Some speculation. Full disclosure: I am not deeply into any fandom. Even though I strongly support fanfiction and think it’s awesome, it’s possible I don’t truly understand some of the issues at hand.
So, I’ve been reading the metafandom community on livejournal, and issues that come up over and over center around these related questions:
“Why do we hate / what’s wrong with Mary Sues?”
“Are we really antifeminists and racists for writing about white men? We’re women; we should write about women. And, like, more black people. Should we feel bad about this?”
These issues are related. Mary Sues occur when a fanfiction writer creates a new character, or adapts an existing one, to be her avatar. She’s often too perfect and rather undeveloped, and a lot of people hate Mary Sues and bash other fanfiction writers for writing them.
It’s not hard to understand the impulse for Mary Sue — if I’d just read Twilight and I longed to be a part of that world, I’d go ahead and write myself in. That’s part of what fanfiction is about. There are Serious Writers in fanfiction, a lot of them, but there are also simply fans who love the original material so much they want to make it come alive for themselves again.
By writing a Mary Sue, they’re saying, “what if I was still the same, and Twilight was actually my reality?” Of course, writing yourself in makes you tremendously vulnerable, so they often try to throw people off the scent by killing themselves off, or making their Mary Sue annoying or over the top, etc. See? It’s not really them. But still, the meta-message is, “I’m special enough to enter this world that I love.”
Why people hate her.
It’s not real. It couldn’t ever happen. Of course, none of the fandoms are real, and no-one believes it is, but when an obvious self-insertion happens, the purists in the audience revolt. They are looking for the truth-in-story, and they believe they’ll get there closer by only using the existing characters, in character. These kinds of readers hate Mary Sue possibly because she represents real life intruding on the story world.
Writing about WASP men.
The lore goes, fandom is mostly made of educated females who are attracted to men. From my own experience in both a small liberal arts college and a big state diploma mill, I got the impression that most college-educated women were white. Yes, I did have friends that were not white, but if I looked around at my cafeteria, there was vastly more pasty ivory than brown.
People write stories that are natural reflections of their life experiences. If you grew up in a white family, and went to a mostly-white high school and college, it’s not a shock that you’d write about white people. It’s not a crime! You aren’t racist just because you aren’t black, or Mexican, or whatever.
There’s also the fact that most TV shows have mostly white people, still, accompanied by the token minority characters. Then again, I haven’t watched TV in many years; maybe I’m wrong about this.
Write what you know?
I’m of two minds about this.
- If a writer is not black / Asian / female / male, how can he-she-it possibly have the cultural authority to write about it? Isn’t it appropriation / fetishization for a white writer to do a story about life on the streets as a Mexican gangster?
- Writers are imaginative and inherently have the ability to understand people, regardless of sex or species. I’m pretty sure Bram Stoker never was a vampire or a woman, and yet he managed to do pretty well with those characters.
I can understand why most of fandom likes it over F/M and F/F — they’re women! They’re attracted to men! It’s hard to write any erotic story if you are not excited by it, yourself.
Write what turns you on!
Most women I know aren’t attracted by the idea of having sex with other women. Some of them have tried it, and the response is, “Eh, I came, but it didn’t do that much for me.” I don’t expect a female writer to write good F/F if the idea doesn’t do it for her — I expect that her best stories will come out of what she is emotionally passionate about, and what turns her on. In fandom, I expect that the male characters will turn her on more than the female characters, since she is probably attracted to men more than women.
Don’t write to prove a point or push an agenda — it won’t result in good art.
In my writer’s group, a lot of people are “trying to get into” something, whether it’s horror, science fiction, etc. It’s because they think those genres are cool, and they want to be cool by being in the scene, just like learning to play guitar so you can pick up chicks. It’s externally motivated by how they want people will think of them as writers, and the way they’d like to think of themselves.
But it usually results in poor storytelling because they aren’t really passionate about what they’re writing. They try to write dark, gritty stuff but don’t have a keen interest in the “thin ice of life,” as Steven King says. “Be yourself,” is always the advice given.
A word about women characters in popular entertainment…
This being said, I’d be blind not to notice that even “strong women” in entertainment, especially movies and TV, are still often defined by what men think of them. They’re like men, but in a sexy chick body. These heroines are admired because of traits usually seen as masculine, often despite their unfortunate female status, and this evaluation happens both within the story world and with real life.
The way I’ve seen it, women characters are depicted as women first, and people second. But this is not the fault of only the writers — women, in real life, also classify themselves as women first, people second. I see it all over author bios, especially of romance writers:
“I’m married to a wonderful man and am the mother of n fabulous children…” Or, slightly more modern:
“I’m a mom, writer, coffee drinker, and avid reader… not necessarily in that order.”
Anyway, I’m not surprised that female fans don’t resonate with most of the female characters found on TV and in the movies. Being a male protagonist is not remarkable, and it’s easier to see beyond the male-type machine into the unique character within (or make up the uniqueness!) than it is for female protagonists, especially if you’re sensitive about your own place in society as a person with a female-type machine.
Write what you like to write. I don’t think you’re being racist or sexist by writing about white men. I don’t think you’re antifeminist by not writing F/F, and I don’t think your uncool if you aren’t really into horror or science fiction, but want to write Mary Sue-ish romance instead. Only by being true to ourselves as unique beings will we make race/gender a non-issue.
http://community.livejournal.com/metafandom/288622.html?#cutid1 -> roundup of posts