Comics: Roll Dice Already!

Why You Shouldn’t Use the Term Mary Sue

This guest comic by Vectober. Check out his work!


A female character in sexy armor stands before a crowd who boo her loudly.

When you say “Mary Sue,” people derisively imagine a woman who can do everything, is loved by everyone, and has no flaws.

A female character in more practical armor stands before a crowd who still boo her loudly.

But in reality, the term is often applied to any competent female character.

A male character with exaggerated features stands before an adoring crowd. The female characters steam in the background.

Meanwhile, there are many male characters who can do everything, are loved by everyone, and have no flaws. They are often given critical acclaim.

Because “Mary Sue” is inherently gendered, it’s better to consider each character in their own context and…

Both female characters advance menacingly, with swords labeled “plot device” and “character development. 

Hey, stop that!



  1. Cay Reet

    Technically, there is a male version for the term ‘Mary Sue’ – Gary Stu. But I agree Gary is used far less often and not because male characters can’t have unrealistic amounts of candy and skill.

    • Cannoli

      I just say “Mary Sue” for every such character, of any gender. Androl, in Brandon Sanderson’s Wheel of Time books is my favorite example, and so is Michael Stackpole’s Corran Horn in his Star Wars pastiches. Those are pretty much my go-to examples for a Mary Sue, largely because the main female example in my mind is one I read so long ago I don’t remember her name. She was the original character in a Star Trek novel “Uhura’s Song”. The character was a doctor who was better at medicine than McCoy, implied to be a better engineer than Scott, won arguments with Spock, and routinely showed up Kirk. And her sex had nothing to do with her characterization. She even used the example of getting in bar brawls to make a point about human behavior to Spock in a way that was more about her size than her sex. But she was just awful and a clear case of the author inventing their own character to be awesome, and Worfing the characters whom fans bought the book to read about, just to make the original character look good. Also, I would say Tyrion Lannister on “Game of Thrones” is something of a Mary Sue, as all his complexity and dark aspects are excised on the show.

      I don’t use the term Gary Stu precisely because I find it sexist. Bad writing is bad writing. It doesn’t matter what sex the character is, and what makes a character a Mary Sue has nothing to do with their gender, so you don’t need to give each gender its own name.

  2. Yonyonyon

    Is his name Mr.Penis?.. ooh, no, it’s Mr. Perfect…

    • Cay Reet

      We need a story with a guy named Mr. Penis.

      • Julia

        And his two sidekicks?

      • Not Important

        Go watch “Mr. WoodCock” never seen it but it’s got the name

  3. Bitter

    Please guys, get out of the feminist tupper and see that people criticize Gary Stus EVERYWHERE. Have you heard about Superman? Or Kirito? Or Batman? Or Eragon? Nice to see you, yet again, having those double standards. Because sure, no one hates male characters.

    • Cay Reet

      Yeah, they’re terrible ripped apart and taken off the market in a heartbeat. Which is why nobody ever heard of Superman or Batman. I’m sure none of them had any movies recently, either.

      • Bitter

        Sure, because Mary Sues are also taken off the market in a heartbeat. Bella Swan, Clary Fray, Katniss Everdeen, sure, we’ve never heard of them. They also didn’t have movies recently…

        • Cay Reet

          The huge, flooded market of YA is an easy place to find all kinds of overcandied characters, male ones as well as female ones. YA is a very new market where every publisher wants to get their foot in, so a lot of stuff which is published has no high standards. Comparing that to superheroes who have been around for decades is a bit odd.

          Besides, I have no idea who Clary Fray is and have never read either Twilight nor Hunger Games. But then, at over 40, I’m simply too old for that. I also believe all of them (again, can’t speak for Miss Fray) have caught a lot of flak over time.

        • Alverant

          None of those listed are Mary Sues either, but get called that by people who only know about them through movie trailers.

          • Rivers

            Katniss doesn’t really cut it as a Mary Sue. Not if you read the books at least …

    • Tiberia

      Gary Stu’s are a thing, but they are not what people focus on nor are they the standard (I’ll touch more on what I mean by “the standard” in a bit). The label gets applied to Women much more readily than men, which is a problem. If you make the same character twice, the only difference being that one is female, the other male, the female will be more likely called out for being a mary sue.

      Further, Mary Sue is the standard with Gary Stu merely being a modified version of it. The base trope is of a female, with the male version being a subcategory.

      That Gary Stu simply exists does not magically erase problems.

      The Term Mary Sue has value in critique, however that use has greatly diminished. It is a tool, but it is a dull tool. It is too broad, too imprecise, and used with reckless abandon. dropping the gendering may be impractical, but so is abandoning the tool entirely. The tool must be sharpened. more clearly defined, more precisely used, with out care for the actual gender of the character (not easy, we’re only human after all). If it is used more precisely, and only when absolutely appropriate, not merely as some insult, then the problem of gendering will be minimized, but not entirely removed

      Now, ideally we would invent a new term, using androgynous names, for the term.
      -ary -oo/ue/tu/ou/oo
      Airy Oo?

      Also Superman and Batman aren’t Gary Stu’s. Get out of the silver age.
      Don’t know about Eragon, haven’t read those books for a loooong time.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        If the critique is in good faith, I believe the easiest option would simply be to describe a character as “overglorified.” Or “overcandied” if you’re using mythcreants lingo. That won’t solve the problem of sexist double standards, but it at least gets rid of the inherently gendered language.

        • Bitter

          Now we’re talking! Double standards need a lot of work on them, but getting rid of this Mary Sue/Gary Stu stuff would be a great step. Just to agree on something.

        • Tiberia

          I don’t think overglorified works, in my gut (weird reasoning I know. I think it’s because sometimes an Airy Oo often is framed as not being glorified and being some heroic underdog he gains love and prestige and blah blah blah through perseverance.
          and you can have characters who are not Air Oos but who are still overglorified.

          Overcandied I think works. It covers most of what is wrong with an Airy Oo, but you would need to make the candy/spinach terminology more commonly used.

          Ok, so I used Airy Oo, three times in this post. does it work? you feeling it? I don’t think I am.

          • Oren Ashkenazi

            Well being a heroic underdog is certainly a kind of glory. I agree that candy is a better terminology, but you might not gain a lot of traction with it outside of Mythcreants.

            Can you think of any characters you would want to call a “Mary Sue” that “overglorified” wouldn’t work for?

          • Ariosa

            A Hairy Who?
            Makes me think of a Cousin Itt version of a Seussian Who. Or, to fit the stereotype, a 80s metal band hairstyle, on top of a Doctor Who character. Radical timey wimey.

            Way down in Whoville, home of both Gary and Sue, came a mystical time lord (and companion, too). Ze thought ze knew better. Ze thought ze would write a new kind of story where ze’d take the light. Banishing old, bad gendered cliches, the radical doctor would save ALL the days.

            And poor Gary and Mary must learn to overcome their self-aggrandizing and fabulous hair-dos to defeat this dark incursion by sitting down over a cup of tea and having a levelheaded discussion about personal limitations.

      • Bitter

        I agree to some extent, but let’s keep in mind that Mary Sue’s origin is fanfiction, a parody, but fanfiction with the girl in question being the center of the story. It’s more usual for women to write fanfiction and self-inserts, and that could be a reason why is more popular to find Mary Sues and rant about them.
        Sadly, as you said, people overused it and not in a very good way.
        Also what the fuck. Airy Oo? English is not my main language, but I’m pretty sure it has a variety of gender-neutral names. Blake Alex? That sucks, but I’m pretty sure there could be better combinations.
        There’s people who believe Superman and Batman are Gary Stus. Just sayin.
        And don’t make me talk about Eragon, that child.

        • Tiberia

          Yeah, I’m not feeling Airy Oo either. Not all experiments can be a success.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        Editor’s note: I removed a comment here because I think it was a double post while the original post was in pending review.

    • liber

      Male characters have to be overglorified to ridiculus amounts for people to clasify them as Gary Stu. Meanwhile, female characters, the moment they dare to have some degree of badassery, get smacked with the term inmediately.

      If you don’t believe me, just look at the discourse that came with The Force Awakens when it came out, and the multitudes calling Rey a Mary Sue, when she was far more developed and had plenty of reassons for the things she did. Luke? Nah, he was cool, blowing up the Death Star while being a farmer most of his life is totally realistic. Yeah.

      Another example is the fandom fights between Mikasa and Levi, who have almost the same personallity, and yet only Mikasa got hate for that. (I can’t talk much about their skills because it’s been so long since i watched the show, so i’ll stick with what i remember from the fandom)

      Yes, a lot of people regard Eragon and Kirito as the posterchilds of Gary Stu, but you can’t ignore the fact that female characters gets so much undeserved criticism in far more quantities than their male counterparts. Wish fulfillment for men tend to be more well recieved than the female one.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        Plus Kvothe from the Kingkiller series has litterally all the traits people claim makes a Mary Sue, including being a self insert for the author (Kvothe was the author’s D&D character), and he’s given tons of critical praise.

        • Bitter

          I have no idea what you’re talking about so I’ll refrain to comment on it.

        • Localforeigner

          THANK YOU! I couldn’t read past the first book in that series because Kvothe is SUCH A FRICKING GARY STU. I tell everyone who ever talks about reading it. But you are right, you rarely hear that brought up in critical analysis of the book.

      • Bitter

        I don’t exactly agree on you with that, but now that I’m thinking, maybe I’m listening to a certain group of people who are eager to call male protagonists Gary Stus? And badass females not usually get called Mary Sues–Strong Female Characters though. Not a good term neither, as they’re females who’re only “badass” and then… what? They’re obvious baits for (usually) males to fantasize with a dominant woman. Or points for “equality”.
        I haven’t seen The Force Awakens because I don’t follow Star Wars and I only have general knowledge of it, but true, I’ve seen some reviews saying she was a Mary Sue and providing some examples of it–that she knew things she couldn’t have known, that people more experienced than her would obviously know but remained ignorant for the sake of her, and stuff like that. I don’t know, haven’t seen it. If it’s true, well, she may have a Mary Sue-ish vein. Don’t know.
        Mikasa got most hate for getting in the way of the Levi/Eren ship, mind you. As regards their skills and personalities–I think the problem is that they have different motivations. Levi wants to help saving people. Mikasa doesn’t care about people, she cares about Eren. And luckily, Armin. That doesn’t work on her favor. Levi and Mikasa may share a lot of personality traits, but she has some pretty shitty development. And that’s the author’s fault, not hers. Other female characters kicked ass, you forgot to mention, and they’re loved to death.
        I think that most of the “undeserved criticism” (having in mind the Rey stuff–I can’t really comment on it) is because of a variety of reasons:
        1- A lot of people sees a female character and instantly raise the feminism alarm. Sometimes is right, sometimes is not. There are a lot of female characters to prove them wrong, and if they think otherwise, they’re free to come fight me.
        2- A lot of people sees a female character and everything’s fine, until she plays a shitty role (as a shitty love interest, for example), has a shitty development when she clearly had potential (Mikasa), or simply there for points, be feminist points, “sexy” points, or “we had to pass the Bechdel test, Jaime” points. And that’s the authors’ fault, I recognize that. But they’re still, shitty characters.
        3- A lot of people sees a female character that has a great plot armor and she’s perfect. She’s a Mary Sue. We all agree on that. Bella Swan.

        • liber

          You’re right aboutthe discussion being more nuanced than how they look like from an outsider’s perspective, and it’s true that there are plenty of cherished badass female characters out there. However, i have still seen more cases of undeserved aclaims for female characters compared to those of male ones, which was my original point.

          And we hanging out with different groups may be why our experriences seem so different though. In my case, i tend to wander on Tumblr (keeping distance with most of the sjw discourse, mind you), specifically around communities of artists and writters. And let me tell you, some time back, the Mary Sue calling there was rampant, to the point of people being afraid of using ANY assosiated characteristic to Mary Sues (things are getting better though). So is any discussion about female characters in video games, where the sexism is much more prevalent than in other areas. YouTube comments are also shameful in this regard, but those are treated as a joke for a reasson, so…

          Female characters, being one of the “social justice” targets (alongside POC, disabled people, etc) DO get more attention than the straight white male “standart”. And, as you said, not only they get badly written more often, but their weaknesses as characters bring more hate than they would as male characters. We can see this shit with POC and queer characters too (sadly…)

          I agree with most of what you said though. And i’m curious to know where have you seen the Gary Stu callings.

          About Rey: while she did do some ridiculus things, it was clear where she learned those skills. But that was not the problem: calling her a Mary Sue inmediately brings Luke and Anakin to the discussion, who are much worse offenders than Rey will ever be, and ignoring those two when talking about Rey’s flaws as a character is what pissed off most people about the discussion. Those who called her a Mary Sue never considered the flaws of Luke and Anakin, even when pointed at, and that IS a problem. That’s why i used her as a example.

          In the case of Mikasa, i won’t comment; i’ve only seen the first seasson of the anime, and that was a long time ago. I only remember some second hand discussions about her, so using her as an example may not have been a good choice on my part. Sorry

          • Boop

            Well rey knew how to heal ppl with the force which undoes like the whole plot of the prequels (oH nOoO i GoTtA sAvE mAh WiFe!)

        • Cay Reet

          Actually, a badass female character who doesn’t take sh!t from anyone also is a fantasy for a lot of women. We would like to see more women who kick ass instead of sitting around, being damselled, and waiting for the guy to save us so we can be ‘his’ for the rest of our lives (or at least a long and sweaty night after the end of the story).

      • somerandom

        In terms of the star wars argument, Rey was overpowered from the beginning. Luke had 0 knowledge of the force nor any combat experience, yet he was experienced with piloting as he had done it most of his life. He got taught how to fight by Yoda, a master Jedi mind you, and had been taught how to use the force. Whilst Rey had combat experience (which is understandable) with a staff, very different from a lightsaber as it can rest upon you and is a completely different fighting style as well as her ability to use the force without any training whatsoever nor even knowing what a Jedi mind trick was. Not only that, beating Kylo Ren without even touching a lightsaber before, against a sith who was trained by luke, then by smoke their entire life? doesn’t sound right, does it? As for Mikasa and Levi, Levi had many many years of experience fighting with a 3DMG, and other people has he was brought up in the slums underground. Mikasa, being fairly new to fighting titans and only combat experience against a normal human was in training and the incident with her kidnapping had only her family name behind her strength which made some people a bit upset, however not saying it’s wrong that they’re strong, it just makes them seem like more of a shallow character. I’m all for having strong female characters, it’s good even. But when they don’t write them properly and give them everything from the get go makes it seem lazy and incomplete.

    • Eli

      yo, don’t talk smack about my boy Kirito. he may be op, but there is a character said to be much stronger than Kirito: Yuuki. she had him beat quite easily. Because of the combo given to her by Yuuki, Asuna is ALSO stronger than Kirito. he also has flaws, such as his depression, and his family problems. *cough* suguha *cough*
      Quirt can NOT be considered a Gary Stu in any sense of the word, so don’t call him one

  4. Richard

    I always thought a “Mary Sue” was a wish-fulfillment version of the author. Kind of like how James Bond was what Ian Fleming wanted to be. I gather the name came about from all the cheap romance novels that have the main (female) character being too perfect, and then swept off her feet by some dashing young supermodel type.

    But what do I know.

    • Cay Reet

      The name Mary Sue came from a Star Trek fan-fiction with an extremely young crew member (Mary Sue) who was, essentially better at everything than everyone else. There’s also a comic, but I’m not sure if it’s still online. Mary Sue clearly was a self-insert and, of course, totally overcandied, but the term has since been applied to any kind of female character who only gives a suggestion of being a little better than expected.

      • Henry Lancaster

        The comic is still online:

        The comic was inspired by the fanfic, and IMO shows a character growing into a more balanced set of traits.

        … It also gets rather silly with the crossovers, but it’s not meant to be serious overall.

        • Cay Reet

          When I made the comment, my own link was somewhat broken. Glad to see Mary Sue is back up.

          Yes, the story is silly and over-the-top, but that’s the point in this case.

      • Dvärghundspossen

        If I remember correctly, the Mary Sue fanfic was actually satire, and intended to make fun of common fanfic trends at the time.

  5. StyxD

    I need to get one thing off my chest:
    Was this comic created and posted at present mostly because of the backlash to the Last Jedi?

    With that said, I’m very split on this one.

    Thing is, I don’t think that getting rid of a word will erase the double standards in its usage. People will just throw something else.

    And Mary Sue is an useful term. It certainly describes a thing people noticed and wanted to name, since it was picked up from a parody fanfic and stuck for around 40 years now.
    I don’t think it’s fair to interpret that it’s all because people hate powerful female characters.

    On the other hand, Mary Sue is a dull tool indeed. Many people worry that their character may be a Mary Sue, but it’s hard to give any advicd because of how nebulous the term is. “Overcandied” is actually much better, since it captures the core of why these kinds of characters are so negatively perceived – at least that’s how I interpret them.

    But the definition of candy needs explaining every time, while Mary Sue provides a baseline that can just be sharpened. It may be more practical to just do that.

    I’m unsure.

    Also, at least in the community where I’ve learned this term, Gary Stu wasn’t really used because male examples were called Mary Sues as well. Maybe I’m biased to see this term as more gender-ambivalent than it really is.

    And I’m not nearly ready to give up humming this work of art when reading some bad characters:

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      It wasn’t specifically about Last Jedi no, though Rey is of course one of many examples where people scream “Mary Sue” at any competent woman.

      You’re right that retiring the term won’t get rid of the double standard, but it will help level the playing field a little. “Mary Sue” is inherently gendered, the same way “bitch” is. We can call a man a “bitch,” sure, but it doesn’t have the same meaning. That’s also true for “Mary Sue.”

      There’s also some confusion over what “Mary Sue” even means. For some people it’s “any character who’s too good at stuff,” while others insist it must only apply to self insert characters, or characters who everyone loves.

      • Quinte

        Mary Sue: a character that distorts the through line, message or drama of the story.
        Characters like James Bond or Bella Swan I wouldn’t classify as Mary Sues as they are wish fulfilment characters for wish fulfilment stories. Rey in the force awakens is a wish fulfilment character in about team. She was a very thin character and I felt that the last Jedi tried very hard rewriting her, to turn her from a Mary Sue to a fallible character.
        Also as someone with a disability I can say from personal experience that changing the term won’t get rid of the negative connotation.

      • StyxD

        I don’t disagree that the term is gendered and that is a downside, but I don’t think it’s like “bitch” very much.

        For one, Mary Sue has a (vague) definition, it’s not just a term thrown to insult women. Some people argue in good faith about female characters being Mary Sues, but it can’t really happen with gendered insults, like “bitch”.

        Also, “Mary Sue” is not used as derogatory language against real people.

        The term is gendered because the original creator parodied a female character. Was it really wrong?

        Also, while I’m sure people interested in analyzing literature will apprentice more concrete terms, I’m afraid general fans won’t care. And we really can’t point to a real demographic that is hurt by usage of the term. Because throwing it at a character doesn’t really prevent works with them from being made. Because not using it doesn’t erase biases that make some people see badass female characters as “artificial” or “SJW inserts”.

        I will admit though, I’m biased myself. In the last weeks I’ve been pretty soured by the discussion around Last Jedi, when the narrative was just shy of “you must love Rey or you’re probably a nazi”.

    • Cay Reet

      I think one of the problems with the term “Mary Sue” is that it is gendered by its very nature. While, technically, the names “Mary” or “Sue” (am I the only one who loves the song “A Boy Named Sue”?) could be used for boys as well (“Maria,” the German version of Mary was used as a middle name for boys for quite a while in our history and rarely still is used today), both names and their combination as “Mary Sue” are usually considered a woman’s name. Hence especially people new to the discussion or not that deep into special places on the internet will use it more easily for a female character.

      Yes, the problem for which it stands definitely can happen with both male and female characters, but on the whole, female characters are more likely to be called out for it. A character written both as male and as female in the same way (just exchange he and she) will often be called a Mary Sue in female form, but not be called out (as a Mary Sue, a Gary Stu, or anything else) as a male character. The original Mary Sue definitely would have been called out as a male character, too, but she’s an extreme, that’s why she coined the name. That is, essentially, what the comic does stand for (although the whole “Last Jedi” thing might have had an influence on when it was published here). There’s a hell of a lot of double standard (just look at the armour of male and female characters in PC RPGs, for instance) when it comes to what is ‘allowed’ for male characters and what is ‘allowed’ for female ones in any form of media.

      I also like the term “overcandied,” because it’s both gender-neutral (candy has no gender) and actually better defines what it means. Someone has too much candy, too many good sides and too few bad ones. It’s easy to explain without going into fan fiction and all that stuff.

      • Eli

        this whole argument is shot down by the existence of the term “gary stu”.

        • Bunny

          Not to be rude, but I feel like you’re really missing the point. It’s not that people haven’t tried making a male equivalent, which of course they have, it’s that the whole basis of what a “Mary Sue” consists of is inherently gendered. Mary Sue being the parent term to Gary Stu, and having a female character as its template, you can’t separate “Mary Sue” or “Gary Stu” from the context in which they originated – a context which has been thoroughly discussed in this comments section already. (There’s also an article on this topic on the site, if you’re interested.)

  6. Kroz1776

    I don’t want to get too much into it but I initially defended Rey’s character and while I thought she was overly competent, I didn’t think she crossed into Mary Sue territory until the Last Jedi where she gets a day or two of “training” and then can beat the crap out of trained warriors. I feel Rian tried to lampshade it by stating that oh, the force needs balance so if one side is too powerful it will raise up someone to be their equal which felt forced.

    In the first movie she uses one force power, once. If she had gone back to being incompetent like Luke was you can chalk it up to desperation. People complain about the first Kylo fight but he was shot by a gun that hitting NEAR a storm trooper blows them away. I feel like her victories in the Force Awakens were justified, the Last Jedi, I feel weren’t.

    In contrast, while it’s not shown that Luke is a good Pilot before hand, you at least have his old buddies in the rebellion that state he is already a good pilot. He has one skill. He’s good at flying and he’s a good shot. He comes off as a bit of a Gary Stu in the first movie. The issue comes from his arc.

    The Empire Strikes Back fixes this by stripping him away from his fighter and shows off that Luke isn’t as competent as we might think. The same goes for Han. It shows their flaws and still gives them victories throughout while ultimately the Empire comes out on top. Luke loses his duel with Vader, Han is frozen and shipped to Jabba and the Heroes have suffered a personal setback while the rebellion has suffered a setback.

    The Last Jedi does the reverse and strips Rey of the few flaws she may have and makes her succeed at everything she does in the movie. We want competent women characters not flawless female characters. Leia wasn’t flawless, but she was competent. Rey in the Last Jedi is the only time I’ve felt I’ve run into a female character that is so competent that it ruined the story so I agree, the term is probably a bit overused for mainstream fiction.

    • Rivers

      I don’t agree with all your points, but I do think you did make several good ones. One of my personal issues with the newer Star Wars movies, that I think heightens the issue of Rey being overly competent, is that the antagonistic characters are often shown to be flawed and incompetent. They did do this for certain reasons, but I think Rey’s character would improve a lot if the Dark Side could try bumping it up a notch.

  7. Ty

    Speaking from an entirely TTRPG experience, I’ve never actually heard anyone refer to a female character as a “Mary Sue.” I’ve heard many power-gamey male PCs referred to as “Mary Sues.”
    I’m not denying that the term isn’t obviously gendered now that I think about it, but I guess I never really thought that hard about it. I guess what I’m trying to suggest is don’t judge others who use the term too harshly.

  8. RHJunior

    Horse leavings. Mary Sue is not shorthand for “any competent female character.” It’s not a Gender Issue. Put down the SJW shirt and the vagina hat and step AWAY from the soapbox, okay?

    (And I will take pause and note the hypocrisy here: a tendency to equate ANY male character demonstrating more competence than Homer Simpson with being a Gary Stu. If he’s masculine, it’s “toxic.” If he’s capable, he’s “unrealistically written.” If he gets shit done he’s “overshadowing the female lead.” He’s not acceptable to a Modyrn Wymyn unless he’s the bumbling, cowardly, ambiguously gay comic relief for the female lead. Too bad he’s terrible writing and nobody wants to see the movie or TV show or read the book. )

    Mary Sue is not a gender issue. The reason they’re called Mary Sues is because the majority of them appear in fanfiction, the majority of fanfiction is written by females, and the majority of them are female self-inserts. There plenty of MALE Mary Sues, too, but it’s the law of averages at work here.

    Secondly, there’s an epic level of difference between a character who can do anything and a BADLY WRITTEN character who can do anything. There are thousands of hyper-competent female characters who are not only explicitly NOT Mary Sues, but are also fan favorites…. Ripley from “Alien”, for example. Samus from Metroid. Catwoman, Wonder Woman, half the cast of the X Men, the Avengers, and Justice League. Scully from X-files. Princess Freaking Leia.

    Your pet token feminist icon isn’t being disparaged as a “Mary Sue” because she’s female, she’s being disparaged as a “Mary Sue” BECAUSE THAT TOKENISM IS ALL SHE HAS. Her writing and characterization are terrible, she has no personality, her character development consists of randomly sprouting aptitudes to show how she’s ever-so-much-better than the next male character over, and she only exists in the first place to ride the soapbox for whatever women’s issues shibboleth is current this week. She’s badly written, and calling her critics sexist doesn’t do diddly to change that. TITS ARE NOT A FORCE FIELD FOR PROTECTING YOUR CHARACTER FROM CRITICISM.

    • Cameron

      RHJunior, I do not understand why you are angry. No one is saying that female characters should be exempt from criticism, and there are certainly overcandied female characters. Those are awful female characters! They have no soul, and are merely there as a jaded attempt to appeal to women.
      We are also not saying that men should not be allowed to have any candy. There are lots of incredibly competent and traditionally masculine characters that I love – Captain America, Sam Vimes, Batman, the Doctor, etc.

      My objection arrives when any kind of cool, badass female character that I love and relate to seems to come under fire for being a Mary Sue. I think this often overlaps with the idea that anything teenage girls like is automatically stupid. I love Katniss and Rey and the new Ghostbusters, and I had a great time watching their movies! I think they were really good! I haven’t watched Jupiter Ascending, but the fanfiction’s pretty rad.

      Even if they aren’t the epitome of high art, they hit all of my wish fulfillment buttons, and after decades of Transformers and Fast and the Furious and James Bond being written off as good clean fun, I think I’m allowed a few goofy blockbusters with women at the helm.

      Try this thought experiment: Think of your favorite movie. Turn all of the men into women, and the women into men. If the product makes you uncomfortable, I’d like you to really sit with that. Now imagine that *every* movie is packed with women and the occasional token man in skinny jeans and ripped shirts whose only skills are seduction and poison. It would feel pretty rough, right?

      P.S. In the future, I would appreciate it if you tried to speak civilly. Debate is great, but there’s no need to be combative!

      • StyxD

        I don’t disagree with what you’re saying in general, but I have some issues.

        It reads to me like you’re saying “There are bad female characters, sure, but not these characters I like. No one should say they’re bad.”

        I think it’s partly subjective whether a character is still badass or just overpowered.
        It’s also because Mary Sue is such a vague term, which is a good argument for using more descriptive terms! I myself think Rey is a bad character, but Mary Sue is not a right label for her.

        Also, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying some wish fulfillment, but works that thrive on it are often derided as junky. It doesn’t mean they stop being made. So why care if other people dislike them?

  9. Nora

    So true, I see how many people call Katniss Everdeen a Mary Sue (but she was taught archery since she was little, it doesn’t come from anywhere), while some people like Jason Bourne and James Bond (who have the strange capacity not to die [if the CIA and MI6 had created a way to make their agents survive 3 bullets, drowning, multiple car accidents or falling from exploding buildings we would know]). But nobody seems to claim that’s it’s unrealistic, we hear more “badass” or “enjoyable”.

    • Cay Reet

      Yes. And I’m pretty sure if James Bond turned female, into a Jane Bond, people would start complaining about how all that is unrealistic and how she’s the biggest Mary Sue that ever was.

  10. Ginger

    I am not sure on this. When a kid in early 70s a Mary Sue was like “Sweet Mary Sue” Penelope Pitstop, Mary Jane. A wholesome girl incredibly lucky but needing rescue. Still… unkillable. But very likable.
    Then in D&D circles, it became meaning OP character that can’t be touched no matter what. Unfair level of “can’t touch dis”. Was less gender oriented? At this point, recently, I’m googling the term because the meaning is so muddied I wondered what current definition is…..

  11. Dvärghundspossen

    I really wish the terms “candy” and “spinach” would become general knowledge, because often when people make perfectly reasonable critiques of a story and also call the MC a “Mary Sue”, they really use the term to mean “over-candied”, or possibly even “over-candied self-insert”. Like I read this take-down of “Handbook for Mortals” written by an author who, among other things, came down really hard on all the misogyny in the book, so she seemed to come from a feminist standpoint. But she also had a “most Mary Sue moment” for each chapter, and those were always about the MC being absolutely showered in candy for no reason.

    Since Mary Sue sometimes means “over-candied (self-insert)”, sometimes “character that’s too competent for this particular plotline to work”, sometimes “any female character I don’t like because I’m a raging misogynist”, it would be good if it was replaced with “over-candied” when applicable.

    • Cay Reet

      I do love the terms ‘candy’ and ‘spinach,’ for so many reasons.

      For one, they’re pretty easy to understand for someone who hasn’t discussed characters before (whereas the term ‘Mary Sue’ has to be explained the first time around).

      In addition, they’re not gendered and it doesn’t matter what kind of character (male, female, intersex, alien from a world with six different genders) you discuss with them.

      In addition, they’re not as predjudiced as ‘Mary Sue,’ which quite some people just take as ‘horrid character.’

      And they’re a lot more helpful for the writer. You can add ‘over-hyped’ or ‘over-competent’ to ‘over-candied’ and precisely describe what is wrong about a character, whereas ‘Mary Sue’ can mean everything from ‘this character has too much candy’ up to ‘this character is a horrible SJW self-insert and I had to burn the book.’ That’s not helpful to the writer, because there’s a big difference between ‘I have to work more spinach into my character’ and ‘I should just delete the file and start anew.’

    • Roger

      I’m quite unconvinced, as “over-candied” is as murky and badly defined as “Mary Sue”, if not more so.

      What exactly is an “over-candied” character?

      1. Over-powered for the specific plotline? (Stereotypical example: Batman set in a story against regular small-time crooks)

      2. Over-powered for the universum in general, thus forcing the authors to create a neverending stream of more and more powerful villains that further mess up the universum? (ie: Superman)

      3. Having overwhelming skill in something for no good reason and with no training? (Luke’s starfighter piloting in “A New Hope” for example).

      4. A character that makes the laws of the universum bend itself to their needs, able to do things that objectively more powerful/competent characters were unable to do? (ie: Beren in Beren and Lúthien)

      5. A character for whom everything goes too smoothly, not enough obstancels and sadness in his/her narrative?” (I mean I’ve seen people who use “too much spinach” to refer to stories where the world is exceedingly harsh and unforgiving for a character.)

      6. Overly-popular character that is fo no real reason instantly loved/adored/admired by important characters in the universum?

      7. A character that always gets to have the last word and can always throw witticisms and jokes at objectively wiser and more socially-competent characters?

      8. An unrelatable character that is designed to be so “cool and awesome” that he actually makes the audience start rooting for the bad guys?

      • Dvärghundspossen

        A character gets candy when he/she is presented as being badass, awesome, beautiful, etc, and this can sometimes be taken too far and get annoying. So on your list, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8 are examples of the character getting candy. Whether it’s TOO MUCH candy will depend on a lot of factors, and yeah, there will be lots of disagreement about when lots of candy is too much candy, there’s no getting away from THAT.

        1, 2 and 5 are definitely problems, but they’re not necessarily examples of too much candy the way this site uses the term. Like, you can have Batman or Superman in a situation where the threats are too small for them, and the story can be boring and thus bad for that reason, even if the narrative isn’t constantly shoving “he’s AWESOME” down our throats. And a character can have too little in the way of problems and setbacks without being particularly cool, badass, beautiful etc at all.

        • Roger

          Well in that case my impression was largely correct. It is a wide, rather murky umbrella term that covers several different traits, pretty much the same as Mary Sue.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        Just to clarify in case anyone is confused, Rodger is mixing up a multitude of meanings with a multitude of causes.

        One of the reasons for retiring the term Mary Sue is that it can mean so many different things. It can refer to wish fulfillment characters, characters who have no flaws, or characters who are a stand in for the author. Those are very different situations, each of which may or may not actually be a problem.

        Over-candied, on the other hand, always means the same thing: The author has given the character too many things that glorify them, which we refer to as candy for brevity’s sake. Candy can come in many different forms, but the end situation is always the same: a less likeable character.

  12. Anne

    No, it’s not sexism. Immature and a tad overrated, sure, but both genders have received their fair share of characters known as Mary Sues…Harry Potter, Sasuke Uchiha, Batman…And before you say they’re not hated as much, Sasuke is one of the most hated characters in anime LMAO.

    Honestly, not everything is to demean women. Sometimes, your ideas are just too perfect and without enough deviations from tropes to make them three-dimensional and competent. Most people who claim MS to be a sexist term clearly either have made MS that have be called out or just don’t understand the significance of the border between a one, two, and three dimensional character.

    • Cay Reet

      However, I would take a bet on this happening:

      James Bond – a lot of men: cool secret agent.

      Jane Bond (only change is the pronoun) – a lot of men: totally a Mary Sue, unrealistic to the max.

      A lot of female characters just doing the same as a male counterpart get hit with the ‘Mary Sue’ label, while nothing similar happens to their male counterpart.

      • Anne

        That is quite true, especially since male Mary-Sues tend to be given the benefit of the doubt much easier.

        Looking back at my comment, some of my wording was rather on the rude side- sorry for that.

    • Carrie H

      I beg to differ. It absolutely is sexist when female characters are held to much higher standards than male characters. Jane Bond would be seen as badly written simply because she’s female assuming everything else stayed the same. That’s true for Luke Skywalker and Rey as well. All the same criticisms apply, but only Rey gets called out.

      If Mary Sue was reserved only for poorly written female characters, the term would have validity. But it’s applied to just about every woman in action and fantasy genres. This is an excellent explanation of the problem.

      • Cay Reet

        Thanks for the link … bookmarked it for further use. There’s a lot of people who claim ‘Mary Sue’ is a perfectly valid term and women just overreact to female characters being called out for being Mary Sues.

        I think that a big problem with the espionage genre is that female spies tend to be femme fatales who only do their job by seduction, not getting any action scenes (Bond does seduction, too, and there’s apparently a suggestion in the novels that he’s not averse to seducing men, too, if necessary – something the movies failed at so far). That’s something I actually liked about the movie “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” – seeing one of the male characters play the ‘femme fatale,’ because the big bad was a woman. Female spies who are not acting like that are even more unexpected than active female characters in other genres. I actually write a non-femme-fatale female spy, which is why I like using Bond as an example for how a simple pronoun change can turn a character into a Mary Sue…

      • LOP

        I wrote something about Rey in the last comment. Luke Skywalker was a very lame character in the first and the second film, he couldn’t fight the villain, he was unprepared, he wasn’t alowed to fight the villain in the first film, in the second film he lost the fight and lost one hand. After three films, after he traveled twice to train with Yoga, he finally is capable to fight the villain. And only then, after training with two teachers, he can beat Darth Vader, but Vader´s Master beat him. So, he lost again. It is his father (Darth Vader) that saved him from death. This is not a Mary Sue, he has a noble heart, but not quite powerful.
        In contraposition, Rey was a trash picker all her life, and from day to night, she knows how to drive the space ship (in the first Star Wars Luke had to look for a pilot because very people can do it), travel through the space, she discovers by herself all the Jedi powers that Luke needed three films to develop with the best Jedi masters, beat Kylo Ren (an experienced and trained jedi); and in the second film she beat Luke Skywalker with still no training. Oh, come on!!!

        • Cay Reet

          A little correction on why Luke had to find a pilot. He’s actually a good pilot himself, but space flight needs a real space ship and neither he nor Obi-Wab nor, obviously, the droids own one. He didn’t really need the pilot per se, he needed transport. That, of course, came with a pilot and that’s how we get Han and Chewie into the story.

          Luke grew up in a family (even if it was with his aunt and uncle), Rey grew up fighting for survival, which makes it likely she would know how to protect herself. She might also have a certain grasp on flight from other situations, though I give you this one as realistic. Only don’t put it up against Luke looking for a pilot – because Luke was looking for a ship, not for a pilot. His excellency at flying is proven at the end of ANH during the final space fight.

  13. LOP

    You don’t understand the term Mary Sue. A strong and independent female character is not a Mary Sue. For example, Milla Jojovich in Resident Evil is not a Mary Sue, and she is the stronger and smartest of all.
    Mary Sue is a female character that doesn´t have character development and goes from weak to super-strong without training, like Rey in Star Wars. She knows to do everything, flying ships, fighting the best; but her backstory was that she was a trash picker during all her life, so, when did she learn how to do all these things?. The term is more a hole of the plot and not a critic to the character per se.

    • Jorge

      Hi : (Google sends me here btw)
      Exactly and it kills the character building.
      For example Luke. The first trilogy builds the character of Luke, from a young countryman to a full-fledged Jedi while Rey, who is Rey anyways?. We know nothing about her, it’s not explained, exposed and nobody asks for it.

      However, people are unfair. While Rey is a so-so character but do you know who is an awful character?: Kylo Ren. He is a third-class-Dart Vader that it hurts.

  14. Mr. Miller

    Let’s be fair here. The major problem people will have with a Mary, Gary, or Larry is the fact that they are perfect individuals with no flaws or apparent weaknesses, and are always morally correct and wins in everything they do with no repercussions. And if someone does try to punish them, the look punisher is always either misguided ornwholly evil.

    Batman is not an example of a Gary Stu, because he is not well liked among the people and politicians, and is explicitly a cold and calculating character, who has good morals but executes his ideas an arguably immoral way.

    Katniss from the Starving Entertainment Extravaganza, can not be a Mary Sue, because though she is betrayed as a nearly perfect character near the end of the series, she is very inexperienced and flawed with the first book, so it reflects growth rather than random perfection.

    But, a good example of a Mary Sue would be Batwoman in the recent trailer. Keep in mind, I have not watched the series, but only saw the trailer when it gained noticeable and bad publicity. In the trailer, she is depicted as a charming, independent, and outspoken woman who can easily beat up a large group of men twice her size with little difficulty, and virtue-signals how women can be just as strong if not stronger than men. Everyone who disagreed with her was seen as either patriarchal or bigoted, if either blatantly or implied.

    A good Male example of a Gary Stu in pop culture is Edward from the main book, because though he is extremely weird and socially awkward, still garners the attention of the masses, and the jealousy of men. He easily woos any woman he happens to talk to even though he would come off as a weird figure in reality, and is incredibly strong and dangerous due to being a vampire. The only noticeable flaw is that he wishes to suck the blood from his lover, but also is able to restrain himself from doing so unless an antagonistic figure forces him to do so. Another character that could be considered a Gary is Harry Potter (HPMOR), Percy Jackson, Ender from the Ender’s Saga (arguably), Richard Raul from Sword of Truth, possibly Gon from HxH, Rand al’Thor from The Wheel of Time, the Prince of Arrows (though a side character and definitely intentional and neccessary for the plot, God I love Mark Lawrence) from the incredibly well written Broken Empire Trilogy, Kvothe from the Kingkiller Chronicles (arguably, but in my opinion), Tavi from Codex Alera, and I think I’m forgetting some.

    And while female characters often do get this treatment much more often than Male characters, this doesn’t mean we should stop calling out Mary Sue characters. It simply means that we have to be unbiased when it comes to judging characters for being too good.

    Nobody can relate to a perfect character, and it’s a reason why I find myself quiting a movie series, TV drama, anime, or a book series extremely often. It’s this main reason why I find authors like Mark Lawrence and Scott Lynch to be amazing, for they can build an enticing world while managing to make incredibly skilled and intelligent protagonist with a deep enough character for him/her to actually develop and grow through their series. Prince Jalan from the Red Queens War trilogy is possibly my favorite character in literature ever, because though he is a handsome, fit and charismatic, he is a self-aware coward who finds no shame in his incredible ability to flee, and is an absolute cad.

    • Cay Reet

      Which is why this article says ‘retire the term Mary Sue and use something more precise and less gendered and inequal to critizise characters who need critique.’

      Over-glorified, over-powered, over-competent, over-candied are all expressions which do not come gendered or have been bandied around like ‘Mary Sue’ was. Any character can be over-glorified (adored by the masses for no apparent reason, for instance), over-powered (the kind to defeat the villain with one snap of their fingers), over-competent (a savant who covers every science field and can repair a hyper drive with a chewing gum), or over-candied (having all the good strength without any weaknesses).

      • Bubbles

        While I understand your point about being specific, I don’t get the claims about “Mary Sue” being sexist against women (and I’m female). The term was invented by a woman, and while it is possible for women to be misogynists, there doesn’t seem to be evidence that Paula Smith was one. The reason it’s gendered is because it’s referring to a character type that is more often female than male (and male versions tend to have different sorts of traits precisely due to cultural gender stereotypes). There, to me at least, doesn’t seem to be anything sexist about facts about statistics (even if the statistics themselves may result from sexism). Most fan fiction writers are women, and these types of characters are often idealized versions of the author.

        • Cay Reet

          The term was invented by a woman and originally meant as a parody for all the over-the-top self-inserts in fan fiction. Don’t get me wrong, had it stayed that and only that, there wouldn’t be a problem. But Mary Sue has left the haven of fan fiction a long time ago and is regularly in use when it comes to judging regular characters in regular media.

          The problem is that female characters are more likely to be called a ‘Mary Sue’ because a lot of character traits are considered perfectly fine for male characters (right up to over-the-top self-insert in many ways), but are considered a ‘Mary Sue’ when displayed by female characters. It’s gendered, because female characters aren’t allowed the same level of badassery or awesomeness than male characters and that is a problem all in itself, because it helps keep those very stereotypes alive.

          If your Mary Sue is so horribly over-powered, -candied, etc. that he or she breaks the story (takes all tension out of it, because they are perfect in every way and can solve every problem easily), then it’s perfectly fine to call them a Mary Sue. However, a female version of Batman would be called a Mary Sue by a large number of people, whereas only relatively few people call Batman a Mary Sue (or Gary Stu or whatever male term you want to apply). The skills and the background stay the same, only the pronoun changes and suddenly that character is considered a ‘badly written’ character which should be removed from the narrative.

          The problem is that ‘Mary Sue’ is a term used in a lot of different ways by a lot of different people, too. There are those who use it strictly as it was originally coined. Only for characters so over-perfected that they break the story and don’t allow for any real tension to build. That they can do everything and will never fail and are loved by all. There are also those who use it as an umbrella term for badly-written characters (which is another use, even though it already is less helpful, because there are many ways a character can be badly-written and for the writer, another way of critizing them would be more helpful). There are, however, also those who see a female character who dares to have a similar level of competence than a male equivalent and point their finger screaming “Mary Sue!” at the top of their voices. They are the real reason why the term should be retired in favour of something less gendered, to make clear that the gender of a character has no bearing on whether or not they can be that way, only their influence on the story has.

          Gendered words for specific characters make us think the characters should have a specific gender, too. As the term ‘Hero’ conjures up the picture of a usually white male character, when it’s not accompanied by description or different pronouns. It’s not just Mary Sue, but the term is horribly overused and has lost its original meaning for a lot of people.

  15. Fred

    At least in the anime community, any unreasonably overpowered character who is written poorly is bound to be hated, male or female. In fact, because of the abundance of male protagonists, you could reasonably assume that “Mary Sue” is used more often for males (or they’re just slandered for being garbage characters). It’s the reason Sword Art Online is largely hated. The same re-used plot BS creating an irritating Male Mary Sue (or Gary Stu, whichever you prefer).

    Of course in other genres, and I’m sorry to break it to you, but most “strong female characters” are literally the terminator with tits. It’s a bit hard to find well written strong female characters that don’t exist as a token to… I honestly don’t know… maybe flip 90s Duke Nukem type characters? (Not so popular.) Someone who isn’t a Mary Sue, but is a very strong female character, is the protagonist of Alien (forget her name sorry).

    TL;DR, if you want “Mary Sue” to go away, then stop people from writing Mary Sue’s.

    • Cay Reet

      It doesn’t take the same amount of over-poweredness to be labelled a ‘Mary Sue’ for a female and a male character. Luke Skywalker, Batman, and James Bond all fit the frame, but are rarely, if ever, called Mary Sues (or Gary Stus). Yet, I bet with you that every character who is ‘Luke Skywalker, Batman, or James Bond, but female’ will be termed a ‘Mary Sue’ within five minutes after going public.

      I agree that a lot of ‘strong female characters’ are merely physically strong and have no deeper characteristics (yet, to get back to the first point, I’ve not heard the Terminator referred to as ‘Mary Sue’, either). Ripley (the character from Alien) was originally written as a man, as it were, but casting choices were different (mostly because all character only had one name) and they ran with it. Sarah Connor from the ‘Terminator’ franchise would be a strong woman, same goes for Xena. Both also have physical strength, but not only that. Yet a character like the often-despised Harriet Jones in Doctor Who who makes the hard choices, no matter what people think of her, are also strong in their own way.

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