When Mary Sue Failed the Bechdel Test

I wrote an essay.

I didn’t mean to. It just sort of happened. I started out to write an ordinary blog post picking up on some of the arguments I made here back in March.

But the more I wrote, the more it seemed I had to say. Until I realized that I was writing something genuinely cathartic, a single essay that captured all (well, most) of my frustrations about how we comment on women and gender in SF/F (and genre fiction generally).

Those frustrations came to a head this past summer while I was reading some of the online criticism of Black Widow in the latest Avengers film. I think many self-described feminists got it wrong on that one, and it was disappointing. (For the record, I didn’t think it was a good movie, and it made a shockingly tone-deaf joke about prima nocta, but that’s beside the point.) Wrong, because most of the criticism focused on who Black Widow should or shouldn’t be, and the kind of message she ostensibly sent about womankind. Worse, it was done in a vacuum, without reference to the other characters, male or female. In essence, much of the commentary boiled down to projecting other people’s expectations on Black Widow and women. It wasn’t, in short, very feminist at all. And I realized it was a pattern.

It’s great that so many people have their gender lenses on when analyzing films and books. But if we applied even a fraction of the scrutiny to our own commentary that we apply to female protagonists, we’d really be getting somewhere.

Anyway, you can check it out and join the discussion here.