Male and female heroes: separate but no longer equal

Summary: Our myths powerfully shape society. In them, male and female heroes tend to be different, especially the most popular ones. Let’s look at the differences in today’s stories. How will they affect the next generation? I’ll bet on unexpectedly. To see this at work, on Friday read my review about the latest product of Hollywood’s myth machine: Rise of Skywalker.

Woman Superhero - Dreamstime-90707807
ID 90707807 © Kriscole | Dreamstime.

A “Mary Sue” character is over-overpowered and idealized. She is omnicompetent, defeats foes easily, is respected or loved by all (often even by foes), and attains greatness effortlessly. She has no serious flaws. As Hollywood has provided more women as heroes, the gap between the most wonderful male heroes and the Mary Sues become more obvious – and illustrating much about 21st century gender roles.

Wonder Woman (in the film) is an example of a Mary Sue (in the early WW comics she was often in bondage). She has super-powers, effortless wins (never beaten, defeating a god), and is loved by all.

Contrast Rey and Luke in the Star Wars sagas.

The heroine in the new Star Wars trilogy, Rey, is an extreme Mary Sue. She attains her powers without effort or training, in the first film doing feats that Luke required Yoda’s training to achieve. In her first fight in the first film, she easily defeats two thugs. In her first lightsaber, she defeats a highly trained Sith Lord. People meet her and like her. She becomes an instant starship pilot and instant expert starship mechanic. She accepts challenges immediately and unhesitatingly.

Contrast Rey with Luke. When we first see him, Luke was a doofus. Obi-Wan Kenobi asked him to join the Rebellion; Luke preferred to stay on the farm. In the second film, an alien animal defeated Luke – almost having him for dinner. Darth Vader easily defeated Luke in their first fight. Luke failed his first key test when trained by Yoda. But Luke slowly grows into greatness. Until the new trilogy, in which we learned he screwed up big-time yet again.

Almost Mary Sue-like heroes.

Superman is one of the most Mary Sue of male heroes. But while Wonder Woman’s secret identity is the glamorous Diana Prince, Superman lives as the doofus Clark Kent. It is like wearing a hair shirt.

Iron Man is also pretty much a Mary Sue. Except for the alcoholism and the arrogance, character flaws that make him interesting. In Lord of the Rings, Aragorn is also a Mary Sue. Awesome in every way, he becomes King of the World and marries a hottie elf princess. He has vast skills, understandable for a man after ~70 years of action (he is ~88 as LOTR begins). On the other hand, he lived those years as a Ranger (“Travellers scowl at us, and countrymen give us scornful names.”).

No, these are not remotely like Mary Sues.

Feminists describe many other male heroes as Mary Sues, usually demonstrating a comical misunderstanding of the concept. For example, Ender Wiggins in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game is often said to be a Mary Sue. He is not just overpowered (always easily winning) but always has the emotional and philosophical high ground over those around him (he is a Jesus-like figure). But his mother is disinterested in him, his father is abusive, his brother hates and abuses him, his fellow students hate or dislike him (Ender has to kill two of them), and his teachers treat him like an animal. This is the opposite of the canonical Mary Sue’s life.


Batman is often described as a Mary Sue. Except that he often gets beaten up, is widely considered a criminal vigilante (which, of course, he is), and universally considered to be insane (which even he knows is true). While he is a handsome billionaire, he essentially lives alone in a cave.

James Bond.

Bond was a pure Mary Sue in the Roger Moore-era films. In Ian Fleming’s books, Bond is unlikable (his girlfriends often dump him), and an alcoholic. Excessive drinking means 23+ oz/week of booze. In Thunderball Bond’s doctor says that Bond drinks “half a bottle per day” – about 84 oz/week (in the books he is mostly on duty and so drinks only about 67 oz/week). He is suffers a lot. Casino Royale – extensive torture. Live and Let Die – dragged over a reef. Moonraker – burned by rocket exhaust, resulting in extensive second-degree burns. Very unlike a Mary Sue.


Peter Parker is another hero with elements of being a Jesus-figure. He gets his powers as a gift, but exercises them at great cost – both in suffering and personal cost.

Men vs. women

“Myth supplies models for human behavior, and gives meaning and value to life.”
— Mircea Eliade in Myth and Reality (1963).

Male heroes tend to have combinations of brutal effort to become great, suffering to produce great accomplishments, and becoming disliked or even outcasts. Men embrace this as their role, which is why these are such a common traits in male heroes. These are larger-than-life characteristics of life for men. We get brutal criticism (with no pleas that this makes a hostile work environment). We experience brutal competition (no special programs or for men). Often, especially in blue collar jobs, men experience levels of work and stress that make them old at 50. Then there is life as an infantryman in combat.

Women tend to live in a different kind of world, with its own challenges and trials. Different but no less difficult. So their heroines take different forms than do men’s heroes.

Mixing them in a story calls for skill and creativity. Usually, the men’s flaws provide much of the fodder for the narrative. Some men are butt-monkeys, providing the humorous moments. But perhaps most significant, the women are just much better in most ways. If they do not lead, it seems like a plot hole. Why does Harry Potter lead the gang in the books when Hermione is so much wiser and better?

The superhero comics led the way to resolving this, as many leadership positions went to women. The leadership of SHIELD passes from Nick Fury to Daisy Johnson and then Maria Hill. The Wasp leads the Avengers. The films will probably follow this pattern.

We are crafting a new society with every generation. Now we conducting radical experiments on the next generation, with our myths molding children’s imaginations. How will boys grow up in a world of stories in which women are better and are the leaders, while men do most of the suffering – and get most of the mockery? As with most experiments, unexpected consequences will rule.

At midnight on Friday my review goes up for Rise of Skywalker.

For More Information

Ideas! For some shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon. Also, see Chapter One of a story about our future: “Ultra Violence: Tales from Venus.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.  See all posts about heroes, about reforming America: steps to new politics, and especially these…

  1. “Mockingjay” shows us a Revolution in Gender Roles. What’s the next revolution?
  2. Jeff Beck reviews “Wonder Woman”, a contrary note amidst the ecstatic applause.
  3. We like superheroes because we’re weak. Let’s use other myths to become strong.
  4. We need better heroes. They are there, in our past.
  5. Where we can find the inspiration to fix America?
  6. Alita, the Battle Angel, fights her feminist critics.
  7. Captain Marvel – fun for kids, swill for adults.
  8. Women superheroes are Cinderellas.

The book about heroes

"The Hero with a Thousand Faces" by Joseph Campbell
Available at Amazon.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces
by Joseph Campbell.

From the publisher …

“Since its release in 1949, The Hero with a Thousand Faces has influenced millions of readers by combining the insights of modern psychology with Joseph Campbell’s revolutionary understanding of comparative mythology. In these pages, Campbell outlines the Hero’s Journey, a universal motif of adventure and transformation that runs through virtually all of the world’s mythic traditions. He also explores the Cosmogonic Cycle, the mythic pattern of world creation and destruction.

“This edition features expanded illustrations, a comprehensive bibliography, and more accessible sidebars.

“As relevant today as when it was first published, The Hero with a Thousand Faces continues to find new audiences in fields ranging from religion and anthropology to literature and film studies. The book has also profoundly influenced creative artists – including authors, songwriters, game designers, and filmmakers – and continues to inspire all those interested in the inherent human need to tell stories.”

19 thoughts on “Male and female heroes: separate but no longer equal”

  1. From The Core (2003)


    Astronaut Major Rebecca Childs is a Mary Sue. She says things that would mark her as a major asshole if said by a man. People often tell her that she’s great.

    Dr. Keyes, genius project leader: “Is there anything you can’t do?”

    Childs: “Not that I’m aware of.”

    Keyes: “I find that incredibly intimidating.”

    Childs” “Yep. Most people do.”

    Later …

    Astronaut Commander Iverson to Childs: “You’re so good that you haven’t hit anything you couldn’t beat. Hell, you were the one who figured out how to save the shuttle. You made me, you made the rest of NASA just look like an ass.”

  2. Curiously, Star Wars has another property which is proving to be more popular than The Adventures of The Almighty Rey, even though it is a relatively low budget TV series: The Mandalorian. Unlike Rey, the protagonist of The Mandalorian (whose name we do not know) is a flawed individual who even though he is a dangerous Mandalorian, struggles and sometimes fails at what he does. I wonder if Disney brass is concerned about this. On one hand it’s always great to have a runaway hit, but what if it eclipses their beloved Mary Sue?

    1. Frank,

      I hear from the young men I know that the SJW’s are furious about Disney’s Marvel Disney’s Lucasfilm making “The Mandalorian” – with its lack of leading action-adventure heroines. And they ever angrier about the public watching it.

      This has become a serious dynamic in video games, with SJW’s pressuring designers to avoid the aspects of the game that their customers like.

      As for the relative success of the Star Wars TV show and the films: the profits from the films should be 1000x that of a TV show. They can’t afford that trade!

      1. I expect The Rise of Skywalker to make money (unlike the box office bomb “Solo”), though my understanding is that its predecessor, The Last Jedi, did poorly when it came to merchandise sales. Disney did drop the ball with Mandalorian merchandise, as there is virtually nothing to buy, which does show that its success has caught Disney/Lucasfilm by surprise.

        It’s hard to quantify how much revenue The Mandalorian is generating, as it is but one offering out of many on Disney’s streaming channel, but it must be getting many to sign up for the service.

      2. Technically, it is Lucasfilm, and not Marvel, that is producing The Mandalorian. Of course they are all part of the Mouse’s empire, so it’s all the same.

        What is also interesting about The Mandalorian is that it doesn’t rely on CGI that way the movies do. Sure, there are spaceships and strange beasts, but the other main character in the show is a puppet, and the fandom has fallen in love with it. It too has no name, but has been christened by fans as “baby Yoda”, And that says a lot. Fans are so involved with the show that they have named the character themselves. Contrast that with the films. where many of the characters are so dull and uninspiring that I forget their names.

  3. I never heard of the “Mary Sue” concept before. Thanks for the intro. Here is a You Tube version which is a nice addition the essay: ‘Why Are So Many SJW Characters Mary Sues?’

    What all of this appears to mean is that female SJW’s want to be so unblemished and powerful, not only to replace men, but God Himself. They demand worship. Now, how’s that going to sell?

    1. Michael,

      I guess that’s one way to look at it. Hyper-politicized, uncharitable, superficial.

      I believe that if you can’t see the other side – ie, why people do these things – without demonizing them, you don’t understand.

      1. “I guess that’s one way to look at it. Hyper-politicized, uncharitable, superficial.”

        It is the only way to look at it. Mary Sue is itself hyper-politicized, uncharitable, unrealistic, superficial. There is nothing positive about Mary Sue. It all bad.

    2. There is a male equivalent of Mary Sue: Gary Stu. Gary Stu’s are very rare, as they make for dull and uninspiring heros.

    1. Gary Stu’s tend to be more Active vehicles compared to Passive Mary Sues for story telling giving it greater potential to make compelling storylines.

      Compare Goku of Dragon Ball Z vs Rey.

      Or Golgo 13 vs Captain Marvel.

  4. I see on line that in the next 2 years marvel are scheduled to release 10 more superhero movies.

    I’m burnt out and honestly with the politics in them, I’ll keep my 15 dollars per movie.

    1. Sven,

      I totally agree. I enjoyed the original Spiderman trilogy (Toby M), the first Avengers, the Justice League, the first Iron Man, and the first Thor (and somewhat enjoyed the second Thor and Iron Man films). Since then I watched some in order to write reviews, using these mega-hits as mirror to our changing culture.

      I predict that those early ones might have long shelf lives (like the early Disney princess films), but most or all of the rest (including Black Panther and Wonder Women, said the be the best films in recorded history) will be in the streaming remained bin – along with other almost forgotten grade-B films.

      Hollywood is making these like Purina makes dog food. Manufacture it (don’t care much what goes into it, so long as it’s clean & healthy) and ship it out.

  5. Pingback: Word from the Dark Side – burning flags, MGTOW videos, and why the Japanese want to avoid you | SovietMen

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: