I’m Afraid I’m a Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Everyone hates a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

May 2, 2012 at 10:00am | Leave a comment

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In case you’ve been off the Internet for a few years, a “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” is a trope character in films who exists solely to be a love interest for a sensitive, directionless and/or depressed man. You can spot them because they usually “have eccentric personality quirks and are unabashedly girlish.”  (I did some crazy in-depth research for this on Wikipedia.) They also usually have commitment issues that are somehow related to death or illness. Zooey Deschanel, Kirsten Dunst and Natalie Portman usually play them. They are annoying.

Hi! I’m an unabashedly girlish young woman with eccentric personality quirks (e.g., I start my day by dancing for 15 minutes and own a panda hat.) Most men who fall for me are sensitive, directionless and/or depressed. I find it really hard to emotionally commit to boys beyond a first date because my dad died suddenly of a brain aneurysm when I was six years old. A little boy in Bath & Body Works once told me that I looked like Kirsten Dunst. I am annoying.

A few years ago I joked to one of my male friends that I was “one cancer diagnosis away from being a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” He appreciated the joke, and so did I, until it stopped being a joke and started being a cause for feminist concern.

In the past few years, a number of essays and blog posts have been made in feminist circles not only decrying the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” trope as demeaning to women (Which it is -- women don’t exist as character-building exercises for men. We exist as individuals.), but also worrying that by acting girlish, women are lessening the respect they command in personal and professional spheres (They do -- it’s hard to take a girl in a romper seriously.). 

I agreed with all of these opinions. This infantilizing “Manic Pixie Dream Girl-ing” of women was wrong! To arms, ladies of the Internet! To arms!

…and then I became a regular contributor for Zooey Deschanel’s super-twee and wholesome and adorable website, Hello Giggles

Initially, I submitted to the site under the guise of, “Oh, if I can get published there, I can expand the kinds of voices on the site and that’s great for feminism. To arms, ladies! To arms!”  

When I finally was published, it became clear that I wasn’t different from the quirky girls -- I was and had always been one of them. I was a quirky girl and on top of that, I wrote really well to the hearts and minds of other quirky girls. Also, getting to write enthusiastically about the quirky things I liked was really, really fucking fun.

I know intellectually that it’s impossible for me to be a real “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” First of all, they’re not real. Not to mention, I very clearly have my own ambitions and agendas in life. Also, when aimless young men put me on some kind of dream girl pedestal because I know about Rogue Squadron, I get the heebie-jeebies and run away. I do not engage in any of those “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” relationships (which perhaps only further cements the similarities).

Still, reading backlash that Hello Giggles has received from so many men and women whose opinions I admired sent me into a panicked tailspin. Could I really be the type of woman whose very existence was demeaning to other women? I was in total identity crisis mode. 

There’s this idea among pop culture pundits that the “quirky girl” aesthetic is designed to ensnare men by appearing weak. I don’t know what other so-called “quirky girls” are thinking. I just know that I’m blustering through my life.

Take my Hello Kitty credit card. I chose it because I went to the bank one day and my teller gave me a catalog of free design options. I had Hello Kitty, Precious Moments or a Boston sports team logo to choose from. Hello Kitty seemed the least weird to me at the time. Plus, cards with designs are easier for bartenders to find at the end of a long night.

And I do own a romper. In fact, I own a romper that buttons up the back so I sometimes need help going to the bathroom. But when I impulse -bought the romper  at Bloomingdale's, I did it because I thought it looked cute. I was thinking, “I had a bad day and this makes me feel happy and summery.”

Star Wars, The Smiths, comic books, Dungeons and Dragons, obscure musical instruments like ocarinas, cats, Anne of Green Gables, wearing sundresses, dancing like a robot and eating candy are just things that I fucking like because I fucking like them. They make me happy to be alive.

I didn’t make these choices in my life so that I could ensnare dudes. I couldn't care less about that (OK, I could care a little bit less. Hey, I like dudes.). All of my "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" attributes are the direct result of growing up with social anxiety, an active imagination and an eccentric mother who taught me that I had the right to be as feminine or as masculine as I damn well pleased.

I shouldn’t have to feel embarrassed when a group of lady friends makes fun of my kitten-covered day planner, but I still do. The irony of this whole situation is that there’s this group of people who are claiming that my choices in life were made to please people, and now I find myself hating myself so as to please that group of strangers. When I’m going through my closet asking myself if I want to keep my romper, I can't decide if I've outgrown it or if I just think I have because people I admire mock the kinds of grown women who wear this garment.

In the end, I suppose I can only please myself. Quirks, commitment issues and all.