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Male Mary-Sues / too-perfect heroes
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Nana



Joined: 02 Apr 2007
Posts: 948

PostPosted: Thu Aug 28, 2008 7:35 pm    Post subject: Male Mary-Sues / too-perfect heroes Reply with quote

When we meet a heroine who wakes up beautiful, who eats like a horse and is built like a bird, who's a blushing virgin, a perfect mother, and a passionate courtesan all at the same time, most readers think, AAACK, Mary Sue! Get this woman some flaws!

And yet when we meet a man who is jaw-droppingly handsome, exquisitely built, and nauseatingly rich, who can dance, who has a perfect fashion sense for men and women, who runs international megacorporations but never has unavoidable scheduling conflicts, who can give the heroine intense multiple orgasms before sex even starts, and who finds the heroine infinitely wonderful in spite of any mistakes she may ever make, we say, "Wow, what a dreamboat." (Roarke leaps to mind as the number-one offender in this category, but there's a lot more).

Why do we permit and even long for flagrantly unrealistic perfection in men and reject a heroine in the same mold? I don't even know if there is a word for a male Mary Sue.
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Elizabeth Rolls



Joined: 26 Mar 2007
Posts: 1086
Location: Australia

PostPosted: Thu Aug 28, 2008 7:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Possibly because we want to marry the guy and kill the woman??

My guess is that it's the whole identification thing. We identify with the heroine of the story so if she's too perfect we don't like it. Perhaps we subconsciously - or in my case, consciously - know that we can't measure up. The guy on the other hand is pure fantasy. We aren't identifying with him so his perfections don't irritate us in quite the same visceral way. In our fantasy he'll love us despite our imperfections. There's a pertinent scene in Pride and Prejudice where Darcy is outlining his version of the perfect woman in terms of her accomplishments and Elizabeth B pricks his bubble by telling him that there is no such woman. In Regency terms Darcy's fantasy accomplished woman is a complete Mary Sue - you'd want to put out her eyes with a knitting needle. In the end of course he falls in love with the very imperfect Lizzie who can make a crashing mistake as well as the next girl and is not overly talented at the pianoforte.

Elizabeth R - who doesn't really want to marry the guy because in real life he'd have zero patience with her . . . eccentricities.
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xina



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 6635
Location: minneapolis

PostPosted: Thu Aug 28, 2008 8:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

[quote="Elizabeth Rolls"]Possibly because we want to marry the guy and kill the woman??




No...sorry, don't want to marry the guy and my hat's off to the heroine. And I'm not a Roarke fan either. I like the flawed hero. Always have...always will. xina
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Allyson



Joined: 23 Mar 2007
Posts: 567

PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2008 2:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Personally, I like flawed characters, male and female! Too perfect heroines or heroes (yep, Roarke is a big offender...love the series despite, not because, of him) just grate. Though, I find that heroes and heroines in romance novels are 'perfect' in different ways, so some readers might be aggravated by one but not the other.

Perfect heroines are usually beautiful, endlessly patient, the sort of 'Cinderella' type that animals and children love on sight. They grate because they are too sickeningly sweet, at least to me! So very martyrish. And any fault they have is portrayed like..we're supposed to see it as adorable, and not really a 'flaw' at all (like, oh, she's clumsy, or whatnot). Also, she is beautiful without the need for makeup, and is often compared favourably to the 'other woman' who cares about how she looks.

Perfect heroes are also beautiful, but tend to be really rich and THE BEST at anything. Never catch a hero coming in second best at anything! I find there's often a lot of 'telling, not showing' with perfect heroes--we get people coming out of the woodwork and complimenting him on his attractiveness. He often is seen to show up other guys for no reason other than to prove to the reader he's really really cool.

I find both really annoying, but that's just me--I don't really *get* it when readers talk about liking 'the fantasy' of the perfect hero, or wanting a flawless heroine to identify with.
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Retrograde



Joined: 23 Feb 2008
Posts: 458

PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2008 4:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't like that "perfect" guy - I find it a little creepy! Maybe that's why Roarke put me off so much. He's like an alien.
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Schola



Joined: 10 Jun 2007
Posts: 1867

PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2008 6:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

+IHS+

Nana wrote:
I don't even know if there is a word for a male Mary Sue.


Let this FF reader expand your vocabulary for you, Nana. Cool

The word is: Gary Stu.

Retrograde wrote:
I don't like that "perfect" guy - I find it a little creepy! Maybe that's why Roarke put me off so much. He's like an alien.


Laughing I've never read an In Death book, so I don't know Roark.

What does everyone think of the Cynster men, then? They seem pretty perfect to me.

Nana wrote:
Why do we permit and even long for flagrantly unrealistic perfection in men and reject a heroine in the same mold?


Well, I know that I don't long for it!

In another thread, I've gone on and on about how I find it hard to believe that a certain hero remained faithful to the heroine for the rest of their marriage. I think it's because that hero strikes me as incredibly perfect. He's handsome, intelligent, polished, thoughtful, interesting, responsible, loyal (well, to his friends, at least), gentle, and so on and so forth . . . I don't see him being satisfied with a woman who isn't also perfect--and his heroine certainly wasn't!
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sandilib



Joined: 09 Jul 2008
Posts: 388
Location: Ontario

PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2008 8:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is not exactly related, but this topic made me think of the opposite situation. No Gary Stu Very Happy but rather rabid wolf.

Speaking for myself, and perhaps others have the same feelings, how is it that you can have a hero that is moody, surly, etc... and we are able to accept him or even love him (to a certain extent... I am not talking about total jerk here), BUT when this is applied to the heroine, she is a b*tch. I have read very few books where such a woman does not come across as totally and absolutely unbearable.

Perhaps it's only me, but in general (and in fiction !), I can accept a bad tempered man, but in a woman, it makes her a shrew.

Is it a remnant of our culture, where the man is supposed to be naturally domineering and the woman is supposed to be "nice"? Not that I subscribe to those beliefs in real life, but at my age, I remember enough of the old fashioned thinking of my parents and grandparents.
Regardless of modern enlightment, I find that we cannot totally escape the "values", or ideas, that were instilled in us as kids, even if we don't agree with them. Somewhere, in our subconscious, they are still influencing us... Evil or Very Mad

Am I the only one thinking that way?
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 2510

PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2008 9:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Aw now, ladies, perfect or imperfect, we fellows just do the best we can to be loveable. And, hey, remember that romance is by women, about women, and for women, right?

to Schola: You're really stubborn about poor Nicholas!
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Niftybergin



Joined: 27 Mar 2007
Posts: 1096

PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2008 9:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I might got shot here, but...

Sometimes I feel like women are a little misogynistic. Sounds contrary, doesn't it? But maybe that misogyny (that I perceive) comes from the fact that most of us are so hard on ourselves. Isn't that a fundamentally female trait to some extent: to be self-critical? And I think that just as we often feel critical of ourselves, we also feel critical of other women. We may not VOCALIZE those criticisms, but we may think them.

I think we tend to think of other women as being our competition or some standard to which we must compare ourselves. Like...you often hear women say that they don't dress up for men (even THEIR men), they dress up for women. They want to look good so that they look good compared to the other women. There was an episode on Ally McBeal...right after Portia DaRossi started. All the women in the lawfirm were intimidated by her beauty and sexiness and her appeal to the men. There was a scene where Portia was on one side of the room and Ally and her friends were on the other and they were watching Portia and they said, "We hate her, don't we?" and all the women agreed that yes, they hated Portia. There was another episode on that show in which one of the characters -- Courtney Thorne-Smith's character -- admitted that part of her issue with Ally and others is that Courtney was long accustomed to thinking of herself as the prettiest of her friends, and she had a hard time coping with a threat to that perception. And we do this. You know that awful show on Fox -- The Moment of Truth? If they have a female contestant, they almost always ask her if she thinks she's prettier than her best friend? And often the answer is yes!

Quote:
Speaking for myself, and perhaps others have the same feelings, how is it that you can have a hero that is moody, surly, etc... and we are able to accept him or even love him (to a certain extent... I am not talking about total jerk here), BUT when this is applied to the heroine, she is a b*tch. I have read very few books where such a woman does not come across as totally and absolutely unbearable.

Perhaps it's only me, but in general (and in fiction !), I can accept a bad tempered man, but in a woman, it makes her a shrew.


I remember when Northern Lights by Nora Roberts came out. There was some backlash against the heroine, Meg. She was considered too bitchy...readers disliked her how she expressed her sexuality, thinking that she was too casual or too forward. Same goes for Ripley Todd, another Nora character, who was considered too brusque and mannish. Readers complained that she was abrasive. Same has been said of Eve Dallas: she's abrasive, pissy, prickly. Similar things have been said about Maggie Concannon.

As readers we seem to have issues at times with any female characters who are too strong-willed or ambitious or frank or sexually forward. And interestingly enough, aren't those characteristics that we would TYPICALLY assign to men? We like and expect for our men to be strong-willed, ambitious, frank, and sexually forward (with the heroine, at least), but the same rule doesn't apply to women. Our female characters have to be beautiful...but not TOO beautiful; intelligent...but not TOO intelligent; assertive...not not aggressive or brazen; sensual and sexual...but only with the hero; maternal and tender and supportive...and yet she can't be TOO maternal, tender, and supportive, lest she be considered a throwback to a bygone age.
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sandilib



Joined: 09 Jul 2008
Posts: 388
Location: Ontario

PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2008 10:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Niftybergin wrote:

Sometimes I feel like women are a little misogynistic. ..............I think we tend to think of other women as being our competition or some standard to which we must compare ourselves.
.................As readers we seem to have issues at times with any female characters who are too strong-willed or ambitious or frank or sexually forward. And interestingly enough, aren't those characteristics that we would TYPICALLY assign to men? We like and expect for our men to be strong-willed, ambitious, frank, and sexually forward (with the heroine, at least), but the same rule doesn't apply to women. Our female characters have to be beautiful...but not TOO beautiful; intelligent...but not TOO intelligent; assertive...not not aggressive or brazen; sensual and sexual...but only with the hero; maternal and tender and supportive...and yet she can't be TOO maternal, tender, and supportive, lest she be considered a throwback to a bygone age.


Very well put, and I think quite right. I must agree with you, Niftybergin (and will probably share the same firing squad Confused ). I think that women are often mysogynistic. We definitely are our worst critics (to ourselves and other women).

It takes a very delicate balance, and staying within the realm of fiction, it is quite a challenge for an author to present a heroine that has all those strong "masculine" attributes, while remaining soft, womanly, nurturing, etc...

Really, there is no way to win. If she is too strong, she is a b---h, if she is too perfect, we hate her guts, if she is too nurturing, kind, soft, she is a martyr/wimp/insult to womanhood. Rolling Eyes What to do, what to do.....
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xina



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 6635
Location: minneapolis

PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2008 10:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

As readers we seem to have issues at times with any female characters who are too strong-willed or ambitious or frank or sexually forward. And interestingly enough, aren't those characteristics that we would TYPICALLY assign to men? We like and expect for our men to be strong-willed, ambitious, frank, and sexually forward (with the heroine, at least), but the same rule doesn't apply to women. Our female characters have to be beautiful...but not TOO beautiful; intelligent...but not TOO intelligent; assertive...not not aggressive or brazen; sensual and sexual...but only with the hero; maternal and tender and supportive...and yet she can't be TOO maternal, tender, and supportive, lest she be considered a throwback to a bygone age.[/quote]





Well, I think it's a popular assumption that we as women, when discussing heroines, are jealous of the beautiful, perfect heroine. Personally, I enjoy a heroine that is knock-out gorgeous and if she is written well with a full personality, I enjoy her for all that she is. As for not wanting the heroine to be too assertive, a couple of my favorite heroines of all time are Anna Spinelli from Sea Swept by Nora Roberts (I remember readers thinking her too aggressive because of her various conflicts with Cam...which included plate throwing. Surprised ) and also, Lily Lawson from Then Came You by Lisa Kleypas. I think for the most part readers liked her, but I loved her independence and her sharp personality.
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Susan/DC



Joined: 26 Mar 2007
Posts: 1669

PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2008 2:38 pm    Post subject: Perfect H/H Reply with quote

There's perfect and then there's perfect. I've loved some perfect characters and despised others. Rachel Yoder in Penelope Williamson's The Outsider is perfect: she's beautiful, kind, and passionate. Yet she's also human, subject to doubt and despair. I like her because we see her struggles and can empathize. I also like her because Williamson shows me Rachel's character, she doesn't have other people constantly tell me how wonderful Rachel is. I'm much more likely to want to strangle the character when every other sentence is about the Wonder that is the Hero/Heroine. Instead of telling me s/he is kind, show me how s/he reacts when confronted with someone less well off. Instead of telling me s/he is smart, show me how s/he solves a problem. I think all too often I dislike "perfect" characters precisely because the author has given me no hard evidence to make me believe the character is, in fact, perfect, merely hearsay.
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jebe



Joined: 24 Mar 2007
Posts: 823
Location: Jersey

PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2008 3:21 pm    Post subject: Re: Perfect H/H Reply with quote

Susan/DC wrote:
I think all too often I dislike "perfect" characters precisely because the author has given me no hard evidence to make me believe the character is, in fact, perfect, merely hearsay.


Bravo, very well put, Susan/DC!
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Nana



Joined: 02 Apr 2007
Posts: 948

PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2008 7:22 pm    Post subject: Re: Perfect H/H Reply with quote

Susan/DC wrote:
I'm much more likely to want to strangle the character when every other sentence is about the Wonder that is the Hero/Heroine. Instead of telling me s/he is kind, show me how s/he reacts when confronted with someone less well off. Instead of telling me s/he is smart, show me how s/he solves a problem. I think all too often I dislike "perfect" characters precisely because the author has given me no hard evidence to make me believe the character is, in fact, perfect, merely hearsay.


I'll second that and add another - I dislike the metrics by which "perfection" is measured. I don't think of myself as a bad person, and yet I would not feel compelled to take a grungy young chimney sweep back to my home. My immediate reaction to the hero's horrible children is not, "Aww, they've lost their mother," but rather "Wow, these kids are nasty little brats." (I always loved Maria in Sound of Music for this one... making them cry was pure genius).

And thinking about the question of misogyny... I don't mind women who are sexually forward (many Emma Holly heroines spring to mind). I do mind women who are sexually casual. And you know what? That's just my personal preference. I read romance because I like to see the characters take it seriously. I don't like Dukes of Slut, either, for the same reason. And I love a good wiseass, which I think is my term for bitch - Anita Blake before she jumped the shark, Eve Dallas sometimes, some old Jennifer Crusie heroines - up until the point when the wiseassedness becomes shorthand for "Gee, isn't my heroine all cool and feminist?" or turns into, "Damn, girl, now you're just mean. And maybe you shouldn't deliver the perfect one-liner at the guy holding a gun on you. It's funny but kind of TSTL. Just a thought."
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willaful



Joined: 02 Jan 2008
Posts: 1557

PostPosted: Sat Aug 30, 2008 1:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Allyson, I was having pretty much the same thought - the way perfection for women is portrayed in romance is far more irritating than the way perfection for men is portrayed.

I don't find Roarke irritatingly perfect, incidentally. He puts up with a lot, but he has his limits. In that way, he reminds me very much of my husband. Cool
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