There’s no love lost in the feminist blogosphere (or anywhere, really) on the cinematic trope known as the “manic pixie dream girl.” And with good reason! As she appears in most movies today, the MPDG is, as Jennifer said, one-dimensional, idealized, and non-threatening if not downright incompetent. I’m not going to try to defend most specific MPDGs, because I agree that they perpetuate a limiting view of women in our culture.
I know this unpleasant phenomenon well, actually, as over the course of my life as a young, creative-leaning female with brown hair and bangs, I’ve occasionally experienced the unpleasant realization that a guy is trying to cast me as the MPDG in the Woody Allen movie he’s convinced himself he’s living in. Although it was initially flattering–Aaw, he thinks I’m free spirited, I would think. Now allow me to artificially magnify that aspect of my personality–I quickly realized that for a guy to cast me as his MPDG was to reduce me to a caricature of myself and guarantee he would never really understand me in the way it’s necessary to understand someone if you’re going to have a real relationship with them.
I mean, sure, I like skinny dipping where I shouldn’t and going on vision quests in the woods and staying up all night talking about everything. But I’m also a multifaceted person who has figured out how to channel my weirdness into a semi-productive activity I’m passionate about. (Or, as Jennifer would call it, “a career.”) I’m not all happy and “whee!” all the time; sometimes I get PMS and need to stay in and watch episodes of Party Down. Sometimes I feel like a huge loser. Sometimes my hair lacks shine. No one who thinks you are his own personal Zooey Deschanel character is going to stick around for long once he realizes those things about you. (Also, I’ll save you some time and tell you he is probably cheating on his girlfriend with you. His girlfriend who just doesn’t understand him, a crime for which she deserves to be lied to, horribly and often.)
The MPDG has also created a culture in which any seemingly “quirky” female is derided, often by other women, for seeming to conform to some male fantasy. Sorry, but I’m not going to change who I am because you are dumb enough to mistake certain aspects of me for my entire raison d’etre. The MPDG trope is partially (though not completely) to blame for this.
So really, I should hate the MPDG more than most. And I do. But the main reason I hate her is this: there are actually some good intentions behind her, which her anti-feminist execution completely undermines and devalues.
Take the idea of living life to the fullest. I would argue that this is an important idea to keep in mind if you don’t want to feel like a zombie all the time. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m always chasing the feeling of being truly amazed by something, truly connected to others, etc. That’s why I see so many bands; I’m looking for something that will knock me over with its greatness. That’s why I’ve engaged in all kinds of sexual/romantic relationships and maybe occasionally dabbled in controlled substances. That’s why I go on retreats to the woods with my friends. Figuring out who you are and retaining your sense of wonder about the world is an important endeavor. That statement is not any less true for the number of times it’s been repeated by everyone, ever. [tagbox tag="manic pixie dream girl"]
But at no point in time should you stop being the protagonist in your own story. The true crime of the MPDG is not her failure to adhere to social codes or function in capitalist society, but her lack of agency. She exists solely to help the male character actualize himself. The muse can’t keep any of her inspiration for herself, and that’s a damn shame, because I bet she could make something pretty cool if she tried.
So basically, I dislike the MPDG because she takes ideas I value and makes them seem trite and easily mocked. Which is a shame, because with a little feminist tweaking, a lot of the MPDG characters could’ve been truly interesting instead of just “quirky.” And that’s why I feel simultaneously protective of, and enraged by, the concept of the manic pixie dream girl.