Mary Sue and Gary Stu: A Double Standard

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Kaitlin Lee, Staff Writer

One of the most common criticisms against leading female action heroes is that they’re Mary Sues. Take any heroinefrom Rey in Star Wars to Princess Diana in Wonder Womanyou will find someone on a message board ranting about how she is a Mary Sue and thus is a bad character. But really, the majority of heroes nowadays are Mary Suesor Gary Stus, if they’re male. But, why are there fewer people calling out Batman or Captain America as Gary Stus then there are people calling out Rey as a Mary Sue?

Before I go any further, I should explain what a Mary Sue even is. “Mary Sue” is a term coined from a parody of Star Trek fan-fiction called “A Trekkie’s Tale” and used in discussions about fan fiction and recently modern pop culture. It is an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character who performs tasks better than their training or experience should really enable them to do.

There is a difference between how male characters are criticized and how female characters are criticized. Rey is called a Mary Sue because her morals and beliefs don’t change, yet Captain America is given a pass even though he too does not change his morals and beliefs. Wonder Woman is called overpowered for being an omniglot and having superhuman strength, yet Superman is given a pass despite having nearly every power in the book. It isn’t to say that some of their writing is flawed and some of them are overly perfect, but clearly, the women are focused more than the men.

I want to ask why we treat women in stories so harshly when they are written like many male heroes. The fact is, both male and women characters can be written to be too passive or boring to make the story interesting. However, when there is more of a focus on the faulty writing of female characters, it not only affects writers’ confidence in female characters but also readers’ and audiences’ confidence in them.

Luckily, there has been a change in how we approach characters. People are now seeing the faults in the writing of characters like James Bond, Kirito from Sword Art Online, and the main characters in almost every Adam Sandler comedy. But, that doesn’t mean that we can’t still enjoy a Gary Stu or Mary Sue. Yes, they may be overly perfect, but media like books and movies can serve as an escape from the real world. People can live vicariously through these very successful and powerful characters for a while. So yes, Mary Sues and Gary Stus may deserve criticism, but they have their merits as well.

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