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More Kinds of Mary Sues...

I propose that we make 2014 the year of the Mary Sue. This is the year where women writers take our women-driven fandoms and unapologetically write our own wish-fulfillment fantasies, our idealized, heroic characters, our self-inserts and our ways of escaping from the reality of our less-than-ideal lives. I propose that we take the term Mary Sue and treat it just like the name James Bond: A cool, kickass character that all look upon with adoration or fearful respect, who gets to go do exciting things, meet cool people, look fucking hot and awesome all the time, kick people in the face and go back to the hotel for a drink and a fuck. Because female fans, female fandoms, and female characters shouldn’t have to gain permission to be badasses.
~ skadi-again-again [personal profile] vieralynn has been writing good stuff about (a) the validity of reclaiming Mary Sue and (b) the way a lot of fandom escapism doesn't speak to her because it tends to suit the tastes of white / straight / anglo-american fans. In that post, she asks, "Is Mary Sue actually an encoding of a middle class protestant able-bodied cis-gendered straight white anglo-american female fantasy? And how else might she look?" I pondered this, years ago, when I first ran across the concept of Mary Sue that was circulating around fandom in the nineties. Back then, I heard that "Mary Sue" was a female self-insert in a Star Trek fanfic. The character was beautiful, had exotic features, saved the Enterprise with a hairpin, and died tragically with all the male characters in love with / pining for her. That was the rumor. But I never tracked it down to verify. Surprisingly, it looks like the fic that started it all was a triple drabble (in a small-time Trek fanzine, the equivalent of small local fansites today). It reads like a parody, and I wonder if that's what it was. Even secondhand, I always found the description of the perfect, beautiful character whom everyone loved to be...not an interesting form of escapism. I support the idea that Mary Sue can be a form of self-empowerment: why not fantasize about being amazeballs? Why is that so awful? Why do we constantly stomp down any girl who dares to dream of being superwoman or Arwen or Lt. Mary Sue? Why do we discourage young girls from wish fulfillment fantasies? But for me, the standard Mary Sue character didn't work. It wasn't appealling to me. Being smart? Okay, I'm pretty smart, but that doesn't help. Beautiful? No, my escapism was more of a Cinderella-archetype: the scruffy, ordinary scullion girl whom everyone overlooks, but she has hidden depths. The OFC I identified with most strongly as a child was a Lessa of Pern type: she was scorned and hated and had some serious anger problems (which I was taught to suppress -- she let me vicariously express anger and ill-temper and aggressiveness and downright rudeness), and she was a survivor and a slave. She was my Mary Sue of choice through junior high up into college. Kids work out a lot of emotional turmoil through fic. Around the time I hit 21 or so, my Sue changed. She was a peasant. Plain upbringing. Ordinary Person Making Do While Surrounded By Awesome People. A female Bilbo or Sam Gamgee. This is a form of privilege-escapism: "imagine what it would be like to be successful despite not having a silver spoon advantage. NO GUILT, she EARNED IT HERSELF." That Sue got the Elf. It was wish fulfillment, but also kicking over a major theme in Tolkien that I thought was a crock of shit: in his mythos, (a) only elites are able to win the love of Elves, (b) only men win the love of elf women, and (c) the elf woman has to give up immortality for love. Screw that. My Woodsman's daughter -- Jane Q. Ordinary -- won an Elf's love, and when she was an old woman she made him promise to get on the flipping boat to the Undying Lands and live another life, because love wasn't worth dying for, only worth living for. And then there was the escapism fantasy of being able-bodied: my Mary Sues aren't usually strong, but they've got the plucky fighter thing going on. (See: Pippin vs. the Nazgul.) My Mary Sues are NEVER tall. They're short like me. (Or even shorter; in college and grad school, my self-inserts were always under five feet tall so that I could be taller than somebody). Sometimes Mary Sue escapism is making characters have advantages you don't. And then sometimes it's about giving them the same disadvantages you do, yet they still succeed. Or fail. Angst, hurt/comfort -- oh yeah, I still love it, primarily for the comfort side of things, because when you have arthritis you fucking hurt and wish you had someone to coddle you. As a young writer, I played with the tragic death trope, too. (It's still in some of my writing, but subdued; it's shifted to meaningful death, another huge but separate escapist fantasy). Some Mary Sues get love. Some get families. Some get acclaim. Some just let the author vent. My later Mary Sues earned respect. More recently, my Mary Sues have been mothers or protective of family, siblings, children, nieces and nephews, none of which I've got. When I write FFXII fic (not often enough), I'm mentally self-inserting into Penelo, because I see her as like me. She's my old wimpy-Sue peasant trope. Yet when I write FFX fic, I'm mentally self-inserting into Lulu, because she's what I'd love to be. Including, especially, unapologetically grumpy. And dangerous. And Mama Bear. Not the protag, but a guardian of the protag. Which is another escapist fantasy that seems to inform a lot of my video game self-insertions: Defender of the Sue. Often, my POV character is not the character I consider to be the true hero of the story, but her guardian, which is how I played and enjoyed FFVIII (unlike most people, I thought Rinoa was the hero), FFX, FFV (I adored Lenna, who resembles my wimpy Sues, but I wanted to be Faris her swashbuckling protector), XIII-2 (I self-identified with Noel), Suikoden V (I self-identified as Lelei to Lucretia). What other Mary Sues are there? I'd love to see more answers to vieralynn's question. I'm not straight, not fully abled, but I'm certainly stuck in cis / white / anglo-american / privilege land, and I have a hard time stepping outside of it.
This entry was originally posted at http://auronlu.dreamwidth.org/246087.html, where it has comment count unavailablecomments.
 

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