Will The Mary Sue Become a Mary Sue?
Last month, The Mary Sue, formerly "the guide to girl geek culture," surprised its community by merging with sister site Geekosystem, changing its design, and changing its tagline to "let your geek flag fly." While some pushback on The Mary Sue's changes was to be expected, some of the changes—as well as comments made on social media by senior staff members—have left some readers wondering if The Mary Sue is about to become a Mary Sue itself.
I've been reading The Mary Sue since it launched back in 2011. I am a feminist girl geek who has always felt like she's not quite geeky enough about any one particular thing to be involved with geekdom. The way that The Mary Sue covers everything from the internet to television to fashion has made it the perfect place for me to get my geek on. I love it when The Mary Sue tackles fake geek girl culture. It's thanks to them I covet an R2-D2 swimsuit. I cheer when they amplify the voices of women who have been harassed in the comic book and video game worlds.
As much as I love The Mary Sue, I'm not active in the comments or their social media. After the merger with Geekosystem, I noticed a change in the topics they covered (the merger is bringing more science and tech to the mix), as well as the number of posts they were putting out each week. But it wasn't until Jill Pantozzi, editor in chief of The Mary Sue, posted "A Message from Your Editors," that I realized how controversial the merger had become.
In particular, I had missed the feedback that was directed to newly transplanted editor Glen Tickle and the Geekosystem editorial staff: anger over the change to the tagline, the perceived lack of feminist language, his comments in a Reddit Ask Me Anything about the merger, and concerns that comments on the site would no longer be a safe place for women. I also missed how he had reacted to this feedback:
"It was frustrating at an already emotional time, and in that frustration I tweeted some tweets. Since then people have latched on to them as evidence that I’m some terrible misogynist. Please believe me when I say, I am not.
"If two tweets would form the whole of someone’s opinion of me, I certainly wouldn’t pick those two. It wasn’t my best moment. I won’t say the tweets were taken out of context or that they were jokes. My account wasn’t hacked. I wasn’t drunk. They came from a place of depressed frustration and aren’t things I actually believe. I’m not proud of them."—Glen Tickle
It didn't take me long to find the tweets he was referencing, with the help of Tumblr.
@Dan_Van_Winkle STOP HAVING OPINIONS YOU ARE A STRAIGHT WHITE MAN— Glen Tickle (@glentickle) June 13, 2014
I'm not going to pretend that I don't feel for Glen, because I do. The Mary Sue was launched as a sister site to Geekosystem, and Glen lost his internet home when the sites merged. While he and his editors are still writing about the same topics on The Mary Sue as they had on Geekosystem, they are now doing so through a different lens and to a different audience. It's a hard change for his team, which was made even harder when his team was greeted less than cordially. I understand his frustration and disappointment. I really do.
I am also really disappointed to learn how he handled the situation, and how he chose to express himself. I was then further disappointed by his attempt at an apology. Yes, I am saying that his comments were an attempt at an apology, rather than an actual apology. I give him credit for owning his comments and not deleting them, but at no point does he actually apologize for offending The Mary Sue's readers—his readers—with these comments.
By making those statements, and by justifying the changes by stating 55% of the site's readers were male in the a Reddit AMA, Tickle became the thing that people fear when men start writing for a feminist site: someone who does not believe that the feminist voice in geek culture is important.
I'm not going to pretend that I haven't said things I regret or that I haven't stuck my foot (both feet!) in my mouth in the past. I try very, very hard not to do it in public. I try especially hard not to do it on the internet. I know what it's like to be frustrated, and want to shout from the rooftops and send angry tweets. We've all been there.
But this is The Mary Sue. It was a special place. It always provided a safe and female-directed place for female and male feminists to discuss popular culture. In a video of the merger announcement, Pantozzi said the site would remain "inclusive."
And Editor in Chief Jill Pantozzi noted yesterday that she has amended the site's About page to specifically include women:
The Mary Sue sits at the nexus of pop culture and the uncharted universe. We love and live geek culture, comic book movies, genre television, space exploration, emerging technologies, the coolest video games, and the weirdest finds on the internet. We promote, watchdog, extoll, and celebrate women’s representation in all of these areas and work to make geekdom safe and open for women.
We pride ourselves on being an inclusive community of people who not only love what they love but care about others who love it and have an intense passion for those who create it. Fan trends, social issues, geek fashion and art, innovative gadgets, and beyond: The Mary Sue is the heartbeat of geek culture.
But as Laura Koroski pointed out, "inclusive" doesn't mean the same thing as "feminist."
"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."
And as The Lobster Dance noted:
To recap: TMS will continue to be a place for geek women’s voices to be heard without being silenced by men, you know, except for our managing editor who is going to blame the concerns of readers on his privilege, then mock them in a stunning rendition of the exact reason why The Mary Sue was created.
The Mary Sue was safe, and they made us believe they cared. They represented our voices and provided a safe place for people to express their opinions. It's not feeling that way anymore. Is The Mary Sue becoming an idealized version of its former self?