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Feminspire | April 24, 2014

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I’m Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl

I’m Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Recently, it has come to my attention that if a guy were to force me into one specific label, out of all those labels floating around in dark space, I’d be classified as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Before I proceed, here is the definition of the MPDG by Nathan Rabin, the critic who coined the term:

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.

So, that doesn’t sound too bad…right…?

How about we decode that label further with another definition:

She’s stunningly attractive, high on life, full of wacky quirks and idiosyncrasies, (generally including childlike playfulness and a tendency towards petty crime)…She’s inexplicably obsessed with our stuffed-shirt hero, on whom she will focus her kuh-razy antics until he learns to live freely and love madly.

Still doesn’t sound too awful, I think?

I know I could be called something a lot worse — and have been in the past, but how about you just don’t label me at all? All it does is create and reinforce this strange, singular idea of a person. In the case of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, I’d even go as far as to argue that this is misogynistic; I’m 24-years-old with a degree and my own income. I’m not a girl and have surpassed that word (the one that makes me feel like I need to punch someone to assert myself).

But going back to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

We are all labelled in life. It is an unfortunate, inescapable truth. What frustrates me most about this system is how hard it is to shake off. So, let me break it down for you using personal examples from my life and please, consider the two definitions up above (they aren’t just there to bulk out the white space!) and read my lips: I’ll never be your Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Image courtesy of Seamus Gallagher, amajor7.tumblr.com

First of all, my interests and hobbies existed before you came along.

I like some really ridiculous stuff. Like, I collect maps and have a map wall. I often wish I had a bigger wall so I could put more maps up. I also freaking LOVE stars and astronomy (oh, aren’t I whimsical?). On my ceiling, I’ve got glow-in-the-dark stars arranged in constellations from the Northern Hemisphere in winter (really, the season does make a difference). Did I mention I also love gaming, fantasy and sci-fi? I’m a woman who is interested in lots of things that perhaps are “quirky,” so I have some features that perhaps makes me distinguishable — like everyone else. But I liked these things before you were in my life. Just because you also like games and stars doesn’t mean we’re destined to be together. I like strange stuff. Really, I’m aware of this; just don’t put me on a pedestal for it.

Adventures!

The reason I occasionally jump headfirst into things and become consumed with a project or go travelling solo in Asia isn’t because of some intrinsic desire to make myself more desirable to men. I do these things because I get bored, I get depressed, I need to go see stuff to take my mind off other things. Don’t put this admittedly annoying habit down as something cute, because it really isn’t. If you want to embrace life then go for it. Just don’t use me and my experiences as an excuse for you to start living your own life.

I will not complete you.

I might enjoy the time we have together, but also I find you clingy and annoying. Like I said before, we might have some things in common, but so what? This doesn’t mean I’m able to wave a magic wand and make your life better. I’m too busy being young and trying to figure it all out to try to find the few missing pieces of your life. I can’t help you get your shit together as well.

I feel at this point, before I proceed, I should insert a very fitting quote from one of the most prominent Anti-MPDGs in cinema:

“Too many guys think I’m a concept, or I complete them, or I’m gonna make them alive…. But I’m just a fucked-up girl who’s looking for my own peace of mind; don’t assign me yours.” (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).

Oh Clementine. I love you for being you, for being a relatable woman in a sea of women who promise to give everything to their man!

I am not a dream come true.

Because we have all this stuff in common and I look a certain way, you think I’m this dream come true and, following a short but passionate dating period, we’ll go skipping off into the sunset, hand-in-hand.

Well, you’re wrong.

I’m not happy about this fact but I am probably the crusher of dreams. At first, I’m happy to play along in a relationship and try to make things work out, but I get bored of people and places and, more importantly, I get bored of being ‘your girlfriend’ (there we go- another label on my back!) I can’t live out your fantasies or play the role you had envisioned before meeting me. I can’t promise that I won’t decide tomorrow that I’m not happy and this isn’t working out so I’m sorry but we’re breaking up. Please don’t turn me into this goddess in your mind because all I can promise is that I’ll never live up to your expectations.

And this is where the problem lies with labels, especially the MPDG label. As much as I seemingly appear to conform to this label, I’m capable of doing something to completely trash the illusion you have of me. I could wake up one day and decide to have a complete transformation, thereby shedding myself of everything you placed on me. Where does that leave us? Well, I’ll be okay because I haven’t projected all my hopes and dreams onto you, but you’ve done that to me.

Another quote I love about this is regarding (500) Days of Summer, a film that ruins the illusion of the MPDG:

“He develops a mildly delusional obsession over a girl onto whom he projects all these fantasies. He thinks she’ll give his life meaning…A lot of boys and girls think their lives will have meaning if they find a partner who wants nothing else in life but them. That’s not healthy. That’s falling in love with the idea of a person, not the actual person.” (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

I find great comfort in this quote. After the release of (500) Days of Summer, I felt like I had to defend the character of Summer Finn for breaking Tom Hansen’s heart. She never promised him that she’d be there forever or she’d complete him, yet I actually saw comments calling her a bitch for defying the MPDG stereotype. Is it really so awful to defy another person’s unrealistic expectations?

Men — this idea you have of your perfect woman is just that — an idea. You might meet some cool woman who has a few things in common with you, but please don’t project all these juvenile fantasies onto her. She won’t complete you; that’s something you have to do all by yourself. I might only wear blue dresses and read science-fiction, but really — I’m not your Manic Pixie Dream Girl. No woman is.

What do you think of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl label? Can you think of any MPDGs in pop culture? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Written by Becky Yare

  • http://twitter.com/kikirafiki Kirsten Darner

    Thank you so much for this article! I have been a bit obsessed with men’s obsession with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype as of late. I think it’s interesting that Zooey Deschanel played Summer, who broke the MPDG illusion, but she herself seems to be the ultimate MPDG (so adorkable!). Men fawn over her “quirky,” cute, and girlish persona. Sigh.

  • http://twitter.com/kikirafiki Kirsten Darner

    Also, here is an amusing/kind of sad supercut, “75 Years of Manic Pixie Dream Girls”: http://www.flavorwire.com/311490/exclusive-supercut-75-years-of-manic-pixie-dream-girls

  • http://www.facebook.com/swashbucklingforcharity Sarah Merrill

    Just to point it out, even though it’s not as prevalent, there are Manic Pixie Dream BOYS, too. I know, because I wanted one for a long time. I wanted a quirky skinny red-headed guitarist who liked astronomy and was a little wild to take all my problems away. Fantasies like these aren’t gender-specific.

    • http://www.facebook.com/marlenaraec Marlena Carcone

      That’s true; everyone has unrealistic fantasies, but the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is much more of a trope than her male counterpart. It’s based on the way they’re presented in media, and girls are definitely more likely to be portrayed as the wacky, cute, unpredictable hottie who’ll take you on a wild ride and change your life, because most media (and this includes books, movies, tv shows, songs, etc) is dominated by the male perspective. We rarely get to hear from a so-called Manic Pixie Dream Girl about her experiences.

      • http://twitter.com/oh_Laika Bee

        I am so in love with your last line. It would be great to see the examples of the mpdg but from the female perspective.

    • http://twitter.com/oh_Laika Bee

      Oh gosh, I definitely agree that there is the male equivalent for every female trope, but I fee it’s less prevalent than the female version.

      Ps, we shared the same fantasy guy haha.

  • http://twitter.com/jenntendo64 Jennifer Lloyd

    Very interesting article on the MPDG. I really want to see the movie “Ruby Sparks” and see what that says about this stereotype. He has his ideal MPDG but apparently all does not go well?

  • dr.ma

    Sounds kinda exaggerated. People label each other all the time, just show them you’re not a stereotype or ignore them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/laurencslavin Lauren Slavin

    I honestly didn’t know there was a phrase for these perfectly quirky female characters until today. It’s like one of those French or German words that encompasses an idea that there is no translation of in English. I totally see the comparison and history of MPDG in film and TV and literature, and I agree that there is not on a MPDB(oy/Guy/Dude), but also the White Knight save-the-day archetype that plagues the same media.

  • Quasi

    In a lot of ways it’s the same reason I loathe Bruno Mars “catch a grenade for you”. He’s really angry that “she” won’t love him as much as he loves her, and because of that she’s a bitch.

    Huh?

    Sometimes it feels like half of our culture is defined by male entitlement issues, and I say this as a white middle class het married male (with four daughters).

    I despair.

  • AliBoBaly

    My boyfriend is still obsessed over his MPDG. I have also been thought of as such by other men, but have been trumped by her desire to eat several deserts instead of a meal at restaurants, overtly quirky taste in anything and love of horrible fashion. I don’t think it’s wrong to be influenced/inspired by this, in fact it’s fabulous. Some introverted and slightly depressed men just seem to define themselves by the standard and have a difficult time living in reality afterward. Find your own joie de vive, don’t borrow someone else’s!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bob-Stafford/100001647864446 Bob Stafford

    Many many years before the term MPDG was invented, young men sought women who would complete them, and young women sought men who would complete them, and they found to their surprise and disappointment that their fantasies did not live up to the realities.

    Whatever this MPDG phrase means — and I haven’t yet got it, I don’t quite know what binds Katherine Hepburn with Zooey Deschanel — it’s far too small and narrow and provincial and time-bound of a term to describe that which appears to be timeless.

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  • Karina

    PREACH IT!

  • Edgar Flint

    It seems to me that you totally don’t understand the difference between a character archetype and a label.

    You are lumping yourself into this category (label) when it’s totally unfounded. Just simply “being unique” doesn’t make you a MPDG. With such a narrow definition, the MPDG archetype would include well, pretty much every woman with a brain. (Also, I think you’re being extremely nit-picky with the use of the term “girl”. It’s well and good if you don’t want to be called a girl, but there is a specific connotation made with the term girl that wouldn’t be the same with the term woman.)

    While you clearly admire your own quirks and think you’re exceedingly unique, I’m confused as to why you would rather take personal issue with a label you created and assigned to yourself, rather than to take issue with the MPDG trope which, whether you like it or not, has become popular in modern culture. This article seems like a quasi-freudian ego stroke-fest to me, rather than a legitimate criticism.

  • mikeman

    Hm…I find it a bit strange that nobody has commented that this “MPDG” thing, as it is presented in the media, is actually a dipole: For every female part, there is the male counterpart, in this case the hopelessly romantic geek that is just waiting for a “MPDG” to make his life complete or to…”crush his dreams”(!). One does not exist without the other, right?

    But what the author here seems to imply is that, while every woman is a complex individual and a person of her own(of course, I agree) and no “MPDG” actually exists in the real world(again, yes)…the “MPDG-obsessed-geek-boy” stereotype actually *does* exist…why, she’s even met a few and has…”crushed their dreams”!

    Well, tell you what, instead of arbitrarily focusing on just one side of the coin, let’s demolish the whole thing entirely: I completely acknowledge that you’re not a “dream come true” and that you’re not going to make a guy’s life “complete”…consider extending us the same courtesy and acknowledging that we are not weaklings that expect a woman like you, or any woman in general, to come along and make *our* lives “complete”. No woman is “Ramona Flowers”, and no guy is “Scott Pilgrim” either.

    Deal?

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  • Sh y

    I know this post is old, but I listen to rap & r&b. culture… I’ve been labeled as a MPDG literally I’ve been told I’m perfect or any guy would be lucky to have me etc… Yet I can’t seem to understand why boy I liked &he liked me but failed to realize this… That just made me much more attracted I’m not your MPDG I’m an average girl who likes games, jokes, and isn’t afraid to speak, I’m weird awkward, at times, annoying, &must of all I’m not trying to be this all American Betty crocker, I guess we’re I live and the other females here guys see that as a prize which s me kind of happy but unfortunately a simple you’re cute or different is ok don’t base your whole life that I’m meant for you because girls get scared of commitment too, commitment to the wrong guy. Commitment to this over sensitive g, guy who thinks I’m perfect & when you find out I left a sock on the Br floor on accident you’ll leave because I’m not perfect & not trying to be just accept me for me &don’t try to determine who I am because I don’t know who I am sometimes…. I think I’m off track but anyways bye :)
    17

  • 3rdEyeWide

    My “wife” isn’t just that label. She’s my partner in crime. We don’t get bored because we constantly look for conquests. We dart in and out of the illusion of reality that many people walk through blind to the prison around their mind. Your struggle to throw off labels isn’t real either. The labels only exist in the system, and personally I embrace the camoflage that others freely paint upon me because that’s the mentality of an apex predator. That’s not to say I’m a carnivorous man-eater, but I engineer my own reality and the realities of others when necessary. I don’t need to stand out because I wield a power that exists while I have one hand inside the breast of my coat. If I showed you what I was holding my power would crumble into dust because you would have it too. It is a fragile thing to hold the light and witness the world through an all seeing eye. Good luck with your anti-label mission. I did enjoy the article.