Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Mary Sue gets mean
Has anyone else noticed this little madam cropping up a lot recently?
A variant of Mary Sue becoming increasingly common in female-written and -marketed fantasy fiction. Snappy Sue is an empowered chick, generally urban and frequently in her twenties or older, who's respected/admired/worshipped for being a Strong Woman. Unfortunately, the author continually asserts her strength by giving her a tendency to take her temper out on all around her. This, oddly, makes people admire her more.
Snappy Sue gives everybody a hard time, but the narrative tends to support her, viewing this as a virtue rather than a character flaw. Any objections to her irritable behaviour is written off as not appreciating the situation, or possibly being a sexist jerk who can't handle strong women. No sympathetic character is ever shown having had enough of her bad manners and wishing she'd handle stress like a grown-up.
Even when Snappy Sue is wrong, she's right. Whenever she takes a decision, someone has to argue with her about it, so she can once again show her strength by putting them in their place; no one ever talks her out of anything. If she makes a mistake, it was an honourable one, and is generally there so she can fix it and look better than ever. She never apologises, or at least, not without getting to re-emphasise why she was right, and to enjoy the person (usually male) she's had a go at saying, 'no, I'm the one who should be sorry'. Certainly she never genuinely loses an argument in such a way that proves she was simply in the wrong and being a cow about it.
Attractive men find her a turn-on, though they tend to be 'strong' men themselves; perish the thought Snappy Sue's aggressive behaviour might lead her perfect mate to be a naturally submissive man, or that a man with a dominant personality might prefer a woman less obsessively indomitable than her. Usually, his strength manifests itself in being her rock, and in being able to dominate others in a way that reflects well on her for having a high-status man. She tends not to take the lead in the bedroom, though: he's too manly for that. In general, Snappy Sue can be seen as emotionally dominant but sexually submissive, a combination that is, at root, surprisingly old-fashioned in its gender roles.
Though she owes much to the rise of feminism, Snappy Sue fundamentally doesn't like women. She tends to be surrounded by men and have few female allies - female heroism is in short supply here, and Snappy gets all of it. She also is seldom called upon to go for long stretches without a boyfriend, or at least a man in the background that she's temporarily staying away from, but will be waiting for her when she chooses to return. Her 'strength' never takes place in isolation, and never goes unnoticed: men keep pointing it out. As such, Snappy Sue isn't really that empowered: she needs a constant supply of male attention to keep going.
On the other hand, Snappy Sue isn't overly fond of men either, or at least, not of men in themselves. Any man insisting on his own values, dignity or judgement at the expense of her wishes is likely to be written off as displaying 'male ego' - and male egos are not entitled to gratification. Male pride is just about acceptable if her fella needs to avenge something in a way that benefits her or spares her the dirty work, but if his dignity conflicts with hers, forget it: it's just machismo. Snappy Sue will thus tolerate an man's masculinity as long as it serves her, but like a sexist man, treats his gender as a weapon she can produce to slap him down if he gets too far out of line.
Men, by this definition, are primarily trophies. For bedroom purposes they are stronger than her, and their strength in serving her interests needs to be almost limitless, but they can't win a fight with her. They are seldom just friends, either, or at least, seldom friends who don't seem like they'd be happy to sleep with her if she decided to give up on her boyfriend. Men rate higher than women in that there tend to be more of them and their approval is more necessary for Snappy Sue's survival, but in the ability to be independent of the needs of her ego, they're actually doing worse. At root, they are entirely objectified - something Snappy Sue would never forgive them for doing to her.
This is the essence of Snappy's Mary-Sueness: she has to be at the top of the pile, always. She gets there by fighting rather than by being charming, but it's a rigged fight. Women are kept down numerically in order to lessen the competition; men are permitted to be strong if it benefits her but required to be weak if there's a clash, and dismissed as jerks if they don't oblige. As Mary Sues go, Snappy Sue is unusually misanthropic: she has the traditional Sue's ability to bend reality around herself, but it's used to smack other characters around. As a character, she can, if well enough written, serve as a power fantasy for female readers who wish to behave selfishly but can't get away with it, reality being the jerk that it is.
While this Mary Sue is a definitely female phenomenon, the immaturity that gives birth to her is neither specifically female nor male. Instead, it's a crude understanding of strength as the willingness to get into, and the ability to win, conflicts. Other forms of strength, such as self-control and forbearance, require more patience and sacrifice than an undeveloped amour propre can countenance; as a result, Snappy Sue's displays are always cathartic and enjoyable rather than difficult and taxing. As a more conventional Mary Sue sucks love from other characters because an immature ego cannot, when fantasising about success, imagine not being fascinating, so Snappy Sue sucks victory, because an immature ego cannot imagine being wrong. Given that it's more difficult even for grown-ups to accept that they might be wrong than that they might be ordinary, Snappy Sue is somewhat less obvious than her sweeter cousins, but she is no more mature in her sensibility.
Is there a term for a sort of reverse Mary Sue situation where an author is so desperate to avoid their main character being a version of themselves that they step well outside of their frame of reference and lose all sense of reality?
I believe you can have an anti-Sue, meaning someone who does the exact opposite of what Mary Sue would do in a given situation, but I don't think that's quite what you're driving at?
I think 'bad writing' might cover what you're suggesting, but that's not very inventive of me. I have the suspicion that if you make your character so unlike you that you can't identify with them, they might well start bending reality in a Sue-ish way anyway, because they're equally badly thought out - and now you have to build a plot around them...
Hmm. That's a very good question. Anyone else have ideas on it?
Snappy Sue fits Anita Blake to a Tee. Perfectly describes this character and the immature ego that drives her.
In their defense, James Bond & Batman both come from a different decade, then again, both had powerful female VILLAINS which was fairly unusual back then. Strong, female villains were supposed to be a real turn on back then.
Snappy Sue is rude, nasty, ungrateful and boorish and tries to call it strong and liberated ... and she's CONTEMPORARY. Rude is rude ... no matter what gender one is. (And, yeah, Anita Blake certainly fits the mold)
You've been linked to, from a discussion on livejournal!
While I hear what you're saying, I am still somewhat grateful to see Snappy Sue come into being. Why? Because she didn't exist while I was growing up. And I am brash and opinionated, and I hate to apologise, and if I fuck up, I'd prefer to fix it. In my teens, I didn't exist in any of the boooks I read.
The first Snappy Sue that I remember noticing, was Cera, the bossy Triceratops from the children's animated film "Land Before Time." That wasn't so long ago, really.
Sure she's already a cliche' and a stereotype. But she does add, at least, one more stereotype to the so-very-paltry list that exist for women. and I think, or hope, that the impulse to break the stereotypes will cause some new archetypes to evolve...
I like Joel's question above. I can't think of a term for that, but we often don't have words for the non-existance of things!
Thanx STELLA OMEGA! You've just made me feel a little better about myself. I was on a net search to find the latest 'Anita Blake' book and got punched in the gut by a bunch of VERY BAD reviews of the series with smatterings of 'Mary Sue's & 'Snappy Sue's which finaly led me here.
The reviews didn't hurt. Some of the Blake books are Porn, and thats not really my thing, but neither is romance (and I can't imagine anyone calling Anita Blake romantic!)
It was the whole Snappy/Mary Sue thing that hurt.
About a year ago I was desperate for something to read waiting for a book order that hadn't arrived, and just skimmed the fiction shelves for the Fattest book I could see, (Anything that might take a few days days to read instead of a few hours), grabbed it & didn't even see the title till I dropped it on the counter. 'Anita Blake Vampire Hunter'! Kak! Escapism, just what I need! THIS should be nothing like my life.
Shattering to find I was SOOOO Wrong.
I don't know if you'd say I'm like her or she's like me, but, apart from all the supernatural stuff, Anita Blake and I are virtual twins. There are so few differences between us it is Terrifying. Heartbreakingly frightening. I don't have words.
I'd have expected bad reviews about all the sex. Once upun a time I couldn't have strugled through 3 pages of such porn let alone a whole book, and yes when that happens I do miss the Mystery in the novel, but I understand it, I get through it, even when it hurts & grab for the next novel.
I was so desperate for more Anita I ordered the whole set & when they didn't all arrive at once I did something I've never done in 36 years. I read a series out of order. I still don't have books 8, 10 & 12, but I kept reading on anyway. And when I get them I'll start back at book one and read the set through again.
I know that Anita Blake isn't a nice person. She's a hard, cold, rigid, selfish, angry, damaged, vicious, untrusting, nasty, vengeful, hurtful, raging bitch who's prepared to kill if she thinks she has too to survive.
There are only two ways that we really differ she & I. In one of those ways I'm better than her (or maybe luckier is the right word) in the other she bests me.
1. I havn't had to kill anyone yet. (I say yet because I've already had to fight for my life more times in 36 years than I would have thought possible outside of a story, & since a natural death could be 30-50 years away, odds are I'll have to again.) But I can't say I'm better than her for that. Luckier is more honest. Because every time I knew I was in a life or death situation I had that moment of clarity that says "Kill? or Be Killed?" The first time I was horrified at the idea of killing someone, even to save myself, & I waited to die. When I didn't die, I decided I could never do it again. I realised it was a form of suicide, & that I should either find a painless way to knock myself off, or decide I wanted to live. So the next time, I decided to kill to survive or die trying. And every time bar one I made that same choice. And every time, something, I don't know what, I really don't, something caught me at the last moment and said, "they can't chase you now. You don't have to kill. Run.run now" and I ran. So I'm not better than Anita Blake. I just haven't HAD to kill anyone. But I've been prepared to and I still am. It's not superior morals, it's just luck.
2/ She's kinder, Gentler and more open than me. She has friends and lovers in her life & heart. Oh its a terrible Mary Sue kind of love, but it's still love. Restrictive, unbalanced, unfair, sexist & selfish and she knows it. She knows she should't allow it in herself, or allow others to accept it with her. but she does. It's all she's capable of and she takes it. Accepts it. If someone sees her, knows & accepts who she is and is willing to take what little horrid love she has to give, she grabs it and tries to hold on. Definately braver and more generous than me. Capable of a vulnerability I could never allow, even in such a limited fashion.
Reading this whole Snappy/Mary sue thing, and the reviews that led me here, hurt like hell. Of course she's such an unpleasant, shallow one dimensional charachter, she could't be a real person. She has to be a Charicature, a Stereotype. Who'd want to be anything like her? Who'd believe something like her could exhist outside of some fantasy novel?
Hell I didn't like her. How could I? We're so much alike.
But when I reread that trilogy recently I realised I didn't hate her anymore. I loved her. Needed her. And started grabbing the rest of the set as fast as I could without really knowing why. I just HAD to. So impatient for more that I, a total technophobe ended up on the net tonite trying to find out when the next book would be published, and stumbling onto one comment after another about how something like me shouldn't exhist even in fiction.
And then you STELLA OMEGA woke me up! I need Snappy/Mary Sue out there in a book saying I have a right to live. I should survive. Lousy as I am I have value, even if it is as stereotype in fiction.
And you Stella Omega just gave me the epiphany behind why Anita Blake woke me up 2 months ago. Why I loved her suddenly instead of hating her like I had the first time round.
She accepts herself.
She knows exactly who she is, and doesn't regret it. Oh, she has guilt and doubts and is disapointed in herself, but she knows she is who she had to become, to survive, and she's not sorry she did. She can't go back and change what made her, (and might not even if she could.)
I was drowning under all the events that meant I could never be again, who I once was, and letting loss and despair kill me slowly, without even suicide to let me off the hook. (How could I kill myself after deciding so many times to be a murderer rather than let someone else kill me?)
Me, I needed (and will probably continue to need) 'Anita Blake' and any other 'Snappy/Mary Sue' out there to remind me that as shallow, unpleasant,unbelievable and one-dimensional as I may be, it's who I had to be to survive, and it's OK, this me I've become. (Some people might even find me an entertaining character if I had some monsters & magic in my book!)
And another reason why I can be glad to have found this blog, probably the best reason of all is,
_All Stereotypes start somewhere. They all begin with someone that is believed (by some number of the worlds population), to have exhisted somewhere, at some time, on this planet. There is so much hope in that fact, for me.
Snappy/Mary Sue lived, with all those sad & ugly characteristics listed above, without having to become anything worse. She didn't become a serial killer, she didn't die in a padded cell, and she didn't blow her brains out. She just lived. And was OK with it.
Sorry that was so damn long. I'm a total net newbi & tecno phobe & had no idea I'd said so much.Post a Comment
And Thanx to Kit Whitfield for saying Snappy/Mary Sue is a stereotype. I don't feel nearly so alone anymore. And thanx for the epiphany!
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