Confessions of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Kristin Devine

Kristin has humbly retired as Ordinary Times' friendly neighborhood political whipping girl to focus on culture and gender issues. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of

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105 Responses

  1. fillyjonk says:

    Good piece. (I probably need to re-read “The Accidental Tourist” some time. I remember I read it when I was in my early 20s and I liked it)

    I always said “I hate the Manic Pixie Dream Girl” but you do make a case for her. I think I disliked the stereotype version of her – the complete flake, the person who literally can’t balance her own checkbook, who needs someone to take care of her.

    I think I said I hated her for two real reasons:

    1. In real life, someone who is helpless is EXHAUSTING. I have had friends who had that kind of helplessness in some areas of their lives and having to “rescue” someone when they, I don’t know, forget to gas up the car and run out of gas somewhere and call you to come get them – that gets old really fast when there’s no hope of reciprocity. And yes, I have probably been/stayed friends with people I should not have because of the lack of reciprocity, but that’s how I am – I can’t drop a friend, not over something like that

    2. But moreso, I think I said I hated the trope because (a) it seems to appeal to men and (b) I know I’m not that kind of girl, even though I wish I could be – I am exactly the opposite of forward. I treat men like potential colleagues, not potential dates. I’m sure I project a rather self-contained demeanor and that’s probably why a couple times in my life I have heard “but gee, I didn’t think you were interested, that’s why I didn’t push him to ask you out.” I would like to be a bit more pixieish but it’s just not in my personality make-up….and so I wonder, are other people having more fun that I am incapable of?

    And also, yes: sometimes I so so so so want just to be taken care of, to have someone go “look, I can handle this for you” but I tend to be the kind of person instead who gets told how “strong” she is and “you’ll figure this out” and I’m sitting there going “but that’s not really….the point?”

    And yes, even as I know fictional characters are not the same as real humans, for me, the only way “inside” another person’s head is to read about them in fiction…

    I also think that a lot of us as teenagers or young adults got exposed to really stereotypical portrayals of the MPDG. I would never thought of Muriel Pritchett as one but it does make sense.Report

    • I like to think that the MPDG friends can sometimes pay back in other ways, even though we’re huge dysfunctional flakes but I’m sure it’s super irritating for those around us. But there are absolutely people who use others up and take advantage and the Venn Diagrams likely intersect.

      As you probably recall I am a big proponent of the “men who help” storyline because I think so many of us out there, even when we’re strong, reserved, etc just could use a shoulder to lean on and if it came in the package of a romantic interest, even better.

      I love your insights as always, thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂Report

  2. Silver Wolf says:

    I don’t read romantic novels, however I have watched some romantic movies and I do understand the character types.

    Being a man, I naturally identify with the male characters. I see myself as the stuffed shirt character. I believe Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy from pride and prejudice is one. Excuse the geek in me but I think Captain Picard is also one.

    I despise the male version of a Bella Swan, often played by the likes of Adam Sandler that, despite having no redeeming qualities or romantic skills, gets the smoking-hot, successful-at-life, got-it-together woman.

    Would you agree that Jennifer Lawrence’s character Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook is a classic (pre 2000s) MPDG? I feel that her character could blow through your life like a tornado, was all kinds of messed up, and most importantly, needed you as much as you needed her.Report

    • I really need to write about the Adam Sandler/Seth Rogan type of character vs. the Everyman because I think that’s a lot more like “creator wish fulfillment guy” than any kind of an actual viable character archetype.

      I only ever watched SLP once but that makes sense. That was an interesting movie in that both of the characters were screwed up so it wasn’t as much of a one way street as it often is.

      Thanks for reading!Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kristin Devine says:

        Yeah. It strikes me that there’s a *HUGE* difference between the slacker/loser who is inspired to become a better man by the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and the Average Guy who is effectively a bird in a cage who is inspired to become a better man by the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

        The former story is kinda weird and creepy. (I remember hearing Katherine Heigl saying something about how Knocked Up was kinda sexist and… yeah. I don’t agree with all of this article, but I agree with 80ish percent of it.)

        But a guy who is working hard, pulling his weight, following the rules, and so on and he has someone magical who turns his life into something wonderful?

        SIGN ME THE HECK UP.Report

        • Kristin Devine in reply to Jaybird says:

          Yep this totally. It’s a story I myself greatly like, I can easily imagine men liking it too, sign me up!

          (and wow, that was quite an article, the comments made about Katherine Heigl by both Seth Rogan and Apatow were kinda psychotic)Report

  3. veronica d says:

    Strongly agree 🙂

    The thing is, the MPDG trope was a piece of film criticism, which wasn’t about the (supposed) problems with cool, quirky women. It was about writers who put so much energy into her coolness and quirkiness that they forget to give her an inner life. It’s just bad writing.

    Accidental Tourist is a great example. There is nothing wrong with having a cool women come along and change a man’s life, no more than there is a problem with the inverse. It’s that the woman needs to feel like a real person with her own hopes and dreams.Report

  4. LeeEsq says:

    That was me. I think that at least some versions of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl are aimed at men because the MPDG does a lot of the pursuit work that is traditionally done or depicted as being done by men. The guy she is interested in is usually depicted as at least being theoretically average in looks, not the most desirable catch. For men, having somebody pursue you rather than you having to do the leg work, especially if you aren’t’ a top tier guy is a big fantasy.Report

    • Kristin Devine in reply to LeeEsq says:

      It was actually Pillsy I was thinking of at the time, but you and I have had similar conversations!!

      Question – a lot of guys find it a huge turnoff when a girl chases them. So how do women know which guy to pursue and which one not to?Report

      • The same way we know which girls to pursue — trial and error.Report

      • veronica d in reply to Kristin Devine says:

        You can never know for sure. On the other hand, if you like a guy, and if he seems a bit shy, and if he doesn’t come across as an angry jackass, then it’s probably worth a shot.

        A lot of girls like the extroverted guys, so if you’re the sort of women who wants to pursue, it’s a goldmine.Report

        • I just feel bad for the type of women who are more reticent about sticking it out there and then get their feelings hurt a couple times by a-holes, and draw a perpetual conclusion from that, when they actually should probably just regroup and try again.Report

          • *quietly raises hand*

            I’ve asked guys out a couple times when I was younger and it didn’t go well. In retrospect, they were probably insufficiently mature for me. But still, it really cramped my style.

            Then again, I’m bad enough at many social interactions that reading about the “use trial and error” thing above makes me go, “But I don’t LIKE trial and error because it means I wind up getting my spirit crushed much of the time”Report

            • veronica d in reply to fillyjonk says:

              How do you think it feels for men?

              In the end, someone has to make the first move. It doesn’t matter who, but men have a lot more pressure in this area that women do.

              That said, things don’t need to be all one way or all the other. In most of my relationships, it’s been kind of a back and forth. It feels a bit like two people orbiting around, both hoping to get closer, both testing the water, and then finally getting together.

              Of course, all these relationships have been sapphic, so we don’t have the weird het asymmetry. On the other hand, I see no formal reason that str8s can’t do the same.Report

              • LeeEsq in reply to veronica d says:

                Thank for this. A lot of conventional dating advice for men is based on the idea that we can go through constant get up, get shot down, and get up again with our spirits intact. It’s really very crushing for many of us though.Report

            • See, I don’t think it’s you. I don’t think it’s you at all. If it was just those of us who were socially awkward then why is Sadie Hawkins a joke, right? Why do pickup artists make videos where they literally tell dudes not to go out with women who make the first move? Why does “The Rules” exist?

              I think this is an actual thing, a lot of guys are put off by it, and whether it’s innate or as a result of toxic masculinity or patriarchy or misogyny or whatever, we’re not being fair to the position of women to say “just ask them out” because we’ve had it drummed into our heads not only by about 10000 sources over our lifetimes INCLUDING guys we’ve actually pursued, not to do it. Because not only might they say no, but they might end up being the butt of the joke too.

              I’m sure it’s hard for men too. No one’s saying it isn’t. But there is a whole nother level of potential for hurt because men are “supposed” to ask girls out. Women who ask guys out are bucking a lot of rules we’ve learned along the way and risking rejection (and I believe a much higher possibility of rejection) than a man in the same place.Report

              • veronica d in reply to Kristin Devine says:

                I’m sure you’re right. But darnit it’s such a huge lost opportunity for connection.Report

              • Urusigh in reply to Kristin Devine says:

                Nope, “certain men” are supposed to ask the girls out. The jocks, the “cool kids”, the artists, name your 80’s movie high school clique here. The socially awkward shy guys? Rejected by the girls AND mocked by all the other guys.

                Why do pickup artists tell guys not to go out with the girl who makes the first move? Because that most likely leads to a lasting relationship, which means that guy is no longer is in the market for PUA products. Including the guys you persued? No disrespect intended to you, but did those guys fit into one of the “popular crowd” clichés I noted above? Being the one persued is only a role change if they’re already used to being successful in that role.

                My advice? Find a nice guy who looks as shy as you feel. Ask him. My wife did, we’ve been married happily for more than 6 years now. It can happen for you too.Report

      • Generally, I would say, shy guys. I’ve only been in relationships where the women pursued me. My own pursuits were laughable failures. And my first gf was a bit of MPDG in some respects, which was very much what I need at the time. I was more repressed, introverted and averse than Fitzwilliam Darcy on quaaludes.Report

      • Lee Ratner in reply to Kristin Devine says:

        I think that the guys find being chased by a girl to be a huge turnoff is something of a romantic myth that people believe but might not exist in reality or at least not to the extent it is held to be true. I can’t speak for other men but at least some chase from the woman is a turn on because it means I’m desirable since they are taking some initiative to get me. I also find the “meet my challenge/impress me” confrontation mode of dating really tiresome. It makes dating seem like a long hard slog of work rather than something fun. Its a lot of pressure to have to thing of every little thing. So having a woman ask me out or propose a date idea makes everything seem more equal.Report

        • I’ve just been sitting here thinking this through and I have a theory.

          I know from seeing it happen to people that chasing guys is in many cases a surefire way to get rejected (in fact now that I stop to think about it, it has happened to me, not so much chasing but everyone knew I was into a guy and he was like “hard pass” and told a lot of people that, which was rather humiliating even though I never chased him chased him)

          But that having been said, that was high school and college, and it very well may be that there is a dynamic in play in adulthood where a guy has to prove himself more and make all this effort. I haven’t ever experienced that firsthand so I can’t comment on that. Things change, but the problem is it’s really hard to unlearn those early lessons.

          I wonder how many gals like me are out there and either got burned or saw others get burned during their formative years and now would never ever ever take the risk??? It very well may be keeping women from pursuing guys who would be receptive to them.Report

          • Lee Ratner in reply to Kristin Devine says:

            That theory makes sense. My dating history didn’t really start until my late twenties and it was always less than stellar with the vast majority of dates ending with some variety of I didn’t feel any chemistry. My second to last date was with a divorced woman. During the pre-date stages of communication she mentioned a lot about what went wrong with her marriage from her perspective at least. Not wanting a repeat performance of previous experiences, I decided to do things differently including call her and speak to her over the phone rathe than just texting. And we met and had a three hour date in the middle of week and I felt rather good about this.

            Afterwards we had post date communication and I thought things were going well, but she eventually told me that I’m an amazing, kind, and interesting person but she didn’t feel the spark or any chemistry despite the fact that she seemed to have a lot of fun on the date. I decided to be forward and say that I get this a lot and what does she mean by chemistry or the spark.

            To her credit she thought about it and answered the question. She gave a long response that chemistry is the feeling of being wanted and desired and that a guy would do things he normally wouldn’t do to get you. Its also about feeling safe and protected with a guy and that he puts you first and doesn’t even think about himself or what he wants. Her response was a bit longer but I’m working from memory and deleted her text.

            And I think this response kind of broke me because this is what she wants to feel after a first date. I’m guessing that the other women who gave me the I didn’t feel anything chemistry response want something similar. And it just is too much because how can I possibly provide all this when he just met online and communicated a few times before meeting? The entire do things that you normally wouldn’t do sounds suspiciously like “you need to know how to sexually harass me in the right way.” It’s a very meet my challenge mode of dating that isn’t fun.

            A lot of dating advice aimed at men takes this as given. “You need to go through the psycho period”, “you need to prove your value and fake it till you make it”, “you need to be a real man and show that you will be the world’s best step-dad before you get any affection in response” etc. Even allegedly feminist dating advice is along this line. So with the MPDG you get somebody who is romancing you as you are rather than putting you through what seems like a series of extractions and tests.Report

            • veronica d in reply to Lee Ratner says:

              Be careful, though. It’s pretty easy to overthink this stuff, and in turn to trap yourself in an intellectual tower of bullshit.

              Attraction is pretty unconscious, so when people try to explain their attractions, it’s usually a lot of post hoc rationalization — which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen when people tell you what they like, but people vary regarding their insight and communication skills. Plus, no one gets to speak for anyone else. Each encounter is between two (or more) individuals with their own desires, boundaries, and needs. If there is mutual attractions, then it’s a matter of dancing around the social niceties until everyone involved reaches the needed comfort level. By contrast, if there isn’t mutual attraction, then it’s about dancing around that fact in a way that preserves everyone’s dignity.

              Most non-sociopaths will want to preserve everyone’s dignity.

              Regarding the “you need to know how to sexually harass me in the right way” — yeesh! That’s not a good direction to be heading. Big nope.Report

              • LeeEsq in reply to veronica d says:

                It’s very hard not to overthink this stuff when you, meaning me personally, are always on the romantic outs and the only advice people can give you is keep trying, get out there, and keep self-improving. It’s like having to support a party you are not invited to.Report

              • Kristin Devine in reply to LeeEsq says:

                Something a lot of women of my acquaintance have noted when they rejoin the dating pool is that a lot of the people on the market are there for a reason (both men and women alike, this includes some lesbians) and so I wonder if people who are actively dating are bumping into more than their fair share of jerks. I wonder if this is happening to you as well.Report

              • In my little local pool, of the unattached guys I know, a couple are gay (and so while they’re nice guys and I love them for other reasons, I know there will never be able to be anything there) and several others are…mutiply divorced. One person someone offered to introduce me to, it was clear what he was REALLY looking for was someone to keep house for him and be a step mom to his kids, and while I would 100% not be averse to that being PART of the deal, for him, that was the whole deal, and…yeah…no. Fortunatley he seemed not-into-me so the let down was easy. Also am not quitting my job to take care of someone’s house and kids, ‘cos if it didn’t work out, where would I be? I don’t think it’s too much to ask that a guy in my age group accept that I’m going to keep working…

                So yeah. I mean, I know I’m damaged in some very specific ways and am not the ideal “catch” or I’d have been “caught” decades ago, but at this point….it seems like remaining alone is preferable to the choices that seem to present themselves.

                I suspect once you’re past 30 the dating pool is less a fun pool party and more an alligator swamp with lots of mosquitoes. Maybe that’s overly pessimistic but that seems to be my experience.Report

              • LeeEsq in reply to fillyjonk says:

                I’d put off the cut off date in mid to late thirties, although this might be because I’ve always lived in major metropolitan areas, but dating gets less fun the older I get. This is especially true when your luck has been non-existent besides getting first dates. You see people in your peer group raising families or even being on their second spouse and you are wondering when you will get your first girlfriend and get to do all the stuff you missed out on or whether you will have to go straight to “instant family, add daddy/mommy.” Bleh.Report

              • LeeEsq in reply to Kristin Devine says:

                At this point I just think I come off as non-partner material to nearly everybody. There are women who like me and have female friends in real life but they are unavailable because they are with somebody else and/or big age differences or something else.

                I find that a lot of men and women find me something of an acquired taste and hard to grasp. They aren’t that hostile but even people who seem to like me seem to find me hard to understand. This does not make finding a romantic partner very easy. There are some women who seem turned off from me by instinct despite having no social interaction like I have the plague or something.Report

  5. Aaron David says:

    I think my mother has many of the qualities of an MPDG. Bright, vivacious, dripping with personality. Kathy Popcorn! as her HS yearbook related. But, when she started her business she was driven and very successful, not unlike a MarySue. But you can’t have everything, and what she wasn’t was maternal.

    Anne Tyler, the author of Accidental, was on the forefront of a revival of literary romance back in the ’80s-’90s, and so tended to be more literary than what followed.Report

  6. Jaybird says:

    The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is one of those interesting things because she has traits that a lot of people might see as flaws. Other folks might argue with whether or not they’re flaws. Dude, no! Those traits are virtues! No! They make her weird! No! They make her wonderful!

    And the fact that she has Schrödinger’s Flaws make her interesting.

    Have you ever heard of “The Galbrush Paradox”? I’ll copy and paste this from TV Tropes’s “Flawless Token” page:

    Do you know why there’s so many white male characters in video games? Especially leads? Because no one cares about them. A white male can be a lecherous drunk. A woman can’t or it’s sexist. Sexualizing women and what all. A white male can be a mentally disturbed soldier who’s mind is unraveling as he walks through the hell of the modern battlefield. A woman can’t or you’re victimizing women and saying they’re all crazy. Consider Guybrush Threepwood, star of the Monkey Island series. He’s weak, socially awkward, cowardly, kind of a nerd and generally the last person you’d think of to even cabin boy on a pirate ship, let alone captain one. He is abused, verbally and physically, mistreated, shunned, hated and generally made to feel unwanted. Now let’s say Guybrush was a girl. We’ll call her Galbrush. Galbrush is weak, socially awkward, cowardly, kind of a nerd and generally the last person you’d think of to even cabin boy on a pirate ship, let alone captain one. She is abused, verbally and physically, mistreated, shunned, hated and generally made to feel unwanted. Now, you might notice that I’ve given the exact same description to both of these characters. But here’s where things deviate. While no one cares if Guybrush takes a pounding for being, for lack of a better term, a less than ideal pirate, Galbrush will be presumed to be discriminated against because of her gender. In fact, every hardship she will endure, though exactly the same as the hardships Guybrush endured, will be considered misogyny, rather than someone being ill suited to their desired calling. And that ending. She goes through ALL that trouble to help, let’s call him Eli Marley, escape the evil clutches of the ghost piratess Le Chuck, it turns out he didn’t even need her help and she even screwed up his plan to thwart Le Chuck. Why, it’d be a slap in the face to every woman who’s ever picked up a controller. Not only is the protagonist inept, but apparently women make lousy villains too! And that’s why Guybrush exists and Galbrush doesn’t. Men can be comically inept halfwits. Women can’t. Men can be flawed, tragic human beings. Women can’t. And why? Because every single female character reflects all women everywhere.

    The MPDG is interesting because her are-they-or-aren’t-they flaws allow her to avoid the Galbrush Paradox.Report

    • Kristin Devine in reply to Jaybird says:

      Weirdly, I was just thinking along these lines but didn’t have a word for it, thank you!Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

      I suppose they earn a few points for naming the character Threepwood.Report

    • veronica d in reply to Jaybird says:

      Well, there is Meg from Family Guy, but I’m not sure if that disproves your point.

      This also reminds me of a quote from one of the Bojack Horseman guys:

      The thinking comes from a place that the cleanest version of a joke has as few pieces as possible. For the dog joke, you have the thing where the tongue slobbers all over the businessperson, but if you also have a thing where both of them ladies, then that’s an additional thing and it muddies up the joke. The audience will think, “Why are those characters female? Is that part of the joke?” The underlying assumption there is that the default mode for any character is male, so to make the characters female is an additional detail on top of that. In case I’m not being a hundred percent clear, this thinking is stupid and wrong and self-perpetuating unless you actively work against it, and I’m proud to say I mostly don’t think this way anymore. Sometimes I still do, because this kind of stuff is baked into us by years of consuming media, but usually I’m able (with some help) to take a step back and not think this way, and one of the things I love about working with Lisa is she challenges these instincts in me.

      I feel like I can confidently say that this isn’t just a me problem though— this kind of thing is everywhere. The LEGO Movie was my favorite movie of 2014, but it strikes me that the main character was male, because I feel like in our current culture, he HAD to be. The whole point of Emmett is that he’s the most boring average person in the world. It’s impossible to imagine a female character playing that role, because according to our pop culture, if she’s female she’s already SOMEthing, because she’s not male. The baseline is male. The average person is male.

      [ ]Report

    • Lee Ratner in reply to Jaybird says:

      In a review of Avengers: Infinity War, Slate criticized how there is always a cat fight in superhero movies and you rarely get to see a villainous female character go against Tony Stark or Captain America. They always have to fight one of the female superheroes. A commentator pointed out that very few people want to see a male superhero beat up a female supervillain no matter how strong or evil she is. It will just never come across right to the audience because men don’t hit women or girls is heavily drilled into the psyche, so you need to have a woman to beat up another woman. A female superhero beating up a male is acceptable even if there is a big power differential though.

      In a similar vein, a friend posted something an artist did on careers for Disney princesses on Facebook. The careers were all aspirational. Jasmin is a United Nations ambassador, Aurora is the head of a big coffee corporation, etc. Something me in kind of flipped and I pointed out that most women like most men are statistically going to get jobs and careers that they don’t like that much and it would be nice to see something more realistic or even a Disney princess being given a negative impact career.

      So I think that we are still girl power phase of media because even not very ideologically feminist audiences want to see a Gailbrush. Things are changing though. You had Bridesmaids, which was a gross out comedy but with women rather than men. You also have more female villains in movies but in general its hard to get a really flawed female character because too many people don’t like it.Report

    • Lee Ratner in reply to Jaybird says:

      For some reason the Japanese seem better at the flawed female main character than American and Europeans are. Manga and anime is filed with female leads that aren’t the brightest bulbs in the box, have flaws and weakness like being a glutton, lecherous, scared, etc. Miaka Yuki from FY, Usagi from Sailor Moon, etc. Western media seems more reluctant to create these types of female leads though.Report

    • Maribou in reply to Jaybird says:

      Because every single female character reflects all women everywhere.

      And the interesting, most paradoxical part about that is that the easiest solution is actually more, and more widely varied, female characters. When there are something approaching parity / “representational” amounts of gendered characters, it stops mattering which gender does what. And the paradoxes collapse.

      Equality, man, it’s chicken and egg.Report

  7. Maribou says:

    *MPDG-identified fistbump*

    I really love when Clementine loses her shit at Joel in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for presuming she’s HIS MPDG … people often read that as a rejection of the trope, but to me it’s always read as a rejection of his assumptions of her purpose for existing. She just keeps going on being an MPDG, and not any more his than her own… and they are inexorably, desperately, always falling back in love with each other too.

    Clementine : 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 lookin’ for my own peace of mind; don’t assign me yours.

    Joel : I remember that speech really well.

    Clementine : I had you pegged, didn’t I?

    Joel : You had the whole human race pegged.

    Clementine : Hmm. Probably.

    Joel : I still thought you were gonna save my life… even after that.

    Clementine : Ohhh… I know.

    Joel : It would be different, if we could just give it another go-round.

    Clementine : Remember me. Try your best; maybe we can.

    (As an aside, it always cracks me up that Jaybird and I think of that as one of the most romantic movies in the world and endlessly shmoop at each other every time we watch it … meanwhile pretty much everyone we’ve ever shown it too was like ARRRRRRRRGH so stress and one couple even broke up in reaction. (they got back together three weeks later. and stayed together. oh the dramatic irony.)

    Thanks for writing such an excellent essay about what the real issue is, and for making it fun to read as well. This bit, especially, is a Keeper for me: “maybe the problem is viewing women as accessories to men, as a vector for men to have the life experiences they seem so damn convinced they deserve, as consumable resources who add joy to men’s lives without ever asking for, let alone getting, anything in return.”Report

    • Kristin Devine in reply to Maribou says:

      *fistbump* great to see you, I’ve missed your wisdom

      I love that movie and my husband does too. On a short list of the most romantic I’ve ever seen. I can’t imagine people disliking it or breaking up over it!

      I wrote something once where a guy basically asks a woman “why are you dressing so quirky, are you trying to look younger” and she was like, “no, this is the first time in my life I can afford to buy my own clothes, so I’m gonna dress how I want” and then he has to wrap his head around that.

      It’s really hard for some people to understand that some things we do primarily because it pleases us, because it interests us or we like it, and not as performance art, even if it is slightly as performance art, LOL.

      Thanks for reading it! Really appreciate it.Report

  8. Marchmaine says:

    Interesting article… I always thought it was an 80’s/90’s thing not a 2000s thing.

    Then again, this IMDB List suggests I have no idea what y’all were talking about… there are a lot of movies I’ve never heard of, and a few I thought were MPDG aren’t.

    It is possible I’m one of the few men that have no interest in MPDGs… I dated a Sanguine. Once.Report

  9. Blake Watson says:

    I have heard that when Mattel studied boys & girls play they discovered the following difference:

    1) Boys want to be He-Man
    2) Girls want Barbie to be them

    Thus females prefer—and I imagine “prefer” to be some (possibly very small) distinction—characters who are ciphers, because the differences ruin the projection.


    I do know the women very rarely seem to understand that men describe the women they love as angels, paragons, goddesses because that’s how we see you. (We see the other stuff, too, but that’s only important in reverse proportion to the current state of our ardency.)

    I think what you see as the one-sidedness of MPDG in modern iterations echoes the one-sidedness of post-Nora Ephron romcoms: A woman who is an utter basketcase (usually Meg Ryan) saved from her own irrationality by an infinitely patient man (usually Tom Hanks).

    RomComs like “Bringing Up Baby” used to appeal to men AND women. Now we have this weird dichotomy where both are just grossly pandered to.Report

    • Interesting point about the pandering. I wonder if all this boils down to “once upon a time, people used to make movies because they were telling stories and reflecting truth, but now they make movies to sell us things”. One of the ways they sell us things is by putting an aspirational lifestyle onscreen and no one wants to aspire to be an imperfect person, so the characters have gradually de-evolved into stereotype vs. archetype.

      Thanks for reading!Report

      • blake in reply to Kristin Devine says:

        “…now they make movies to sell us things…”

        Just so. And they do this by narrowing the demographic and, absolutely, pandering to that demographic.

        There’s a famous scene in “Sleepless in Seattle” where the girls are talking “An Affair To Remember” and the guys are sorta mocking it by talking about “The Dirty Dozen”. But while those earlier movies may appeal more to women and men respectively, they’re both really fine films that appeal to anyone who likes good stories.

        “…the characters have gradually de-evolved into stereotype vs. archetype.”

        That’s a very good phrasing. I’ll have to ruminate on that one.Report

        • Maribou in reply to blake says:

          People used to have less choice in movies. 2 screen theaters. To fill the seats they had to bring in both X and Y for nearly every X and Y (and sure, caveats abound when X has more power than Y for whatever reasons, too). But still.

          Look no further than the VCR for the reasons why any kind of niche film exist in wide distribution….Report

          • blake in reply to Maribou says:

            Good points, although there have certainly been genres to cater to different demos. It does make the constant berating of men for not going to see movies targeted at women seem especially hypocritical.Report

  10. Rufus F. says:

    Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment? Maybe a Depressive Pixie Dream Girl. The first quirky thing she does is try to kill herself. Maybe Jack Lemmon’s the Manic Pixie Dream Shrub in that flick. Neither of them are remotely cool and what’s quirky about the characters is they’re decent individuals in a cold mass society. It’s a fantastic movie, but I think there’s a pretty limited heuristic power to these internet tropes.Report

  11. fillyjonk says:

    A question: Are there any older women (say, over 40) in movies/books/tv who qualify as a MPDG, and how are they presented, as fun or as pathetic?

    I have a suspicion that in some circles, the perception is if she’s kooky and fun and a little flakey and under 35 or so, that’s great, but over 35….well, why didn’t she grow up? (And it does seem at least in more “traditional” media: “grow up” for a woman = get married, have kids, presumably support and promote her husband’s career OR be wealthy enough to have “help” in the house)

    I can’t think of any characters over 35 or so who fit the MPDG trope, but then I don’t consume all that much “grown up” media and I don’t do Netflix and the like.Report

  12. Urusigh says:

    Really interesting article. I have a bit of a like/dislike relationship with MPDG in literature. I like the strong, quirky character of the MPDG herself (when done well), but when paired with the “rigid guy who needs to loosen up” I’ve always found that portrayal a bit condescending toward the male lead, particularly since I can’t recall any examples of the opposite track (laid back guy need to buckle down and be serious).

    I do think there’s another take on this you might consider:

    “Writing a female character as a CameronCrowian MPDG is in essence creating a prostitute-slash-life coach who works for free so our hero doesn’t have to feel bad about himself in the morning. It’s all about the male side of the equation.”

    I don’t have a clue who CameronCrowian is, but I assume I’ve seen enough examples of the “she fixes his entire life and then disappears without ever asking anything in return” genre to probably get the gist. I actually think it’s more about the female side of the equation though. It’s the gender-swap of “episodic damsel in distress” tropes, wish-fulfillment for the female audience who, much as so many men want to swoop in and heroically save women physically endangered, want to swoop in and heroically “fix” tragically broken or emotionally stunted men. That the MPDG is impossibly altruistic in bearing emotional burdens for unworthy strangers isn’t a flawed application of the archetype, it’s the counterpart to the male hero who is impossibly altruistic in bearing physical danger for unworthy strangers. The male being “fixed” isn’t the hero at all, he’s just the plot device used to show how heroic the MPDG is.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Urusigh says:

      particularly since I can’t recall any examples of the opposite track (laid back guy need to buckle down and be serious).

      Knocked up?

      The Manic Pixie Dream Girl, when a plot device to provide a solution to a problem, is a solution to a very particular problem.

      A guy who floats through life all comfortable and carefree and hakuna matata is not a problem that can be fixed by a MPDG.Report

      • blake in reply to Jaybird says:

        Yeah, “Knocked Up” is the first example that came to my mind as well, although as we’ve learned elsewhere in these threads, it’s also very sexist.

        I mean, when I go to the movies, I like to think I’m seeing a story about individuals going through individual crises and handling them in their own ways, but apparently everything is about a demographic.

        The “slacker meets put-together girl” is so common a trope that I remember getting sick of it actually right around the time “Knocked Out” came up. But part of the problem, per the Althouse Rule, is that you have to show the woman as “put together” where the man would be shown as “uptight”. The “free-spirited” woman is the “slacker” man, etc.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to blake says:

          I’m trying to think about major “slacker improved by put-together girl” stories and none of jumping to mind… help me out. (I can think of a number of women-helping-women loosen up stories, though.)

          The Althouse Rule makes sense because when you show an uptight woman loosening up, the thing that follows is puking and saying “man, was *THAT* a bad idea!” while a guy loosening up entails looking at art. Really looking at it. Seriously. We think “romantic” means “love” but it really means “emotion”. You see this portrait? It makes you feel something. It makes you remember something. Look at how the light plays!Report

          • blake in reply to Jaybird says:

            The trope is probably more usually that the “put together” woman is about to leave (or leaves) the slacker dude, and if she leaves the new girl comes in that he’s going stop being a slacker for.

            Just spitballing, these fit to various degrees: “Shaun of the Dead”, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, “Clerks”, assorted teen comedies, about 40% of Asian output for movies and TV as far as I can tell, “Airplane!” (heh)….Report

          • Lee Ratner in reply to Jaybird says:

            The usual movie routine is that a major slacker gets himself into shape to win the girl rather than the girl falls in love with him but sits about on an improvement project. I’m not sure that the later will come across as that romantic to either gender. Men will be angry at the implied message that they can’t do anything to improve without help and women will be insulted that the female lead fell for a loser. Slacker guy going on epic self-improvement to get the woman is a lot more inspirational for both genders.Report

      • Urusigh in reply to Jaybird says:

        I tried to like Knocked up, but there is SO much wrong with that movie.

        I do think that the more ditzy and disaster prone versions of the MPDG are a perfect foil for a hakuna matata kind of guy to finally accept responsibility and buckle down to be the stable, reliable person who’s always there to balance the MPDG out. Shrug, maybe I just find romance storylines more engaging when main arc is about partners becoming more complementary by the end, not just becoming more alike.Report

    • Lee Ratner in reply to Urusigh says:

      There are lots of movies where laid back guys need to buckle down and get serious. Knocked Up, previous mentioned is one example. There is also Run Fatboy Run with Simon Pegg, Failure to Launch, etc.Report

      • Urusigh in reply to Lee Ratner says:

        Haven’t seen Run Fatboy Run, but Failure to Launch isn’t what I’m looking for either. “Slacker man-boy who avoids emotional intimacy and commitment finally becomes a semi-functional adult to pursue a real relationship” is indeed a depressingly common plotline involving MPDGs, but NOT the inverse track of “rigid guy learns to loosen up some”.

        Sadly, about the closest movies that come to mind for what I’m looking for are “Yes Man” and “Employee of the Month”.Report

  13. blake says:

    Actually, I just saw an Israeli movie (recommended) called “Tel Aviv on Fire” which had this plot. The guy was slacker who had dumped the girl, realized he’d made a mistake, and then wooed her back via the soap opera he had lucked into writing.Report

  1. January 13, 2020

    […] I am unclear on how sending the signal and waiting is going to mesh with overt female consent for everything, even a tentative first kiss. I don’t believe that most women are, overnight, going to feel comfy with making the first move towards initiating sexual contact with men. There is a deeply ingrained cultural pressure upon women to follow a pretty narrow set of societal expectations in the sexual arena, few of which involve being the pursuer. There is even an argument to be made that these female preferences for pursue-ee status may be at least in part innate and not cultural. And I don’t think that most men are, overnight, going to feel comfy with women initiating relationships with them, either. Men may want to pursue, may prefer it, may be programmed to do so culturally and/or innately, and we’ve heard enough jokes about desperate women chasing men to know or at least strongly suspect that many guys are put off by Sadie Hawkinses despite the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. […]Report

  2. April 12, 2020

    […] The feminist subtext of L3-37’s existence is AMAZING. After having created herself out of junk that no one else wanted, she got involved with someone who never valued her, was used by him til their love destroyed her, and she ended up held in servitude to him forever (I think this was a euphemism for marriage, but I’ll admit I may be overthinking that a bit). The concept that Lando will carry a piece of her everywhere — L3-37 came into Lando’s life, enriched him, and then went away again freeing him up for another relationship — was straight out of the worst chapters of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl playbook. […]Report