The ‘manic pixie dream girl’ is rooted in misogyny  

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A “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” is a female character who is quirky or generally different than other girl characters. These characters are usually poorly written and serve more as narrative devices than as characters. Illustration by Kaitlyn Tran/The Daily Campus

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 trope typically enforces heteronormative gender roles, making the girl in the movie serve the story in relation to a main male character. Additionally, it indicates that being “like other girls” is explicitly negative which is harmful to girls who want to present in the manner it criticizes. Photo by Yiran Ding on Unsplash.

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.  

3 COMMENTS

  1. There are more movies out there with stereotypically feminine love interests than awkward less feminine ones; think literally any rom com not involving a manic pixie dream girl lol. I think it’s nice to have movies where someone like me is the love interest. I have social anxiety so I’m more awkward than most people, I’m not considered conventionally attractive, and I don’t only like dressing “girly” or doing girly things all the time, so it’s not uncommon for women to be “not like other girls”, we just can’t be ourselves without people thinking we’re trying to be “not like other girls”

  2. Give me a break. This is so stupid. Yes lots of movies are formulaic and cliché for there genres. Yes it’s boring. I used to feel bad in the real world for being different and having problems. Never liked the mainstream snotty girls who put me down along with their mainstream immature boyfriends. So what if they feel less “worthy” because of some dumb movies. In reality they go out of their way to make those who are different less worthy. I have no problem being feminine or not being feminine. As far as the boy using the manic pixie girl(and I resent the mental health connotation to this name- thanx whoever came up with that) to learn something then throw away(it’s never really like that)- ok it’s just unfortunate gender roles are involved this way, but that’s straight people for you. I am a gay female and had plenty of girlfriends who also would have fit this description – I guess I was the boy in that situation. It’s just too bad these movies are so silly because in real life mental health issues and substance abuse problems are so much worse and gone on way before Hollywood. It’s not the cliché girl character it’s the fact that films revolve mostly around men and boys point of view…period! Women struggle to get good roles when there are not many. Plus mainstream people are boring. The guys in these films usually seem pathetic and boring. Without the muse they are empty. Not so good a representation for them either. These films just make me more interested in the women not the guys thAnk you. Let me know if you can recommend some pixie dream girl films.

  3. Saying the girl is always discarded to me just means the trope hasn’t been done well YET. It’s easy enough to make one of these characters where they also get development, flaws, an arc, secondary characteristics etc. I don’t agree this is the only role they can serve. And if you’re going to argue this trope is a disservice to more stereotypically feminine viewers. I’m curious what it does for women who’re like Manic Pixie Dream Girls in real life. There are quite a few eccentric women I’m sure. It just seems like your problem is more how the trope is used.

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