1. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    The reader and sexism

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Alesia, Sep 22, 2013.

    Is it just me, or do alot of readers seem somewhat sexist agaist female protags in like military and PA adventure type stories? I always run a character bio and physical description past a varying panel of people from all walks of life to test if it's a character worth writing or not and I've noticed a disturbing trend: Any male MC will be greeted with great enthusiasm. All my female MC's on the other hand are immediately deemed "Mary Sue." But here's the thing, and why I call it sexist. I recently presented a character bio to my panel (male MC) and like I said, there was the rash of 'that's cool, etc.." Then I presented the EXACT same bio, just changed the male name to female and immediately got "She's so Mary Sue." I mean, what's up with that?
     
  2. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    Duchess-Yukine-Suoh Girl #21 Contributor

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    Readers are extremely hard on females because most readers are lonely females. Girls are incredibly critical of one another. Female MC's got a talent?MARY SUE. Is she nice? MARY SUE. If a male is nice and has talents, girls will go gaga over him because they all want to date him. Girls, not so much. You just have to overcome it. There are many females with actual brains out there (like me and some girls I know) who understand that she is not a Mary Sue. Most of my girl OCs would be considered Mary Sues by the people who called your OCs Mary Sues.

    Make your female ugly or at the very least, plain. They will all love her.
     
  3. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Talk about sexist. Wow. I really hope that was meant to be tongue in cheek.

    To the OP - I would suggest getting a different set of readers if they are continually yelling "Mary Sue!". I will admit that I don't care for the many female protags who appear to be a cloned "Wonder Woman", but many of my favorite MCs are female, in 'non-traditional' jobs, capable, talented, etc.
     
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  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Mary Sue is one of those comments most often thrown out by people who don't know what they are talking about and find it easy to repeat something they've read or heard. I wouldn't pay much attention to it. I think the idea of running a character past a panel of people so you can decide whether the character is worth writing is a bad one to begin with.
     
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  5. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    Duchess-Yukine-Suoh Girl #21 Contributor

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    Yes, yes it was.( I failed a bit, ahaha.) Point I was trying to make: People will criticize your work because critical people are critical. If they're not your target audience, don't listen to them. If they are,.......
    ............................
    ...........................
    listen to the other people on here! Yay! :oops:
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    both male protagonists and male authors have historically been more preferred by the reading public than female ones... which is only natural in a male-run world where women have been kept in the back of the bus for millennia...

    as a practicing philosopher of many years who is constantly watching what goes on in this world, i don't see that being reversed, as long as the male half of our species exists... though in modern times, females have made some gains in the more 'enlightened' parts of the planet, males will continue to have the upper hand and even most female readers will continue to prefer reading about their 'other half' as is also written by them...
     
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  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    These readers' opinions seem to be heavily influenced by their ideas of traditional gender roles (i.e., they prefer women stick to certain roles within literature). While we can have a lengthy discussion about this topic, I would just like to say that literature in general and school curriculum are partly to blame. For a long time, literature was a male-dominated field. Most of the classics we read in school were written by males (dead, white males to be exact) and had more male characters than female characters. There were a few female writers who I think did an excellent job of portraying not only good female characters but challenging the notion of what it means to be a woman (George Eliot comes to mind). However, like I said, most of the books we read in school aren't written by women and don't have a strong female protagonist.

    Anyway, I think you should find other readers and get their opinions. Also, getting people to give their opinions about a character bio isn't really going to help you. Readers should be able to see what your characters experience and how they respond to those experiences. That's more indicative of whether or not your characters are any good.
     
  8. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I think the point about this not being useful is the salient one @thirdwind

    1) something as fundamental as character is something the author should decide herself;

    2) as shown here, there is no guarantee the people you are asking will have any idea what they are talking about; and

    3) there's no such thing as a character not worth writing about. It's all how well you execute it.

    Beginning writers spend way too much time asking for feedback on fundamental things like story ideas and character concepts.
     
  9. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Sexism certainly still exists heavily in our world, so I can't say I'm surprised. For yourself though, just write your characters as you please - the readers who want a male protag will read the ones with a male protag, and the ones who want the female protag will read the female protag. What I mean is, what you choose to write doesn't really matter - there'll always be someone out there who'd "prefer" one or the other.

    For myself, I know I'm sorta guilty of preferring male protags myself simply because that allows me to fancy the character, but that's not to say I don't read female protags, I certainly do. The MC's gender doesn't affect whether I read something usually. However I am guilty of generally preferring to write male protags for similar reasons lol.
     
  10. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Tell us something new, Alesia. Female protags often get a harsher treatment. That's also been the case with mine and T's beta readers, considering our stories are often very "female centered."

    But I think the author has to sometimes take a good hard look in the mirror if they're continuously told by several people that their characters are mary sues or whatever instead of credible heroines with strengths and weaknesses.
     
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  11. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    But first, @KaTrian, the writer has to make a threshold determination of what kind of character they want to write, and they should make that decision themselves. There are plenty of successful Maru Sue characters. If that's what you want to write, write it. It's a problem when a writer stumbles into it unwittingly.
     
  12. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    A successful Mary Sue sounds like a successful info dump. Isn't the whole idea of the label that it's a one-dimensional character, possibly written as some wish-fulfillment of the writer, in particular prevalent in fan fiction. However, I think it can definitely be enjoyable if poked fun at, to me anyway.

    The unwitting stumbling can happen though. Sometimes one becomes narrow-sighted with their character, loses the big picture, and the end result can turn out to be something one never intended it to be. I'd just be wary of dismissing such comments as sexism if they come left and right, which wasn't exactly the case with the OP, especially if he did the test too, but I've come across such cases who've labeled me a sexist 'cause I've done things like pointed out that when I wrestled guys twice my size (or more: I was 110lbs and one guy was around 250lbs with very little body fat) when me and T trained Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: you learn your limitations very quickly in situations like that. Some call that being a misogynist/sexist, I call it being realistic.

    As for women receiving harsher criticism in literature; mine and T's WIP has female and male action protags. The man was never deemed too perfect, while the woman seemed to be in need of flaws or else she came off too perfect and unrealistic.
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's possible that both male and female characters are reasonable, and that your readers like their female characters frilly and helpless.

    It's possible that both male and female characters are over-powered, and that your readers like their male characters unrealistic and bristling with power--until they get into a story where everything's strangely boring, as things usually are with overpowered characters.

    So while I certainly wouldn't suggest that you sex-segregate your characters in terms of power, I would suggest that you consider the possibility that everybody's over-powered.
     
  14. Edward M. Grant
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    Edward M. Grant Contributing Member

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    You may not like it, but men and women are different. If you're just taking a male character and changing the name, they're a man in drag, not a woman, which is probably why people are calling them a 'Mary Sue'.

    People who read military fiction are probably well aware of the tawdry history of women in the military, and therefore among the least likely to accept a female character who can beat up three trained male soldiers without breaking a sweat. At least if you're writing modern military fiction, rather than SF with cyborgs or genetic modifications which eliminate the physical difference between genders.
     
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  15. Tara
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    Tara Contributing Member

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    As others already mentioned simply changing the name of a character from male to female won't make a realistic female character. For example: where men usually rely on strength women don't, that's not sexism; that's nature. So if you want a woman capable of standing her groud don't make her capable of beating up three guys because she's so strong, make her master one of the martial arts, or something else that's based on using an opponents strength agains him/her instead of being strong yourself.

    If you'll look at the people considering a character to be a Mary-Sue you'll probably notice those are mostly other women. As a girl I can say most women don't like anyone who's better/stronger/smarter/prettier than they are, it's probably because it won't make them look as good (I'm not saying all women are like that, I'm just saying from what I've seen most are).
    And if you've learned your history well you'll know that women have been pictured as weak, vulnerable and not as important for a long time. It's a tradition and despite the relatively recent changes when it comes to gender roles many people still tend to see women as less important than men. Therefore stronger and independent women will be judged, both in literature and in real life.
     
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  16. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Even if your post was (partly?) in jest, to this I'd have to say: they won't, even. We've also encountered this issue with KaTrian, regarding our current WIP. In it are two MCs, both in the military, both tall, muscular, strong, capable fighters, etc. The female is described to be very plain, i.e. definitely not beautiful. The guy is relatively good-looking, but, being older and far more experienced, he's the superior fighter of the two and the female MC's team leader.

    Nobody has ever called him too perfect, but a couple of people (one of them a man, incidentally) have called the female MC a Mary Sue. Personally, I don't see it: I set out to write a physically very gifted character (seeing as how such humans actually exist, I've even known a few), but with weaknesses on the mental/social side of things, so it's not like she's perfect and she makes quite a few mistakes over the course of her military career, some even costing lives. Maybe to some that's the definition of a Mary Sue, but to me it reeks of sexism when there's a far more perfect male character in the same story (two, actually), yet nobody has ever accused them of being too perfect (even though neither is nowhere near as perfect as, say, Sandman Slim).
     
  17. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, when talking about action stories, most characters are pretty ridiculous. Take a man who is extremely capable in physical confrontations (absurd) and replace it with a female (maybe slightly more absurd?) and you're going to get complaints.

    I'm going to break my own rules and use films as an example here. Hillary Swank's characters are good female MCs.

    Even better, and my personal favorite heroine, is Grace Kelly from Rear Window, who plays the epitome of female.

    Case in point, probably a lot of the roles that readers won't accept females in are also roles that aren't realistic for males, either.
     
  18. Edward M. Grant
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    Edward M. Grant Contributing Member

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    Most of the ex-military men I've known were muscular, strong and more than capable of kicking my ass with one hand tied behind their backs. Maybe both hands tied behind their backs. Most of the ex-military women I've known were probably also capable of kicking my ass, but that's because of their combat training. None of them were muscular and strong, when compared to even average men.

    So long as men and women are genetically different, and soldiers aren't wearing Heinlein-style power armour, that's life. That doesn't mean you can't put a strong and muscular woman into your story, but readers are immediately going to see you've picked someone who's probably in the top 0.01% of her gender, and some will complain about that. No-one will complain about a strong and muscular male soldier, because that's what they expect to see.
     
  19. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I wouldn't say a man who is extremely capable in physical confrontations is absurd. I know quite a few of them. I've even trained with/been taught by a couple. Granted, when facing overwhelming odds, they haven't suddenly started shooting lasers out of their eyes; they've gotten seriously hurt, but that doesn't change the fact that some of them are basically real life super men. None of them are invincible though; they go down from a headshot just like the next guy.

    I'd say it all depends on how you write it: do you go for realism (which is far more toned down as far as flash goes, but is uglier and much more unpredictable than its Hollywoodian counterpart) or fantastic?

    It's my belief that since such men exist, it's not that big of a stretch to have similar females. Granted, their approach would likely sometimes differ, at least if they are notably smaller in size than most men, but that doesn't change the fact that it's doable, especially in this day and age when we have the great equalizers at our disposal. So in this context, I'd argue the adage "it's not what you do, it's how you do it" applies.
     
  20. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Five capable fighters vs MC. Most likely not happening in the real world.
     
  21. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, I get that. The thing is, some stories I write are about regular joes and janes. Some are about the exceptions to the rule, and this includes both sexes. I just dislike the notion that you should never write exceptions: all your characters must represent the average. I know you're not saying that here, so I'm not aiming it at you when I say "fuck that." I also accept that some will cry "Mary Sue!" no matter what I do, but that doesn't change the fact that I think it's stupid and not called for in nearly every such incident.
     
  22. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The key words being "most likely." It all depends on the details: are the fighters unarmed? If not, what weapons does each participant have? How well is each person trained in its use as well as in the use of their own bodies in combat? Is there a difference in the skill levels of the fighters, and if so, how big of a difference? Where are they fighting (i.e. is it a level field, a narrow staircase, or what?)? What's each participant's condition (i.e. is someone drunk, high, wounded, extremely fatigued etc?). How did the fight start (i.e. was the MC ambushed or did he ambush the five capable fighers or did it start off as a 5 vs. 1 duel, or what?)? There's an infinite number of variants you can add to the equation and they all affect the level of credibility of the scene.

    Example: if the five capable fighters are sleeping, the highly trained and very experienced (e.g. years of diligent training as an army sniper, has won a few IPSC rifle tournaments etc) MC creeps over with a well-built AR-15, and starts blasting the sleeping guys, I wouldn't see it as utterly non-believable if he actually did manage to kill the five capable fighters. Now, if you reverse the situation, and the MC still comes out on top, it probably won't go over well.

    Or the situation might be something less biased towards either side, in which case everything changes again, and the level of credibility depends on the mix of details in the scene. One of the aforementioned irl supermen got his ass kicked by three very capable blokes. Another one fought five with his buddy (no firearms involved, but there was a crowbar and knives) and they came out on top even though the super man-guy got a cracked skull and several other more or less nasty injuries as a result. Yet he survived and is still perfectly capable of dishing out pain. So, again, it's all about the details of the scene.
     
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  23. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, depending on what details we want to the add, the situation will become either more or less extreme.

    Situation 1, in my mind, is much more extreme than situation 2, where the added friend and weapons leads for more credible alternatives.
     
  24. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yup. The problem with sit1 was that he was attacked, i.e. he didn't throw the first blow. I do know for a fact that he has fought multiple opponents in other occasions, some of them pretty badass (one was a thai boxer with steel toed boots and he knew how to use them), but the trick was to attack first, either with a weapon or without, the former option making his life much easier because e.g. using a sap or a blackjack, you can put down one guy with one blow, and if you're the first to go from speech to action, you may well drop 2/3 of your opponents before the last one realizes what's going on.

    Cunning is one of the key factors in situations like that. The same guy, working as a bouncer in a rowdy area, had a training version of an OC can (it had only water inside). When two guys didn't want to leave the bar (after raising some hell), this guy came in shouting nonsense and waving the training OC around before he sprayed one of the guys. He went down, crying like a baby about how his eyes burned. :D Anyway, after that he only needed to deal with the one remaining guy whom he floored and soon his bouncer buddies got there and took care of the still groaning "spray victim."

    Cunning is something that comes from experience and/or it's taught to you, but it's perhaps the most important aspect of fighting because often you're just physically too closely matched with your antagonist (or you're at a disadvantage); that's when you just need to be sneakier, more cunning, and more ruthless.
    This is not to say that fighting is easy, just to indicate that a physically capable character is definitely not absurd as long as the parameters of the situation don't put him into an unsurvivable situation (he's unarmed against 100 ninjas while a timed A-bomb is ticking away from 3 to 0 behind the ninjas).

    And since at least some women have the capacity to make themselves almost or equally formidable as fighters (as these supermen, since the guy who fought off five armed dudes with his friend is 5'9 and 150lbs soaking wet), I wouldn't say such a female character would be absurd either as long as the parameters (which include her level of training, mentality etc.) yadda yadda...
     
  25. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, I was talking about the situations in popular fiction ;)
     

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