Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Let's talk about Manic Pixie Dream Girls

Manic Pixie Dream Girls have fascinated me for nearly as long as I can remember. (A MPDG, for those of you who don't know, is a female character who's wacky, outgoing, beautiful and decently shallow. She exists to help the male character find life, adventure, and romance. She's "not like other girls" and usually has a crazy name or hair style (it's usually dyed? Not sure why) and listens to weird music. She's eccentric, quirky, gorgeous... and a cardboard cut-out. Think Zooey Deschanel in pretty much everything she does.)

I'm pretty sure I've used this picture before but I love it way too much to not use it again.

The first time I was introduced to a MPDG was in about third grade when I read "Stargirl" by Jerry Spinelli. Stargirl is new to Leo's school and turns heads everywhere she goes. She wears kimonos, 1920s flapper outfits, hippie clothes. She sings 'happy birthday' to each student on their special day with her ukulele and leaves coins on the sidewalk for people to find. When Stargirl and Leo begin dating each other, she changes the way he sees the world. Life is more beautiful and strange and wonderful with Stargirl, after all. 

When I learned about MPDG, I immediately thought of Stargirl. (I was really disappointed that one of my favourite books had this trope, but the second book turned it around by fleshing out her character.) I've run into a few MPDG in my time, between books, movies and TV shows. Before learning about the trope, I kinda secretly (definitely?) wanted to be like them. And why not? They're beautiful and smart and different, and who doesn't want to be different? She's not like the other girls, she makes her own way in life. Compared to the other female representation that's out there, being different isn't too bad. 

Of course, I wasn't aware of the MPDG trope yet. Being quirky isn't the problem, but existing to kick-start the male character's arc is a problem. Proud of not being like the other girls is a problem. We are women. We need to stand together and help each other, not tear each other down. Dying your hair pink doesn't make you any better than the girl who's kept her hair natural her entire life. Listening to The Beatles may make you a bit quirky but it doesn't mean you're any better than the girl who listens to One Direction. All women are valid, all women are humans and worthy of respect. 

It's generally accepted that MPDG are a trope to avoid. We are not plot devices for men to use, we will not tear each other down. In saying that, I still love the trope. I kinda hate myself for it, of course, but I relate to MPDG too much to roll my eyes every time one comes on my screen. (To be honest, I think it's because I'm almost a MPDG myself. Purple hair? Weird taste in music? Eccentric hobbies?) 

I hate the negative side of the trope, but I'm willing to make the argument that it's not necessarily a cliché that needs to disappear. (I KNOW. Hear me out.) Of course, the negative sides of the trope need to be wiped off the face of the earth (I AM NOT A PLOT DEVICE) but the more positive aspects of a MPDG character are amazing. A MPDG challenges social norms. She ignores what other people think of her and does what makes her happy, not what's expected of her. That's something to celebrate and encourage. You want to listen to weird music? Go for it. You want to dye your hair? Alrighty. In saying that, we need to consider the other side, where "basic white girl" music and plain hair is great too. 

I would love to see more MPDG who have their own lives, who flip the trope and stand with women instead of trampling them underfoot (unintentionally or otherwise). All women deserve to be represented and to have agency and a life outside the male main character. (Besides, coloured hair is really cool ;) ). 

What do you think of Manic Pixie Dream Girls? 


  1. Love the bookshelf picture! Quite creative.

    When it boils down to it, I think pretty much any character in any book can be considered as conforming to a trope. I think the important part is to take the positive aspects and let them inspire you. As long as letting something inspire you doesn't translate to tearing down other things, well, I don't think we're terribly worse for the wear.

  2. I don't really hate the character, I just hate how the MPDG always ends up with a boring guy or maybe I just want to see a MPDG who stays single. But does that even exist? Or would that not defeat the purpose of the trope?

  3. If you have reused that photo, I don't think we care because it is a pretty nice photo to be fair haha! MPDG isn't a term I've come across much, but I do know several characters that are definitely fitting into those ideas. I do agree that I love some aspects of it, but others can seem quite problematic. In regards to whether there should be more I say definitely yes! But some aspects need to be changed, and they should definitely be centralised in stories instead of revolving around helping the male character and the like.


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