Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) – a stock character type in films, described by film critic Nathan Rabin as ‘that bubbly, shallow, cinematic creature that 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.’ Now, while I bloody love the name, the concept is beginning to bother me.
I was quite happy with her/it while she existed solely in fiction – whiling away her days as Summer in 500 Days of Summer or whimsically singing through the streets like Belle in Beauty and the Beast. However, now the MPDG is spreading, moving from the confines of book pages and movie screens. She has been hauled into reality, and it presents a problem.
Wikipedia tells me the MPDG is usually – open quotation marks – a static character who has eccentric personality quirks and is unabashedly girlish. They invariably serve as the romantic interest for a (most often brooding or depressed) male protagonist. Close quotation marks.
I was particularly piqued by Laurie Penny’s New Statesman article about how she ‘used to be a MPDG’ based on the following traits; physically, she’s short, petite, pale, messy hair dyed fancy colours; she’s strange, sensitive, daydreamy. She believes in the ultimate decency of humanity, and likes music. Perhaps most importantly, she plays ‘the fucking ukelele’.
On page, the MPDG is two-dimensional – defined by eccentricities rather than an actual personality. A girl whose hobbies can be explained away as quirks. Which is fine when all you’re explaining away is a fictional character, but when we’re talking about real life, about real people – well, then that thing you’re explaining away is a person. At what point do someone’s physical attributes or hobbies become an eccentricity to be dismissed?
I can’t help noticing the huge similarities between myself and the MPDG. I’m short, blonde, excitable and daydreamy. My hobbies are painfully ‘quirky’. Arts and crafts. Crochet. When encountering the concept of a MPDG, I thought, ‘My god I am that girl.’ I thought, ‘Quick, I must drop the ridiculous hobbies, stop trying to get on well with people and dye my hair brown lest people refuse to take me seriously.’
But is it ourselves who should change, rather than the stereotype? Laurie Penny thinks so;
“I try hard, now, around the men in my life, to be as unmanic, as unpixie and as resolutely real as possible, because I don’t want to give the wrong impression. And it’s a struggle. Because I remain a small, friendly, excitable person who wears witchy colors and has a tendency towards the twee”.
But logically, the MPDG does not and cannot exist in real life: a real person can never slip into that two-dimensionality. In dragging the MPDG into real life, it becomes a restrictive and oppressive stereotype, rather than a place to arbitrarily dump fictional women. And changing yourself and your hobbies in order not to fit a stereotype is just as ridiculous as changing them to fit to one.
So I will be embracing the MPDG in me. I like that side of me, and I liked it before someone started calling it ‘manic’ and ‘pixie’. It’s my right to embrace the parts of my personality that I like, even if they are painfully and traditionally domestic. Even if they come under someone’s banner of twee or try-hard. Even if they involve crochet. And I can do it without being written off as some degrading fictional stereotype.