Tag Archives: Sexism

Is Mary Sue a Sexist Concept?

Thank you to my friend Berthold Gambrel for coming up with the idea for today’s post.

For anyone who hasn’t already heard of this term, a Mary Sue is a (female) character who is so idealized that she’s honestly too good to be true. Picture someone who is good-looking, smart, athletic, talented, charming, and good at virtually everything she tries.

If she has any flaws at all, those weaknesses are trivial things that don’t make a real difference in her daily life or current quest at all. For example, she might have a terrible singing voice, but her storyline has nothing at all to do with whether or not she can sing.

You’ve probably noticed that I used feminine pronouns in those last two paragraphs. I did this on purpose. In all of the years I’ve been reading various fiction genres – including, and sometimes especially, the science fiction and fantasy genres – I’ve never seen a male character being accused of being a Mary Sue even when he meets all of the criteria for this label. The very thought of a Marty Stu existing is controversial in some circles.

Sometimes I’ve seen people use the term Mary Sue to describe an author’s possibly subconscious desire to be loved and admired by everyone they meet. There have been times when certain critics of various well-known series have insisted that a Mary Sue character was written as a projection of everything the author wished she could be.

Intention Isn’t Everything

While the original Mary Sue character was first written as a lighthearted parody of unrealistic characters in Star Trek fan fiction, she’s since evolved into something else entirely.

If we lived in a world where Marty Stu was thrown around as easily as Mary Sue, I’d say that both of them were intended to shed light on the dangers of writing flat characters. As someone who has written hundreds of reviews over the years, I have seen plenty of books whose characters never felt like real people. It’s not easy to create a character who appears to have all of the same hopes, dreams, fears, and realistic personality flaws that you’d find in any random person walking down the street.

When a term is created to criticize one group of people for doing something while ignoring other groups that do the same thing, the original intentions quickly become less relevant over time.

Double Standards

What bothers me the most about Mary Sue as a concept are the double standards it enforces and the disproportionate amount of hate Mary Sues receive when compared to their male counterparts.

Yes, stories that portray a female main character as someone who has few if any flaws and who is somehow good at everything she tries aren’t an example of good writing.

This applies to every single even vaguely humanoid protagonist who has ever been invented, though, as well as quite a few who were created to be as unlike humans as possible.

Which gender they identify as doesn’t matter at all. I’ve sat through far too many stories about Marty Stus who were just as unbelievable as any Mary Sue has ever been. Yet I can’t remember the last time I saw or heard someone use the phrase Marty Stu in real life or complain about how unrealistic his character development was.

If we lived in a world where this wasn’t the case, I’d be much more willing to use the phrase Mary Sue to describe characters who were poorly developed or seemed to be an idealized version of who the author wishes he or she could be.  These are issues that I occasionally see pop up in the books, movies, and other forms of entertainment I review, but they are in no way limited to one specific gender. They happen everywhere.

Yes, It’s Sexist

It is for all of the reasons listed above that I believe Mary Sue is a sexist concept even though I don’t think that most people who use that phrase are purposefully trying to be sexist.

Sexism – and many other forms of prejudice – are so deeply ingrained into western society that it’s easy to overlook the milder examples of them like this one. Honestly, I know that I’ve occasionally said things that rubbed other people the wrong way because I wasn’t aware of why a certain phrase or topic was a sore spot for a particular group.

I can’t and won’t speak for every woman here, but my reaction to someone using this phrase wouldn’t be an angry one. The first thing I’d assume would be that they’ve never thought about the different ways characters who behave in very similar ways are treated based on their gender or why it’s a problem to hold one gender to a much stricter standard than you’d expect from another gender. This would be a teaching moment, just like I’d hope that someone else would be willing to explain to me why they found something I said to be offensive if I accidentally crossed the line when talking to them.

What I Hate About Weightlifting

Today I’m going to be talking about the parts of weightlifting that I hate.

Every type of exercise has its downsides no matter how much you enjoy it overall. In no way is this essay meant to be a put-down or a rant. I’m writing it from the perspective who loves bodybuilding even when certain parts of it annoy or frustrate me for reasons that I’ll discuss below.

The purpose of today’s post is simply to honestly discuss the things I wish I could change about this form of exercise.

On Monday, October 2 I’ll be publishing a longer follow-up to this post that talks about all of the things I love about lifting weights. I hope you’ll read both posts once they’re available and think carefully about your favorite sport or workout routine.

If you  share your own lists of the things you love and hate about whatever kind of exercise you do on a regular basis and let me know about them, I will happily share links to those essays on a future Suggestion Saturday post.

The Gender Stereotypes

When I was a kid, I remember watching an interview on TV with a woman who was a bodybuilder. One of the first questions the host of this show asked her was about the fear that women have of becoming too muscular if they begin to lift weights regularly.

She laughed and talked about how difficult it was for women to create the kind of bodies you see in female bodybuilding competitions.

It wasn’t until I began lifting weights myself years later that I realize exactly how right she’d been about that. Regardless of whether or not you want to look like them, it’s not a body type that accidentally happens a few minutes after you lift a 5-pound weight.  The large, defined muscles you see on the women in those competitions require years of dedication that include a strict diet and strenuous exercise routine.

I still meet people who believe that “real” women aren’t supposed to be muscular and that lifting even light weights without changing your diet will result in these kinds of figures.

The sexism in the first part of that statement saddens me. There is no such thing as being a “real” woman, and even if there was this would have nothing to do with it. I’m also dismayed by the idea of pitting people against each other based on the size of their muscles.

The unrealistic expectations in the second part make me roll my eyes. If only it were that easy to build muscle!

The Callouses

Callouses were the last thing on my mind when I first began lifting, but now I have them on both hands. The weights I use have ridges etched into them to make it easier to hold onto them if your hands are sweaty.

Given that I’ve moved up to lifting 30 pounds at a time now, this is an important safety feature. I’d hate to think what would happen if a non-ridged set of weights were to slip out of someone’s sweaty hands. They could very easily break a bone or do other serious damage to anyone who got in their way!

With that being said, I still miss the smooth skin I used to have. Don’t laugh. This is definitely a minor issue in the scheme of things, but it bothers me to have callouses that I can’t get rid of no matter what I try.

The Lag Between Working Out and Seeing Results

Weightlifting doesn’t give me that same mood boost that going on a long walk does. When I first began bodybuilding, I felt nothing other than some muscle soreness after those workouts. These days it’s pretty rare for me to be sore, so I usually don’t have any particular feeling at all when I finish a set.

Building muscle and lowering your body fat percentage takes time. It’s such a gradual process that I don’t notice any differences from one day or week to the next. It’s only when I check my statistics, or need to buy new clothing, or get a comment from someone who hasn’t seen me in a while that I realize my body is slowly growing stronger and leaner.

The changes are still exciting over the long term, but I do still sometimes wish that it was as easy to see your muscle growth as it is to notice positive improvements in other types of exercise like jogging or dancing where people can do stuff like count how many miles they ran or which new dance moves they’ve mastered.

You Can Injure Yourself If You Don’t Do It Correctly

 This isn’t something I’d recommend to anyone who isn’t willing to put in the time to learn how to do it safely. One of the benefits of walking is that it’s pretty difficult to hurt yourself when you’re on a walk. There might be an occasional slip and fall in slippery conditions, but other than that a walk can be taken safely regardless of your posture, how you move your body, or how much attention you’re paying to your surroundings.

Weightlifting isn’t like that. By no means am I trying to scare people out of trying it, but it is a sport that needs to be taken seriously. The last thing you want to do is hurt yourself by lifting something that’s too heavy for your or by not using the right form.

On that note, I’ll sign off. Come back on Monday to find out what I love about this form of exercise.