The Gary Stu, or Why I'm Not Subscribing to The Mary Sue Anymore

On days when I was dreaming of being a full-time writer, I would dream of places I'd love to publish. Top of that list would be the wonderful center for geek girl culture, The Mary Sue. 

Or should I say formerly wonderful site for geek girl culture, The Mary Sue. Because it's no longer a wonderful site, or a place that covers geek girl culture. Instead, it's become a site for general geek culture (because there aren't enough of those) that claims to be inclusive, while really targeting a "neutral" demographic--aka 20-40 year-old privileged white men. 

How did it get this way? Well, let's take a look. This is what the site looked like on June 12. Click through if you'd like to see a live version. 

Looks like the site I know and love--love for providing good coverage, snappy editing, excellent writing, and insightful comments. 

But then, on June 13, relatively out of the blue, they announced that they were merging with Geekosystem, a general site for pop culture/geek things. And as this announcement happened, the site changed dramatically. 

How it looks now (June 30). The layout is definitely not an improvement. It's supposed to be more mobile-friendly, but it's also very white, very boring. Note the utter lack of color, and the way the famous logo is diminished. 

But most importantly, please note that the masthead no longer reads "A Guide to Geek Girl Culture." And here's the thing. The editors may think that it's not a big deal. They have argued that they are trying to be a more "inclusive" site--but haven't defined what inclusion means (and if you feel the need to question if such a definition is important, you've lost the point already).

But having that tagline at the top of the page--front and center--was radical. It was important. It announced the perspective of the site and the space for its readers the moment the page loaded. It declared our allegiances and loyalties, defined our topics and voices. And we were damn proud of it--of the writing, of the coverage, or the voices we heard and got to discuss with. And to drop that tagline at the time when the site merges with another site with several male writers on staff (more on this later) is not just troubling, it is a slap in the face to those readers who came to The Mary Sue for not just pop culture, but geek girl culture. 

At the time of the merger, the new editors and the old had an AMA on Reddit--a fact which, in itself is deeply problematic, because Reddit is NOTHING if not known for being the hivemind of MRA and general ambient misogyny. 

And it lived up to its reputation--or rather, the new editors ensured that it would. There's a bunch of really misogynistic tweets from Glen Tickle (associate editor, formerly of Geekosystem) and Dan Van Winkle. There was the snarky response by Tickle, using a statistic that "55% of TheMarySue readers were male" to justify the changes being made to the site. Of course, such a response is not an actual response to valid concerns posed by readers. It's a classic derailment. It is What About The Men, rephrased. To quote the tumblr user hamstermastersamster

This does nothing but cast doubt on why the female branding needs to be removed from the site. It was obviously attracting the right kind of male readership with its unique lady geek focus.
Both the original TMS crew and the Geekosystem crew have all so far completely failed to address his problematic behaviour. They ignore any attempts by community members to get it addressed.

Since the merger on June 13, the site has gotten worse. While the number of stories covered on a given day has gone up, the quality of the writing and the feminism found in those perspectives has plummeted. Tickle's article on Google's new program to train female coders, rather than pointing out how problematic it is that Google is only now addressing this problem, and in a very limited way considering the resources this conglomerate has, makes a point of giving out friendly ally cookies.  Another article, also by Tickle, on the fact that the percentage of female game developers has doubled in the last 5 years, is also disappointing. While you'd think that this is an incident that they'd desperately want to cover well to prove to their readers that they actually aren't eliminating feminism and women's voices, they fail to do that. Instead, the piece comes off as incredibly condescending and patronizing (the joke about animating women isn't funny if it's you they refuse to animate). What happened? Well, male writers took up the pieces that really should have had women's voices. 

User Hamstermastersamster again: 

The comments on articles since the merger have basically been sexist derailment bingo like you’d get on any other site, including but not limited to “but what about the menssss”, “why is this important when there’s war in the middle east” (sadly deleted, what a gem), “it’s your responsibility to handle online harassment”, and “I’ve never seen any harassment of a female during my 240 hours of playing XYZ”.

If you looked at the above and went "well, that about sums up most of the internet," you'd be right. But here's the thing: to many of us devoted readers of The Mary Sue, the site was better than the rest of the internet. It was of higher quality, better relevance, and of more interest. And perhaps most importantly--it was safe. So much safer than the rest of the internet, where the kinds of comments mentioned above didn't happen on a daily basis. 

The idea of safe spaces has been so ridiculed by the patriarchy and the kyriarchy in an attempt to minimize social justice movements--but they are important. They're crucial. Having a safe space means that you don't have to deal with the constant minimizing and derailing and re-explaining 101 concepts for allies who just want cookies. And when you spend hours doing that in your daily life, those safe spaces online become your home. 

Because the Mary Sue was my home. It was the first feed I checked, without fail. It was the place I where read, commented on, updated for news, and searched for inspiration. At the top of every single page, it declared that it was a site for me. 

And now? Well, I have no home. Instead, I've got a cheap impromptu version of a home that claims to be faster, cooler, and more inclusive. Somehow, rather than being included, I'm feeling distinctly shut out. In fact, I rather feel like Arthur Dent when he realizes that both his house and the Earth have been demolished to make way for a bypass. Bypasses are fast, and cool, and everyone can use them. And how can we protest? "You've got to build bypasses." 

Why you should read Kindred

Science fiction has handy gadgets, amazing technology, and futuristic dilemmas. It features lasers, spaceships, and aliens. It takes place on far-flung planets, unheard of galaxies, and ships traveling at light speed. It has plots with chase scenes, dramatic confrontations, and stunning vistas. 

kindred.jpg

By any of those measures, Kindred by Octavia Butler is not science fiction. Though it does indeed have time travel, a feature we usually associate with the genre, can you really call it science when it happens without a ship or gadget and without any sort of will or warning? There is no attempt to discover, as in Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife, what causes the incidents. No attempt to link it to genetics, to make it seem plausible and rational. It simply is. There is no mission, no sense of adventure, no sort of enjoyment or fun. The object is to survive. 

One day Dana disappears from her home to appear on a riverbank where a boy is drowning. She saves his life, and in thanks, is faced with the barrel of a rifle. She's traveled from Los Angeles in 1976 to Maryland in 1812. It's an act she will continue to repeat, as she--a black woman--is again and again drawn back to the life of Rufus Weylin--the son of a plantation owner. 

Taken from her present without warning, and trapped in the past until her life is seriously threatened, Dana has to learn to live in the harsh world of plantation slavery. It is a world where violence and cruelty are everywhere, and escape and agency are impossible. As her stays in the antebellum South grow longer, Dana and her husband find themselves questioning what is real, and if it matters as long as they survive. Playing the part of the slave, Dana struggles to deal with the simultaneous necessity of adapting to the nineteenth century and the horrific consequences that happen when she does.  

Octavia Butler's recreation of antebellum Maryland is harsh and vividly rendered through Dana's eyes as she struggles to balance the world she has known and the one she has been thrust into. Inhumanity and integrity are constantly juxtaposed as Dana chooses to save Rufus, a boy of his time who will grow up to own other humans. Dana struggles to keep her sense of self-worth even as she carries out her duty. Kindred, by telling the story of one woman's time on a plantation, manages to encapsulate all the bitter truths about all who took part in slave society, and leaves us wondering just how much else of that time we have forgotten. 

Glass ceilings, missing stairs, and gatekeepers -- The Video

I'm so pleased to have so many new posts at once. There has been a lot, of course, coming out of C2E2, and though this is the last directly connected post, it's surely not the last related one. So behold, the video from our panel last weekend. Filming by Jesse Lex, hard work by Michi Trota to get it live, and featuring all our lovely faces. If you didn't make it to the panel, or if you just want to rewatch it, please enjoy. It's too long for YouTube, and so it's broke up into five parts, but they're all linked through the playlist. 


And if you're looking for more articles, don't worry, they're coming. Several incidents and comments from the convention have got me thinking about articles that should be written, and issues that need to be addressed. The wheels are turning--and what's more, they've got time to turn, now that I'm done with my degree and summer is coming. So keep checking this space for updates, or subscribe to this blog! More geeky feminism is coming your way. 

Making change and turning heads at C2E2

Two years ago, I went to my first C2E2. It was a turning point for me, for though I’d been obsessed with geeky things for years, I had just begun to call myself a geek, and to discover that there was a much larger community out there than I ever knew about. When I arrived on the show floor, it was like I’d found my family. I attended a brilliant panel called The Geek Girl and the Artist, where I heard the experiences of other intelligent, enthusiastic women who loved the same things I did, talking about how they had faced opposition and sexism from men. I was enthralled, inspired, and felt like I was part of something. And then, dressed in a TARDIS sari, I marched straight up the moderator. She told me how awesome my cosplay was. I told her how inspirational her panel was. I think it’s fair to say that my friendship with Michi Trota took off from there. 

Last weekend, it became quite apparent that our ship has not sailed. On the contrary, our ship has taken off, and is now blasting through the stratosphere out into space. Because this C2E2 was a resounding success in so many ways. Let's take a look at all of them. 

Some Amazing Folks Threw Out the Key to the Clubhouse Door

If you didn’t go to this panel on Friday evening (and there were definitely some seats to fill), you missed out, big time. My friend Michi Trota recruited an all-star cast: Jeff Smith, president of CNSC, moderated, and the lineup featured Michi; Karlyn Meyer, the stellar articulate lawyer; Mary Anne Mohanraj, a terrific writer, editor, and founder of the Speculative Literature Association ; Mary Robinette Kowal, who writes Regency fantasy and is my new best friend; Scott Snyder, known for his excellent comics and his willingness to be an ally; and Gail Simone, who is just made of awesome. 

L to R: Michi Trota, Gail Simone, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Mary Robinette Kowal, Scott Snyder, Karlyn Meyer, Jeff Smith. 

L to R: Michi Trota, Gail Simone, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Mary Robinette Kowal, Scott Snyder, Karlyn Meyer, Jeff Smith. 

There was lots of talk of being a nonwhite hetero cis male creator, and the battles you have to be prepared to fight. Gail Simone talked about her entrance into the industry many years ago, and the level to which the executives didn't know their female readership, and didn't care. And even as she became successful, some guys still wanted to “deny the reality that's right in front of them--so you have to burn down the gates.”

There was talk of writing diverse characters, and nearly everyone pointed out that writing white men was not the “natural” way to go about things. It was a learned default. As Gail said, it has been years of creators making “conscious decisions. Are we writing another white character? You’ve got to decide to break it.” Of course, you want to write those characters for the correct reasons, not for tokenism. But Mary Anne cautioned against stopping writing those characters whose lived experience a writer is not intimately familiar with, and urged us to go beyond our comfort zone. We should do our 101 research, and then go for it. Show it to someone whose experience is similar to the character and see what we are missing. And to know that we all screw up, and “when your friend screws up--just think of this analogy--would you tell them if they had a booger in their nose?” quipped Mary Anne. 

A good portion of the panel was spent on harassment and rape threats, both online and off, of female fans and creators. Anti-harassment policies were applauded, the power of allies was to do good touted, and the need for us to publicize the things we’re going through was shown. And then the floor was opened for questions, and an interesting phenomenon occurred: two men stood up to ask questions give long rambling comments. Apart from it being bad form to monopolize others time at a public panel, these statements were so incredibly centered around them and their male privilege that it made me want to hit something. One guy asked for a cookie for being attracted to trans* individuals. The other guy was angry we didn’t talk about how men get raped as well. 

I won’t rehash the whole thing, because Caitlin Roguesberg has written a great article on Jezebel’s Powder Room about it. Suffice it to say that these comments were both versions of “But what about teh menz!” The conversation was about rape threats and harassment towards women, and having two men beg for themselves to be included in the conversation was a) unacceptable and b) complete derailment and silencing. First of all, allies do not get cookies just for being allies. Second of all, though men do get raped and there are problems with our society’s lack of recognition of that fact, we were talking about rape threats as a form of silencing women--and this guy’s attempt to bring it back to men proves the necessity of the conversation in itself--because rape threats are a very particular form of gendered violence that men do not get. Only those with feminine-sounding names or usernames do, whether that is in gaming chatrooms or comments on articles or even hate mail towards comics writers. Put simply--we’re not talking about you. Sit down and shut up.

We Pointed Out the Missing Stair, and People Loved Us For It

We branched out this year, and I think our title does a good job of showcasing that. The Fake Geek Girl crisis is (mostly) winding down for those people immersed in fandom, and more discussions of gatekeeping as a general phenomenon are taking place. But glass ceilings are still present. Creepers are still treated as the missing stair for people “in the know.” Rape threats still occur at an alarming rate. Harassment happens daily. It’s time we fixed this shit.  

Isabel Schechter, Caryle Frank, Sooshe Bot, Kate Lansky, myself, Tippy Tipton, Michi Trota, Dawn Xiana Moon. 

Isabel Schechter, Caryle Frank, Sooshe Bot, Kate Lansky, myself, Tippy Tipton, Michi Trota, Dawn Xiana Moon. 

And people agree with us. Thankfully, C2E2 granted us a much bigger panel room this year--and we still filled it, and turned away some people who wanted to get in! That alone makes me immensely pleased. As much as we are still held by the impostor syndrome, the attendees of C2E2 think we have something to say--and that is so incredibly validating, to us as people, and to these arguments for inclusion and justice as a whole. 

This issue has gotten more attention and more space every year, and it’s so thrilling to us to see that. It’s now getting noticed by mainstream media--NPR recently wrote an article on gaming while female, and The Guardian has pointed out that if you say “But Teh Menz” well then, you’re not actually a feminist. So move on. So if you came to the panel, thank you so much. We are only here, and continuing to do this, because of our audiences. We got some great press this year, from the blogs Nerditis, Next Dark Age by Anne K Bradley, and Playing, With Research  by CarrieLynn D Reinhard. And the biggest surprise was that the Chicago Tribune’s Cheryl Jackson covered us for BlueSky business section!

I believe here we were laughing at the Sexy Lamp Test. L to R: Sooshe Bot, Tippy Tipton, Michi Trota, Dawn Xiana Moon, myself, Caryle Frank, Kate Lansky. Photo by Paul Callan. 

I believe here we were laughing at the Sexy Lamp Test. L to R: Sooshe Bot, Tippy Tipton, Michi Trota, Dawn Xiana Moon, myself, Caryle Frank, Kate Lansky. Photo by Paul Callan. 

We had a grand old time, talking about experiences of sexism and gatekeeping, problems of authenticity and gender representation, and of solutions and things allies could do. Tippy got off some wonderful quotes, we got introduced by an audience member to the Sexy Lamp Test, and talked about how awesome anti-harassment policies are. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and we hope you did too. Expect to see us back again soon, most likely (though unofficially) at Wizard World in August.

Artists Are Beautiful People

I made a conscious decision to buy almost all original designs this year, and it was a terriffic choice. I bought another beautiful, one-of-a-kind necklace from Sparkle! Designs, a Georgia-based geeky jewelry store that’s been doing the convention rounds. I got a “We Are All Wonder Woman” necklace, courtesy of the Satrun Twins. And I spent quite a bit of time lingering near Karen Hallion’s booth, the artist responsible for all the beautiful Disney/TARDIS mashups, before I finally bought a print and some buttons. The best thing about buying from creators? You get to ogle their works and then tell them how much you love them.

I Will Never Be Too Old To Cosplay

It is not my first time in costume. But it was the first time I started to feel something pretty powerful: on Friday and Saturday, it felt like those in cosplay outnumbered those who weren’t. Now, I say this with no authority or official numbers. But more and more of us are rejecting the idea that dressing up is just for kids, and we’re jumping into it with all the fun and time and money we can. And there’s nothing like walking around the floor and getting compliments and pictures taken of you. 

On Saturday, I premiered my genderbent Bilbo Baggins. I was particularly proud of it because I’d gotten no outside sewing help. Every stitch, drop of dye, and dab of paint was my own. I needed no wig, no shoes, and my height was an advantage. And to make the ensemble even more perfect, my friend Renee was a particularly fierce Thorin Oakenshield. Photo by Andreas Schneider. 

Sunday I was Merida, and Kids’ Day is always a great day to be a Disney princess--there's a neverending stream of young children who want to pose with you. Photo by Andreas Schneider 

These Are My People, and They're Multiplying

Some people dislike big cons like C2E2 for being too crowded, too big, or too dominated by first time convention goers. But that's exactly why I love it. We need entry points into the fandom, places where pop culture and comics and sci-fi blur together, places where newcomers can feel at ease and not judged for their lack of knowledge and experience. Because that's how I got into it. And every year, more people keep coming. 

At my first con, I felt like I had discovered a whole new world. Well, now it's not a new world. I'm slowly making it my world. I know people, from friends to panelists to authors to random attendees. I feel at home on the floor, in panels, and everywhere else. Fandom has a lot of problems of exclusion, and those have hindered my enjoyment of it sometimes. But that is changing, and we are making that change happen.

Of course, there is still work to be done. There are still things that make me mad--the horrible essentialist experience that--from what I heard secondhand--was the Genre Feminism or Fierce Females in Comics panels, for example. Or the fact that Jen Cross' panel proposal on being a black nerd woman was ignored and then rejected by ReedPOP with the transparent lie that it just wasn't quality enough. It's infuriating. But we're getting there. And we won't settle. We'll make it there. 

Many thanks to all the audience members who came to our panels, to the panelists who gave their voices to these events, and to Isabel Schechter who live-tweeted the Friday panel and saved the most delicious gems. But most of all, a thousand thanks to Michi Trota. She made this all happen.