one in control. I was told recently that there's a reason why so many young girls have that 'ponies!' phase, and it's the ability to relate to an animal that can't speak for itself. Here are the 'realistic' societal messages that the authors of these stories are swallowing every day: your value is in your vagina. Men are entitled to your attention and your time. You are not important. Your ambitions are a punchline. You can be smart, or you can be pretty. Other women are your enemy.They're offensive!
A lot of the response to 'Mary Sue' stories reinforces about half of those.
Really. To who? To what? I will admit that a lot of these stories contain the kind of internalized misogyny that most of us went through and regret now - women as competitors is the top contender here - but the most offensive narratives in fandom don't tend to come from Mary Sue authors. They tend to come from people who should know better, who scream 'escapism' at the top of their lungs when they're confronted with their own bile, who seem to forget that fandom is escapism for more than just straight, cisgender white folk. Is the bad writing so offensive that the only possible response for you is to make a public mockery of the author and their story? Maybe you need a nap. Fandom is often perceived as a place where nerds can be nerds, away from the mean girls, but I'm afraid that when I look at how Mary Sues and their authors are often treated, that is not what I'm seeing. I think there's something offensive about the sometimes-brutal derision here - especially when I think about how so many of the same traits being criticized and mocked are, as I've noted elsewhere, often what makes our Great White (Male) Heroes so goshdarn popular.Seriously, though, the characters are so OOC and everything is--
90% OF EVERYTHING IS BAD. I assume most of us are familiar with things like self-editing, beta-readers, the first, second, third draft - most young fanfic authors aren't. I didn't know what a beta-reader was until I was about sixteen, and I didn't actually have one for any of my stories until several years after that. (It probably shows.) Regardless of age, or what kind of story is being written, most fanfic is terrible. Most of it. I expect that we have all been there, winnowing through a list of stories, vainly hoping that the next one we click will be as promising as its summary. And we've probably all been disappointed when it wasn't. How many of those, recently, were 'Mary Sue' stories? I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that most of us aren't seeking those out. The kind of bullying - and it is bullying, let's not mince words - that goes on with Mary Sue authors is not going to encourage them to improve their writing. It's going to teach them that fandom is full of the same assholes that they were trying to escape from, for a while. It's slamming a door in their face. It's unfair, and it should be beneath us.I do offer private and respectful constructive criticism in the hopes as encouragement in the hopes they can improve.
Good. I think that's awesome, and I like the idea of young girls being sort of fostered into fandom - shown the ropes, given some tips and someone who they can come to when they have questions. A kind of fandom-mentor could be a really awesome way to get somebody more engaged with the writing process and the fandom at large and maybe if that was more of a thing then we could have fandoms that aren't full of jerks! I know, I know, pipe dream.Mary Sue, more often than not, comes down to internalized misogyny and bullying children. I want my fandoms to be better than that.