The three labels of doom

I have a new post up at Pegasus Pulp, which is basically a follow-up to yesterday’s post.

In other news, I ended up teaching geography today, substituting for the regular teacher, even though geography not my subject at all. Hence I told eighth graders about tectonics and earthquakes and volcanoes and tsunamis – or rather I had the eighth graders tell me what they knew about these subjects. After all, they’re the ones who will be writing a test on those things, not me.

In August, several writers and bloggers discussed how the term “Mary Sue” has become misused to the point that any female character runs the risk of being accused of Mary Sueism. You can read my contribution with link round-up here and here.

Now Shanna Swendson offers her take on the Mary Sue discussion and agrees pretty much with what everybody else said. She also makes another important point, namely that every woman, both real and fictional, who has a healthy sense of self-esteem and is not self-effacing to the extreme runs the risk of being called a bitch. And indeed you can see the “bitch” criticism applied to plenty of female characters, often in conjunction with the Mary Sue criticism.

The two-pronged take-down of female characters by labeling them as a Mary Sue on the one hand and a bitch on the other and sometimes both at once is particularly toxic for young women, because it tells them that if they are good at something or even awesome, it’s just wish fulfillment and makes them this obnoxious person that no one likes. And heaven beware that they actually know they’re awesome and that they refuse to take shit from men – then they become a bitch.

Let’s not forget the third prong of attack: Because if those young women happen to enjoy sex and set about to get it in any other way than strict monogamy, they are immediately labeled as sluts.

If a female character is particularly unlucky (e.g. Anita Blake or Gwen Cooper from Torchwood) she’ll get hit with all three accusations at once. Meanwhile, James Bond can be a bastard, a manslut and a blatant Mary Sue and no one bats an eyelid.

Sometimes, women just cannot win.

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