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What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.

Allow Us To Explain

Why “The Mary Sue?”


The Mary Sue may seem like an ordinary (if outdated) female name, but in the fanfiction community it describes a particularly common cliche, and not a very good one, either.  Here’s the most summary-ish part of a very long and detailed entry from the final word in all matters cliche, TVTropes.org:

The prototypical Mary Sue is an original female character in a fanfic who obviously serves as an idealized version of the author mainly for the purpose of Wish Fulfillment. She’s exotically beautiful, often having an unusual hair or eye color, and has a similarly cool and exotic name. She’s exceptionally talented in an implausibly wide variety of areas, and may possess skills that are rare or nonexistent in the canon setting. She also lacks any realistic, or at least story-relevant, character flaws — either that or her “flaws” are obviously meant to be endearing…

Other than that, the canon characters are quickly reduced to awestruck cheerleaders, watching from the sidelines as Mary Sue outstrips them in their areas of expertise and solves problems that have stymied them for the entire series.

A Mary Sue can have all or a few of the above traits, but the one of primary importance is that the plot and the actions of the other characters immediately begin to revolve around the Mary Sue upon her appearance, regardless of how much sense it makes.  While the existence of a Mary Sue in a story is generally considered to be bad writing, professional writers are certainly not immune from creating them.

Some examples of a Mary Sue that you might be familiar with would include Bella Swan, the perfectly ordinary (and yet somehow special) heroine of the Twilight Saga; Mary, from There’s Something About Mary; Dorothy, from The Wizard of Oz; and a good number of the Disney princesses.

So why take what is essentially a pejorative term and use it as the name of our website?  Well, if I wanted to give you a total cop-out for an answer and go play World of Warcraft for the rest of the day, I could say it’s not much different than calling your women’s site Jezebel and leave it at that.  But that’s not really the whole story. So here’s why:

It’s Universal

A Mary Sue is relevant to everybody, because if you haven’t created one for yourself, our culture certainly has.  My favorite example of this is that of Rosalind Franklin, a brilliant scientist whose colleague, frustrated with her personality, showed her work, without her permission, to another researcher who left her uncredited when he and his partner used her data to discover the structure of DNA.

Why were Franklin’s colleagues willing to share her research with rivals?  Oh, simply because of her “habit of intensely looking people in the eye while being concise, impatient and directly confrontational.” Or maybe her “habit of leaping into passionate argumentative debate, or her unusually serious, uniquely stubborn and even abrasive style at work.” Franklin’s problem was that she did not have the desire or capacity to quell her male colleagues fears by remaining reassuringly feminine and demure to make up for the intellectual threat that she posed. She was being held to an impossible standard, expected to be a mythical version of a woman who had all the same abilities, but who everybody immediately liked and would never think of betraying.

My point is, if you’ve ever striven to live up to an impossible standard, you’ve wanted to become a Mary Sue.  This doesn’t just apply to women, it’s safe to say that our advertising slathered culture places unrealistic expectations on everybody. So when we feel pressured to be an impossible thing it’s important to remember that it’s just a kind of Mary Sue.  And if society expects us to be a Mary Sue, well, we can certainly try, but in the meantime we’d like to giggle while we point out how silly the whole thing is.

It’s Familiar

We feel that encountering or creating Mary Sues is an experience that a lot of geek girls can relate to. Whether you wrote fanfiction, read fanfiction, or simply made up stories in your head, chances are, somewhere in your teenage years, you invested some brainpower in a Mary Sue.  And instead of being ashamed of it, we think every one should pull those wish fulfillment characters out, dust them off, and have a good friendly laugh at them, much in the same way you can have a good friendly laugh at the younger version of yourself who thought that by the year two-thousand and eleven there would be jet cars and you would totally have life all figured out.

In this spirit, allow me to go on a tangent and list some of the Sues that I created when I was in my early teens, all of which, until now, have stayed safely in my head:

Redwall!Sue, who was a wildcat. Indiana Jones!Sue, Indy’s daughter. Tintin!Sue, who had a tragic past and was Tintin’s true love. StarWars!Sue, who was an alien dinosaur. Sherlock Holmes!Sue, who was a Holmes sister who became a British spy. Animorphs!Sue, Jake’s twin sister. X-Files!Sue, Mulder’s daughter.

But Mostly, It’s Funny

We think it’s kind of funny to re-appropriate a cliche that is closely but only circumstantially associated with femininity on a website for geek girls. There’s so much that’s expected of the female geek: that we not be geeks, that we be conventionally attractive, that we put up with the assumption that all geeks are male because, after all, we’re just the minority.  A woman who can manage all of that? Now she’s a Mary Sue. And like I said before, we’d like to laugh heartily and point out the hipocrisy of the whole thing.

And then go back to writing, reading, playing, making, surfing, filming, or coding… just like any other geek.

If you’re wondering why we decided to do a site for female geeks in the first place, you can find out here.

TAGS:


  • Jeidgrrl

    When a friend told me about a site named The Mary Sue, I had to laugh and wondered if you were just being ironic. Maybe not ironic, but I like what I’ve seen so far. So count me (and my own Mary Sues) in. Happy to be along for the ride.

  • megatronick

    This is absolutely terrific! So far this site stands its ground next to the other more male driven sites and I’m loving it. Is it too cheesy to say I feel accepted and empowered on this site?

  • http://twitter.com/MickieMous MickieMousseau

    Glad you came alone, besides the forms on HerUniverse.com there aren’t too many places for us geek gals to go.

  • http://twitter.com/lil_bobbytables Kate S

    I think this might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

  • Candy Summers

    <3

    Please, keep it up!

  • Nephilim

    Since when is L Frank Baum’s Dorothy a Mary Sue? *indignant*

  • http://www.facebook.com/josalisa Angelisa Josalisa

    This is my new favorite site. It’s everything a geek girl like me could hope for. Good luck.

  • http://www.whatifbooksetc.com Sylvia Sybil

    Off topic, but I couldn’t find a better place to discuss this. Who are all the women in the header? (link to all of them at once here: http://twitter.com/account/profile_image/The_MarySue?hreflang=en) So far I’ve got 6 of 12:

    Purple ponytail, metal arm brace is Leela from Futurama.
    Orange sweater, short brown hair is Velma from Scooby Doo.
    Red shirt, red hat is Carmen Sandiago from Where in the World is Carmen Sandiago?
    Black shirt, tattoo on arm is Kara Thrace from the new Battlestar Galactica.
    Red shirt and lasso is Wonder Woman from, well, Wonder Woman.
    Yellow jumpsuit is The Bride from Kill Bill.

    Can anyone else help me get the rest? Also, can anyone confirm that Blue Hair and Orange Jumpsuit are women of color? I can’t quite tell from the cartoon.

  • http://www.whatifbooksetc.com Sylvia Sybil

    That should be Blue SHIRT, not Blue Hair. *facepalm*

  • Whilst

    Blue shirt girl with a blue hair thing is totally Katara from Avatar: the Last Airbender. The girl with the strange mask is San from Princess Mononoke.

  • Anonymous

    Army hat is Tank Girl, Blue hair is Rei Ayanami (Neon Genesis Evangelion), Brown hair in a bun is Princess Leia

  • ImALibrarian

    Geekosystem did a rundown here: http://www.geekosystem.com/mary-sue-site-logos/

  • lingmae_kungfuwarriorprincess

    I am so thankful for this site and am behind it 100%

  • http://www.whatifbooksetc.com Sylvia Sybil

    Oh, I wondered if it was Princess Leia, but she was wearing pants and only had one bun so I discounted her. Although I can see that maybe they had to tweak her design to fit into the logo.

  • http://www.whatifbooksetc.com Sylvia Sybil

    Thanks for the link! That’s almost all of them (they name 11, I see 12 in the twitter logo, and they said there were 13 total).

  • http://www.facebook.com/katefalanga Kate Falanga

    Just had to explain why a niche like this was needed. It wasn’t easy.

    So far so good. I’ll be reading.

  • http://twitter.com/spencerbl Brittany

    I am psyched about this site launch! Thanks, Mary Sue!

  • Alanna S

    “Jazzed” about this site…keep it going…if you need any audiophiles to contribute i’m your geek girl, yo! Good luck and congrats!!!

  • http://twitter.com/fellicitya AmandaB

    Great site – Love it! And the sad thing about the Rosalind Franklin story is that it’s 2011 and things haven’t changed much at all. If the guys I work with get up in your grill, it’s called “passion”. If I do it, it’s called “hormones”. Stupid penises.

  • Anonymous

    Do you guys have a list of all the female characters used in your header? I know most of them, but some of them leave me scratching my head.

  • JustKiddin

    As a male programmer/geek who happened across this site googling Linux stuff, I want to commend your mascot’s unattainably hourglassy figure and confident, I’m-a-little-tea-pot-check-out-my-butt pose. You should get your readers to send in pictures of themselves as they attempt to emulate same.

    Did you know that the male brain can be far more readily aroused by animated imagery?
    Think Jessica Rabbit.

  • http://costumemercenary.blogspot.com Anotherjetso

    I’m not sure I want to self identify as a Mary Sue. I can’t help but feel my ambitions don’t begin and end with wrapping the world around my little finger. I can identify with the sentiment that ‘Mary Sue’ is simply a ‘female character who is more competent than you (read: male audience) arbitrarily feel she should be. But still…

  • Marysue

    My name really is Marysue…this is fascinating..

  • Kate

    I love this site and I am going to follow it loyally.
    Still not sure I like the name. :/

    But maybe I can move past the bad connotations and reclaim it, as it should be?…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1075038326 Matthew Frank

    very cool.

    has anyone written fanfic of mulder’s sister?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michelle-Faid/537610639 Michelle Faid

     Uhm. This site missed the point so badly that I feel like it might be on another continent. You want a “girl gamer site” named for the stereotypically worst features of a narcissistic, attention hungry, immature girl gamer? No thanks. I’ll stick to going to get my gamer news on all those other perfectly valid sites instead of being segregated and labeled. 

    Mary Sues may very well be something to laugh at in retrospect, and we’re certainly all guilty of them. I’m certainly no exception. However, this is a bit like going to a women’s sports page called, “The Borrowed Letter Jacket” or a women’s car enthusiast site called, “Eyeliner While Driving”. Crappy behavior shouldn’t become a glorified penultimate of a gender.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jess796r Jess M

    I just arrive here minutes ago, but you already have my heart.
    Keep it up!

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/IYZMX74PNFSQXAFJMDRE6T3UU4 Camille

    I think that Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz is not a Mary Sue.  I could see the other examples you set, but explain Dorothy because without her, there really is no story.  Twilight annoys the hell out of me with Bella.  She’s plain Bella Swan with no personality and bland looks that has the attention of a werewolf and a vampire.  Unreal. I had to sit through three of those films and I wanted to shoot myself every time.  I did this for a family member.  I am not seeing the next one.  

  • Мария Щербакова

    I don’t think Bella from Twilight is a MarySue! She doesn’t have enough power in her mind…em…probably I’m not the FAN of her. But I really LOVE  MarySue!!!! <3

  • Мария Щербакова

    hah) I’m just Mary. But all of my friends call me Mary Sue:DD
    I’m thinking of calling my daughter(if I’ll have one) Sue…

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephanie.bay.7 Stephanie Bay

    A childhood friend of mine – her mother’s name is Mary Sue. She was a single mother for most of my childhood, and the entire neighborhood seemed to call her “mom.” She was an amazing woman. Nothing she couldn’t do.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephanie.bay.7 Stephanie Bay

    This isn’t a “gamer” site, is it? I see mostly nerdy post unrelated to any games…

  • http://twitter.com/TechnoMistress Lisa Liscoumb

    Wow, you really don’t get the point of this site, do you? This is not a gamer site, it’s a site that celebrates the achievements and interests of women with a wide variety of “nontraditional” interests and I, for one, am glad I found it.

  • http://twitter.com/TechnoMistress Lisa Liscoumb

    “…explain Dorothy because without her, there really is no story…”

    You’ve just explained it yourself. She comes into this pre-existing world (Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz was the fifth Oz book Baum wrote) and not only manages to get all the other characters to “fall” for her – in a platonic way, of course – but proceeds to solve all their problems, and almost single-handedly get rid of the two main “villains” of the world.

    I do have to wonder, though, is she really a Mary Sue as she was created by the author of the world, as opposed to a fan?

  • Anonymous

    When I was a kid, I imagined that I went to Hogwarts and could do magic with just my hands, and had wings that changed color. Oh, and Harry was in love with me. Obviously.
    I’ve been reading this sight for a while, and now when I think Mary Sue, I think badass women who have a voice.

  • Anonymous

    Recently I was extremely low on money and debts were eating me from all sides! That was UNTIL I decided to make money.. on the internet! I went to surveymoneymaker dot net, and started filling in surveys for cash, and surely I’ve been far more able to pay my bills!! I’m so glad, I did this! – 7ctm

  • Tracy Jay

    Mary Sue, I love you!!
    You always have such interesting news to tell me and from a wonderfully diverse feminist perspective. Often you make me think, “Finally, people talking about awesome topics without letting the problematic aspects go unchecked or unnoticed”.
    Great job to all of you!