Women (1999 essay by torch)

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Title: Women
Creator: torch
Date(s): June 14, 1999
Medium: online
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External Links: Rant table of contents; Women
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Women is a 1998 essay by torch.

Some Topics Discussed

  • two kinds of Mary Sue: canon characters from the show, original characters
  • Mary Sue: as a girlfriend, as a yenta, as a platonic pal, as part of a threesom
  • mary pseud: "Some Mary Sue characters are easily spotted as they share the author's name, or go by a close variation thereof. Sometimes I wonder if I'm the only person in the world who finds this just a teensy bit embarrassing."

Excerpts from the Essay

[the ladies, god bless them]

There are more women in slash than you might think.

No, I'm not talking about the writers. The women I mean are the ones *in* slash, in the actual stories. (In the m/m slash stories, I mean. This isn't about women in f/f slash; that's a subject I don't feel familiar enough with to blather on about.) These women fall, believe it or not, into two easily discernible categories: characters from the show, and original characters.

"Well, duh," says the reader of this button [1]. But the division needs to be made, trust me on this one, because those two categories get treated very, very differently.

[strictly platonic]

This sex-with-the-hero thing is not always applicable in slash. Many of our heros are written as being very definitely not interested in women; they want only their beloved Partner. But that doesn't mean they can't use a Very Bestest Friend, or someone who Understands them like no one has ever Understood them before. Or at least pokes them in the ribs and tells them to go have sex, it's obvious they're crazy about each other, for [insert name of deity here]'s sake. Enter Yenta Sue, who, whether she's an old friend (if this is Highlander, that means she's a *really* old friend) or the new neighbor, takes one look at the guys and grasps the situation immediately.

The yenta character is a fine old tradition in slash. And a lot of people will call any yenta-like character a Mary Sue, unless of course it's one of the show's original characters. Amanda gets to play this part a lot, for instance, and to some extent Megan. (I think I've seen Yenta Sue Scully a few times, but it's rarely all that convincing, particularly not in Mulder/Krycek stories.) It's also possible to have a full-fledged Yenta Sue who starts out as character A's girlfriend only to realize that he really loves character B, so she renounces him nobly and sets him up with his one true love. This type of Yenta Sue is not to be confused with Ms. A. Nonymous, the girlfriend/bar encounter/blind date who does absolutely *nothing* for character B and causes him to wonder what's wrong with him until he notices his dick twitching when he sees character A again.

[the natives are restless]

Female characters from the show, whatever show, frequently lead a hard life in slash. A lot of the time they don't make an appearance at all. There's been a certain amount of talk over the years about whether slash is inherently misogynistic or not, about whether the absence of female characters, whether they're ignored or forcibly removed, can be interpreted as some kind of self-hatred on the part of (female) slash writers.Personally, I think that in some cases, ignoring the female characters is quite understandable. PWP's or short vignettes don't have room for everything, and it may be unnecessary to drag in Scully when Mulder and Krycek are boinking like crazy in some dark alley, or have Amanda appear as MacLeod is contemplating just what he'd like to do to the Old Man. Breaks the flow, and all that.

It is considerably less understandable when the female characters get completely ignored in longer stories, particularly in longer X-Files stories. The idea that Mulder can fool around with the ratboy, or with his boss, for extended periods of time without sparing a thought for his partner and best friend strikes me as somewhat implausible. Writers who try to deny or ignore the central position Scully holds in Mulder's life are asking their readers to forget a *lot* of canonical evidence, and not everyone is up to that kind of selective amnesia. (It's much easier with Amanda, who isn't exactly a constant fixture in the Highlander's life. But interestingly enough, it seems to happen a lot *less* with Amanda.)

[girl cooties]

On the whole, though, I prefer having the female characters left out to seeing them treated like the evil that came from outer space. There was a trend in Voyager slash at one time for writing the Delaney sisters as horrible hussies and troublemakers that I never understood, and I always wondered if it was based on the fact that one of the few things we knew about them was that one of them was sexually aggressive. But that's probably too depressing an interpretation. I hope.

The Delaney sisters are minor characters, though. With major characters, the issues are a bit different. Two female characters who are not infrequently treated like mongrels at a rare breed show are Dana Scully and Buffy Summers. Is it just a coincidence that these particular characters are very much individuals in their own right, absolutely vital to the shows they appear in, and with deep, complex, significant relationships, whether platonic or romantic, to the characters beloved by slashers? Those bonds could be seen as a threat to the slashers' wishes to take possession of and dispose of the male characters as they please. These women cannot, like babes of the week or no-airtime-girlfriends, be easily dismissed or explained away; they aren't some generic Anywoman, who can be ignored, discarded, or replaced by Mary Sue--so they get bashed.

Well, maybe. And maybe not. Maybe it really is just a coincidence.

[girls' night out]

I don't want to give the wrong impression here. I don't think all slash stories ignore women. Whether you get Mary Sue or the show's own female characters in a supporting role in a slash story, though, they frequently tend to have something in common: they have no life. No, really. They have absolutely nothing better to do with their time than to become completely caught up in the guys' relationship; their function is to listen, to sympathize, to give good advice, to be supportive. Unless they disapprove of the relationship in question, of course, in which case they have nothing better to do with their time than to bitch about it.

It's not really that strange. Someone has to be a witness, to see and validate the relationship and appreciate just how *cute* the guys are together--someone from their own universe, that is, not just the readers. But for the love of heaven, give the poor women something to *do* as well. Let them solve a case, save the universe, kill a vampire, rob a bank, write the great American novel, anything. They have better things to do than to fuss over the guys all the time. Extreme codependency does not make for an engaging read.

References

  1. "Button" is the term this author uses for their essay/rant."