Roll the opening credits. Enter Average Troubled Male.
Average Troubled Male has a mediocre, meaningless life. He feels trapped in his job and either hates his friends or has none. He can’t see the fun in anything, and he’s on the road to depression.
What does he need?
A) To get out of his cubicle and give back to his community.
B) To move to a foreign country.
C) A prescription for antidepressants.
D) A woman.
If you answered D, you’ve bought into the trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
According to tvtropes.org, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is “stunningly attractive, high on life, full of wacky quirks and idiosyncrasics (generally including childlike playfulness and a tendency towards petty crime)…she will focus her kuh-razy antics [on Average Troubled Male] until he learns to live freely and love madly.”
Nathan Rabin created the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” in response to Elizabethtown, but that’s not the only movie where we see the MPDG. Garden State, Almost Famous, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s each have a perpetually charming woman who saves a man from his own demise.
While movies that include a MPDG are often considered cute, heartwarming, or romantic, they’re also problematic.
The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a one-dimensional character. She’s flawed in her flawlessness, and she suppresses her own needs and emotions to serve as a crutch for Average Troubled Male’s journey of self-creation. Sure, she has her weird traits that create a facade of depth, but ultimately she represents a distorted and reductive view of women. Most women aren’t and can’t be genuinely bubbly and charming all the time. Frankly, if they were, they’d be frustrating, not adorable.
Furthermore, dating someone who is depressed, especially if you have a bubbly disposition, isn’t enchanting. It’s difficult, it’s emotional, it’s demanding. Loss of interest is a classic symptom of depression, so a real-life Average Troubled Male might not even be able to appreciate an MPDG’s whimsical adventures.
In short, the MPDG is unrealistic and misrepresents how women actually act.
But hey, movies are often unrealistic, right? So what’s the big deal?
The big deal is when this misguided ideal permeates real-life interactions and relationships. When men expect their partners to fit the Manic Pixie Dream Girl mold, they’re looking for “the supporting actress in the movie of their lives,” explains Harris O’Malley, who goes by “Dr. NerdLove” on his blog.
The MPDG’s only purpose in a movie is to create Average Troubled Male’s happiness and further his storyline, which makes real-life Average Troubled Males want real-life MPDGs who will dedicate themselves to his needs despite his brooding, unappreciative attitude.
“The Manic Pixie perpetuates the myth of women as caregivers at our very core, that we can go ‘fix’ these lonely sad men, so that they can go ‘fix the world,'” explains Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency.
O’Malley argues that the men who crave their own MPDG often feel helpless to get out of their uninteresting rut on their own.
But while Manic Pixie Dream Girls are nearly ubiquitous in comics, literature, and film, they aren’t ubiquitous in real life. In fact, I’d challenge you to find even one woman with no life of her own–no job, no interests, no familial obligations, no friends begging her to ditch the mopey loser who never reciprocates.
Oh, that’s right. She doesn’t exist.
“Women are not here for men’s inspiration or celebration or whatever else. We are musicians and artists and writers with our own brilliant and creative endeavors. But you wouldn’t know that from the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope,” says Sarkeesian.
We already know how powerfully Hollywood influences human behavior. The prevalence of the MPDG encourages women to aspire to Manic Pixie Dream Girl status, which is harmful to their sense of individuality. We need to resist pursuing the qualities behind the trope, both in romantic partners and in our own identities.
I’m not the supporting actress in a man’s world, I’m the leading lady in my own. And I refuse to be seen any other way.
If you want to read more about female representation in movies, my last #FeministFriday post discussed whether the Bechdel Test is valuable. (Next time I’ll write about something besides movies. Maybe.)