Manic Pixie Dream Girl. It’s a term as common as “protagonist,” one extremely popular within the liberal and individualistic community in which many of us find ourselves. In early adolescence, everyone either wanted to know one be one. The Zooey Deschanel of their freshman class, if you will. At first glance, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) is by no means a bad thing to want to be. She’s unique, personable, and fun. She’s something special. She’s perfectly flawed.
It feels redundant explaining all of this, so I’ll keep it brief. She’s perfect because she’s a fantasy. The creator of the term, Nathan Rabin, describes her 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.”
It was somewhere between freshman and senior year of high school that I learned the unfortunate reality of the MPDG alongside other feminist teachings and decided that she wasn’t someone I wanted to be. I never wanted to be viewed as one-dimensional or to be defined by how men perceived me. I wanted to be valued for my complexities—who doesn’t?
For years, I thought everyone was on the same page about this. Countless articles have criticized people who perpetuate the MPDG; women young and old agree that the MPDG brings more harm than good. But there came a day when I stopped talking exclusively to women and the liberal, often LBGTQ+ men in my theatre classes and realized that some men love the MPDG.
This isn’t as blatant as it first sounds. In my experience, the expectation to be a MPDG is so subtle I sometimes wonder if it even exists. It shows up in the smallest forms: pressure to praise men’s creative ideas and stories while mine go ignored, noticing that I’m never asked questions about my opinions, and feeling like a burden on my mediocre days. But these subtleties don’t go unnoticed. They collect and fester until I find myself cutting off and pulling away. The expectation that I must always be the first-impression version of myself gets to be so exhausting I often decide I’d rather be alone than suppress the serious and introverted sides of my personality.
When I feel this way, I first worry that I’m reading too much into everything. I tell myself that nobody likes to be around someone in a shitty mood. Everyone wants their own ideas heard and appreciated. The situation is no different than a new platonic friendship. But a part of me deep down knows that this is different. It’s human nature to want to be around kind and friendly people who are willing to validate and support us, true; with prospective men, though, there isn’t a mutual give and take but an expectation that I bring conversation, curiosity, and excitement to the table.
I notice that when I don’t ask questions, or serve as a polite laugh track, or keep topics interesting and fun, those gaps aren’t filled by the guy. Instead, silence fills the space and the air gets awkward. The pressure is put on me to steer conversation toward the light and enjoyable track we were once on, or expect to not be asked out again.
At first I didn’t notice this pattern; then I noticed it and ignored it; then I began to excuse my feelings for the aforementioned reasons until, finally, I stopped tolerating it. As of right now that’s where I am. I refuse to go down the same track of meeting a guy, hanging out, and eventually feeling suffocated and trapped by the expectation to be their MPDG—but honestly, I’m not sure how to stop this pattern. I could give people more time? Or just come off as less “quirky” and “bubbly” right from the get-go? Maybe try talking to guys that aren’t my normal type? Or refuse to be anything other than friends for a while so the guy knows what he’s actually getting into?
I feel like I shouldn’t have to do any of these things. It shouldn’t catch guys off-guard when time reveals that I’m not always talkative and interested and light. Yet it does, and I’m asking for a solution. By solution I don’t mean the perfect guy. I mean a new standard. I don’t need one “perfect” guy to understand that I’m also a complete and complex person just like he is. I need this understanding to become the norm and not the exception.
It’s been said thousands of times, but I’m going to say it once more because from my experience it’s clear some people still don’t understand: a woman’s personality and life stretches miles deeper than what she shows during initial flirtation and interaction. We are bubbly and fun and smart and mean and bored and every adjective in the dictionary. Most importantly, we’re real people and not one-dimensional movie characters made by men. I hope one day I won’t have to repeat these reminders—but until then, I’ll shout them loudly.
By Jill Risberg