Have you ever been Manic Pixie Dream Girled?
When it comes to women’s representations in the media, our expectations should always be higher than even our own expectations. If you are familiar with the sexy lamp test, then you know the rules to the test state that if you can replace a female character with a sexy lamp, then it doesn’t do a good job of portraying women on screen, and then we pick up our pitchforks in protest. But does anyone stop to consider why our bar is set so low or why the bar of expectation is comparable to a sexy lamp? Is that really the requirement? “Well, then, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope should solve all those problems!” said with a heavy note of sarcasm. No, in fact it does not solve a thing. It reinforces the weak, gendered and sexist role that men have placed on women.
After reading Adrian Martinez’s article, The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a Step Towards Equality, I wasn’t sure how to take it at first. On the one hand I reacted rather positively because the trope usually centered on a female character that was quirky and independent. I thought, “hey, there’s a point in Adrian’s article that this trope is different from the typical women tropes we would see in classic films from the black and white film days.” It adds more to the typical belief that women are only in movies to have sex with the main male character. A male character that, usually donning a suit and calling himself 007, doesn’t actually care about the kind of woman he is bedding, which is true. But the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope is yet another limitation for women representation. However, I cannot fault anyone who actually enjoys the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. A popular example of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, other than the one listed in Adrian’s article, is Summer from 500 Days of Summer. I really enjoy that movie, believe it or not. I enjoy the way this girl carries herself; she seems independent and doesn’t need the love of the main male protagonist to achieve happiness in her life. But while Summer may have more facets to her character, what are her goals? What is she trying to achieve throughout the film? The answer is nothing. She is there to serve the gaze of the male character.
To put a more concrete definition to the term, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a character who 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.” In other words, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl is there in order to help the man fulfill a missing part of his life, to help give his life more meaning. Now, at face value, it may not be such a bad thing. I mean, how nice it must be that someone thinks their life has more meaning with you in it. But the movies don’t mean it like that. The movies mean to use women to pander to the male gaze. This trope is such an interesting and tricky trope, however, because it hides its own intention. That is to say that women don’t even know they are watching and enjoying a form of media that is belittling their worth, that is perpetuating sexism, because they are watching a movie where it is the man trailing after the woman, not the other way around. It used to be that women spent an entire movie trying to find Mr. Right or trying to get attention from the man they desire most; this trope turns that idea around and creates a movie where we watch the man trying to gain attention from a woman. It reinforces bell hooks’ idea that there is a miscommunication when it comes to feminism and existing sexism. It has to be made clear that we are all, “participants in perpetuating sexism thought and action.” The Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope straddles the line between hooks’ statement that men hate patriarchy too, but that they fear even more the idea of losing the benefits of patriarchy that they have been experiencing all their lives.
The easiest way to see this is to look at who is creating the films portraying Manic Pixie Dream Girls. Much like my previous article discusses, we have to think of this in terms of who the target audience is and who is behind the product. The answer is male directors creating movies to pander and cater to the male gaze. So their concern is not whether or not women are complex characters, whether or not they have goals and aspirations in these movies, or what their lives look like apart from being around this one male character. They concern themselves with how do they look in the eyes of the male protagonist. As long as they are behind the cameras and behind the scripts, women’s representation in media will suffer. So before we cling to a new trope, like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, we have to consider who is creating these tropes and who are these tropes intended for?
The best solution is to push for more female directors and screenwriters. It is the only way to create accurate and honest representations of a group constantly subjected into being sex objects. It also means we have to push the idea that the only way women can exist is in a heteronormative relationship. Stories are about the character, about what challenges them and what inspires them. There is more to characters than the people they fuck or fancy. These are the kinds of standards and expectations we should be having for female characters on screen.