The “manic pixie dream girl” is a media trope describing a girl who is “not like other girls.” Nathan Rabin, a critic, coined the term in 2005 in his review of “Elizabethtown” to describe Kirsten Dunst’s character. Thus, a manic pixie dream girl in Rabin’s definition is a female character that is different or otherwise quirky, whose essential function throughout the plot of the story is to teach the main male character some fundamental lesson, usually about how to love or live life to the fullest. Other examples include Natalie Portman’s Sam in “Garden State” and Zooey Deschanel’s Allison in “Yes Man”. Opposingly, Zooey Deschanel’s character Summer in “500 Days of Summer” is a manic pixie dream girl in the eyes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character Tom, but only from his point of view. The movie as a whole is a criticism of the trope.
And thus as the BDCwire explains, while not every poorly-written female character is a manic pixie dream girl, every manic pixie dream girl is a poorly-written female character. These are negative, stereotypical depictions of women; overall, it is a bad representation of women in the media for many reasons.
Most importantly, the manic pixie dream girl trope teaches us that men will always be the primary protagonist of every story, thus only ever leaving supporting roles for women to fill. As writer Laurie Penny explains in an article in the NewStatesman, “Men grow up expecting to be the hero of their own story. Women grow up expecting to be the supporting actress in somebody else’s.” This claim is not unfounded, as the media is how we as humans in the modern age learn to make sense of the world. Thus, this is not just fiction. These archetypes have real world implications regarding the very real realities of relationships and human interaction.
In fact, manic pixie dream girl can be considered a verb — in that one can be manic pixie dream girl-ed. You can see this in your own relationships and friendships. How many of your female friends have had relationships with men, romantic or platonic, in which they really only function to help that man “grow up.” And once he does grow up (with her help, of course) the story is over; no one cares about her resolution.
The entire phenomenon is wonderfully explained in Olivia Gatwood’s aptly named spoken word poem, “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” In it, she states, “and when you are a whole person / for the first time, the movie is over / Manic Pixie Dream Girl doesn’t go on, / there’s no need for her anymore.” And that is the tragic reality of how this trope translates to real-life scenarios; women are objects of character development for their male counterparts and do not expect nor receive their own story.
In essence, the manic pixie dream girl trope and its poor representation of women in the media is a product of misogyny, and effectively sums up the idea of being “not like other girls.” There is this overwhelming tendency or desire to be different or quirky in such a way that sets you apart from the pack. But what’s wrong with other girls and being like them? This fear of unified femininity is misogynistic, and can even be a sign of internalized misogyny if coming from a female perspective. Dissociating oneself from traditional womanhood (whether it be by hating all things pink or otherwise not being a girly girl) perpetuates the idea that it is bad to be a woman.
Moreover, this all comes from a very heteronormative perspective, but that is the unfortunate reality of the world we live in. Assuming straight is the default sexuality is all too common, and the manic pixie dream girl trope furthers this idea as well. The trope does not allow for changes to the traditional gender-script, as the woman must teach the man how to live until she is not needed anymore. Moreover, other than the mocking joke of “he’s not like other boys,” there is virtually no male equivalent; the manic pixie dream girl is yet another way to maintain patriarchal standards for our society. Thus, we must move away from stereotypical portrayals of women in media, and away from the notion of femininity being inherently bad.