The Mary Sue continues to be a problem in storytelling, only now it’s out of a sense of not wanting to making the female lead look bad so as not to come off sexist. The mistake here is trying to equate the Mary Sue to any MALE action hero, trying to prove that if he isn’t the Gary Stu then she can’t really be the Mary Sue.
Except that really doesn’t hold up to an actual comparison. It boils down to the struggle, It’s one thing to have an existing skill set when you start a story. I’ve often defended characters wrongly being called “two-dimensional” for already having a skill set, the story centering on how that skill set gets challenged. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger had to struggle when he was mowing down waves of bad guys, having to use his strength but also his quick thinking to reach his daughter, while said daughter was showing how clever she was even though her escape attempts kept failing. She still got a lot farther than I probably would have, and that’s when she wasn’t even old enough to drive. Or her portrayer hadn’t gone stark raving mad on the internet.
Literature Devil has a video that best demonstrates that indeed female heroes are not approached the same way as her male counterparts by taking Galadriel, or rather her Rings Of Power namesake, and going over how she isn’t being written the same way as a male character in her position, and how to make her character’s story into something that, while still counter to her depiction in Tolkien’s story like the rest of the show, she can actually come off as a more interesting character while keeping her a strong character. LD deconstructs everything wrong with her portrayal in this story, compares it to male heroes in other stories over the years in multiple genres, then does the real unthinkable by actually performing a reconstruction of the character. Yes, someone actually broke down a character to build them up better instead of just deconstructing and calling it a story. I think that’s the real shock here.
I’ve been seeing some pushback against the “hero’s journey” that is often described as if somehow every story follows that process. This is not true, and I think creators like Abbie Emmons or Lucifer Storm are better at describing the basic plot structure through which a character changes. However, the hero’s journey formula, or the alternate “villain’s journey”, is a fair assessment of a character journey. Perhaps this journey doesn’t even have every piece. For example Galadriel in this story doesn’t ignore the call to action; she just doesn’t think through it.
What it boils down to is a lack of struggle. I grew up with plenty of strong female heroes, though I know Hollywood ignores kids shows unless they can show off to their kids (“look, mommy/daddy is part of your favorite show, do you love me now?”) or age it up away for the age group it was created for. Still, they didn’t just struggle so the man could save them, and in fact saved the man a time or two. However, they didn’t do it like a man, they did it like a woman, and that was awesome. It was different, just as every individual man or woman would have their own way to save someone, needed help, and so on because of their unique skill set versus the abilities they lacked. There’s a reason that my comic Captain Yuletide has a different elf for each situation, because Zek’s skill set wouldn’t work they same way Dianna does so each of them are the best suited for a given situation. Both of them had to learn something before they could save the day. Zek had to find inner strength while Dianna had to learn that she had the perspective all wrong, each based on their own biases (Zek due to his being the shortest elf and the resulting insecurities and Dianna because she believe everyone should and does love snow as much as she does), but both learned and grew not only as Captains Yuletide but personally.
LD’s version of young Galadriel doesn’t deal with bullies but has to overcome through her own personal strength, gaining the skills she needs by not giving up. Older Galadriel in LD’s version earns everything she got but still has flaws to overcome and isn’t such a horrible person while doing so. This makes the character more likeable and thus you’re inspired to root for her more as she overcomes and gets better…even if from what I hear the show itself does not. From the reviews I’ve seen it’s not only failing as an adaptation but not even all that good on its own.
It’s a basic rule: if this character were a man and practically nothing else was changed from the story presented, then making the character a woman isn’t the problem, it’s the story itself. If…let’s call him “Ladriel” was a physically weaker man who got by on strategy and technique to make up for his lack of upper body strength, like me but with less of a gut and being an immortal elf, went through the same actions, said the same things, and had the same view, would he be hated as much as Galadriel? If the answer is yes then the problem isn’t the gender, it’s the character. Just Some Guy posted something from a later episode that kind of goes into another mistake with her later on.
The important part here is Galadriel is suddenly against everything she’s done but the revelation doesn’t make sense. Now maybe this will be a new bit of understanding, except she’s unknowingly following Sauron (under an assumed name), or maybe the story, as has happened for many female heroes out of a confused sense of HOW to teach girls they’re just as good as boys in many things, will realize doubting her own awesomeness was the problem. This is not the same as believing in yourself but it gets played off that way, and again it would still be a bad message if Ladriel had the same “revelation” of believing in himself.
The basic building blocks of writing a strong character doesn’t change between male and female. They offer different skills, experiences, and histories, just as any character from another country or another world or another social demographic, or even two people of the same group who have similar life experiences but different views of their life due to other factors that may be minor but just enough to make your two character unique from each other and thus not carbon copy replicas of each other. Having different perspectives is what makes your interactions easier. Even twins have different interests and don’t share every character trait. (Watch Property Brothers some time from that angle, and see how Jonathan and Drew have shared interests but separate personalities and their own interests.) Diversity isn’t just about getting women and minorities some overdue exposure, but about making them unique individuals, and the same general rules–barring the viewer, player’s or reader’s personal tastes depending on what form of storytelling you’re getting your story from–apply no matter what. There isn’t the “man’s way” or the “girl’s way”…it’s just the right way to do it, and it’s worked for the centuries long history of storytelling.