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Tropes vs. Women: #1 The Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Tropes vs. Women is a six-part video series by Feminist Frequency that explores the reoccurring stories, themes and representations of women in Hollywood films and TV shows.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a cute, bubbly, young (usually white) woman who has recently entered the life of our brooding hero to teach him how to loosen up and enjoy life. While that might sound all well and good for the man, this trope leaves women as simply there to support the star on his journey of self discovery with no real life of her own.

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**Full video transcript is available at FeministFrequency.com

**This video is available to be translated into other languages by volunteers like you. Please visit the subtitling page on Universal Subtitles and click TRANSLATE to get started.

Update: Just a note, in the video clip of (500) Days of Summer there is an abilist joke that is offensively played for laughs. I apologize for not pointing that out in the video itself.

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Comments

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What are examples of the

What are examples of the trope where the MPDG isn't white? That would actually be kind of cool.

I don't actually know of any

I don't actually know of any examples of women of colour as Manic Pixies... can anyone think of any?

Vanilla Sky & Vicky Cristina Barcelona are good examples

Penelope Cruz often plays colored MPDGs-- ex: Vanilla Sky, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Lucy Liu in Watching the

Lucy Liu in Watching the Detectives - totally the Manic Pixie, to an almost insane degree.

Cadie of Skins US

The character Cassie in Skins UK is a deconstructed manic pixie dream girl- she does have her own journey, and she also has the sort of mental health issues that a real MPDG might. In the US remake of Skins the Cassie analogue Cadie is biracial, but it's unclear how much of a MPDG role she's going to get shoved into, since they seem to have decreased her romantic storyline.

Possibly Lena in La Mission.

Possibly Lena in La Mission. The woman does seem to have a past and job but they are never gone into in detail. She's definitely a supporting character that tries to loosen up the guy, in this case trying to get him to be less macho and except his gay son.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1200272/

Isabel in Mi Familia?

Isabel in Mi Familia could be called an MPDG. She's a refugee but has no purpose in the film other than to "tame" her for-show husband into actually loving her (mainly, by being cute and impulsively dancing in the street.) She's a fairly minor character, and she's not as cloying as she could have been, but I'd count her.

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That's just my opinion, but I

That's just my opinion, but I think that Garden State's Sam clearly has a family that is shown, her life and her problems are discussed (her job, her epilepsia, her lying, her pets, her dancing, her taste in music), she isn't perfect. I like her and I don't think she is a shallow or flat character, whose sole purpose of being in the film is to 'save' the male protagonist, I feel like they are both 'saving' or helping each other (which is the sort of love story I like and can relate to), and that the film would have worked too (I might be wrong) if it was written out of her perspective (then, of course, one could point out her need for a saviour). However, it was written by Zach Braff, as something (allegedly) half-autobiographical, so it's understandably written out of his. There certainly is a lack of (good) films written from a female perspective and there is this annoying MPDG trope, but I'm not sure if Sam is a perfect example for it. I probably am biased, however, because I love Garden State and can relate to it so much (having a depressed/psychotic mum, taking antidepressants myself - which do not change your personality btw -, liking the Shins, the earlier seasons of Scrubs, Natalie Portman, feeling lost sometimes, and having found a lovely, quirky boyfriend who against all odds acctually likes me in my grumpiness), even though I know how most movies are written to make you want to identify with the protagonist.

Apart from that, thank you very much for your blogs here and your youtube-channel, I enjoy them a lot :)
(Also, please excuse potential grammar/spelling mistakes, English is not my mother tongue)

Your English great

English is not your mother tongue? You write it better than 90% of those for whom it is!

I very much agree with your points about Natalie in "Garden State." I wonder how much she added to her part in the film, if there was any collaborative communication with her and the screen writer.

Inspiration

Why can't women inspire men to write a movie or paint a picture or sing a song? Would it be any less offensive if a woman inspired another woman? Or if a man inspired another man?

As a female artist myself a huge source of inspiration stems from gender studies and I am fascinated with the male form. My photographic representation of the men is not sexist. I think this video is over generalizing men who are inspired by women.

Yes women are writers and directors and everything else and men should respect that. But we should all be inspiring each other and looking into everyone's perspective of each other not automatically bashing a female character simply because she is partnered with a male protagonist. A female character can still be a round, honest, and interesting character and still help the plot flow along in a movie where the main character is a male.

Honestly I'm more disappointed in the portrayal of women in movies where they are the main character and the men are simply there to sweep them off their feet.

but the point isn't that the

but the point isn't that the women "inspire" the men - it's that it's their sole purpose for existence in the movie. And the thing is, that the manic pixie dream girl trope is just one example of how most movies are male-centred, and women characters exist purely to further the stories of the men. Not all movies, obviously, but more often than not.

The problem with being

The problem with being Hollywood's type of inspiration is that the male is generally not inspired by the "muse's" audacity, tenaciousness, ambitiousness, or creativity, but for her capacity to beautify his world by existing without strong opinions or direction or passion in life, which would both interfere and put in question his own abilities.

Spot-on!

Well said, Teresa!

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Re: The problem with being

EXACTLY! The reason this stereotype has irked me sooo much, especially since Garden State, is that along with this trend of having overly quirky qualities to female sidekick roles in these pseudo-indiecharm films, these characters are so OVERLY FEMINIZED. I have no problem with Anthropologie itself, or somewhat boring indie rock, or hairclips, or dancing, or knitting, or the need to bake cupcakes (ok, maybe I hate cupcakes)...my problem is not with any of these specific activities, or women that do these things. My problem is that this gross oversimplification of a "girly girl" woman is now the idealized version of current film's female romantic sidekick/supporting role. There is absolutely nothing wrong with femininity, and it should be embraced and used as inspiraton in all of our lives. But do not for ONE SECOND believe that these roles are advancing the idea of a multi-dimensional, highly capable, functional human being-type woman with a mind of her own (not a mind that wants to supplant a man's mind). It's very easy for women to fall into these roles and not even realize that these age-old gender stereotypes are being forced onto us, even if very expensive antique-like dishes ARE SO CUTE. It's clear why these movies are so easy for supposedly modern-minded men to swallow when the female characters embody everything a good wife should be: mild, cutesy, artsy enough, funny enough, non-threatening, and genial. I also would like to add that you'll notice in a lot of these cases the women DO have usually one moment where they "protest" or cause some sort of disruption or "act out". These instances are usually very mild, stay in line with gender stereotypes and are resolved quickly and easily. In 500 Days, you notice, she is non-commital and fancy-free, which in the movie is portrayed as somewhat negative but in reality is very attractive to men (non-clingy). What I also find interesting about this trope is that it is SO out of touch with how current gender relations have advanced and what types of relationships these so-called sensitive indie rock men should view as the norm: valuing equality, both men and women having sets of goals, aspirations, and ideals, and being able to share personality traits without devaluing valid states of existence.

But, but ... damn.

I have to say that this video left me a bit shaken. I like to think of myself as a "modern-minded man" as you call it who is aware and offended by gender stereotypes. Yet Garden State and Almost Famous are among my all-time favourite movies and yes, this is of course because I find the MPDG characters in these films extraordinarily enchanting. The only other character that I felt similarly about was Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice -- a film that wasn't mentioned but whose gender roles of course were only modern in Jane Austen's time, not in ours.

So now, do I have to file these movies under "guilty pleasure"? Or do I have to adjust my self-image as more conservative than I like to think? Or what am I to make of this conundrum?

Having experienced a few

Having experienced a few similar moments on my unending quest to become a damned grown-up, I think I know where you're coming from. I would suggest that self-image is not the Thing. Regardless of how I'd "like to think" of myself, isn't the mission to learn and in so doing become a smarter man and a slightly better citizen/friend/agent/lover/etc.? So now? You have a new point upon which to interrogate yourself and have picked-up on one more new, glorious, previously undetected version of the rubbish way that women are cast and cornered in the world. This is a Good Thing! Rather than opting for shame or self-congratulation, I'd try to go straight to being a little more enlightened and recognizing that persistent sexist notions and behaviour are quite often perpetrated by nice boys like us!! That's always a big shock to our very sensitive selves, but we try to go from not knowing any better to knowing better to actually understanding.

I can think only of one film

I can think only of one film that kinda goes there: 'High Art', with Radha Mitchell and Ally Sheedy. But their whole relationship is faaaar more fleshed-out than any of the well-known MPDG iterations...

The one subset of MPDG that

The one subset of MPDG that drives me into a rage is the completely invasive, unethical, going-to-take-over-your-life version. In Something Wild the MPDG kidnaps the boring guy; in Sweet November she cries rape in front of his neighbors to coerce him into engaging illegal activities with her. But, you know, the guy needed it, because he suffered from the ultimate sin of not being as delightfully quirky as the felonious heroine. CREEEPY, but it's played as romantic comedy. 

Yeah, that annoyed me too as

Yeah, that annoyed me too as well... But I've noticed that more than half of those romantic comedies out there tends to have main characters who do highly questionable things that would get a person arrested or killed in real life. Yet we're supposed to find it romantic? The same thing can be found in books too, so in a way this is older than rome itself. And also a lot of romance movies geared at women are also really sexist as hell at times.

examples:
Sandra Bullock in All About Steve. Stalking for love and endangering everyone is somehow okay.

Jennifer Lopez in The Wedding Planner. Falling in love with a engaged man of the woman who you were working for. Somehow okay. leading on your boyfriend while pining for another man... also alright by hollywood...? She even leaves her own boyfriend at the altar to hook up with the engaged man.

Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up. The moral of the movie: Stay with your baby daddy no matter what, even if he's lazy, he's mean, he's stupid, he's Canadian, you can do better, you don't find him attractive, and you hate him.

Matt and Erica from 40 Days and 40 Nights. God, the most worse romantic movie ever!!
Both characters are utterly unlikable here. Matt gives up sex for lent, because apparently he's an sex addict and was trying to get over a bad-breakup. Matt plays into all the male stereotypes about how all men are apparently sex addicts, and can't go without it one week without getting jittery. (I've dated plenty of men who were able to go without sex for at least two weeks, so I know this isn't true).
Erica was completely oblivious to his predicament throughout the whole thing, as if she didn't even care what was going on with a guy she was dating. And when she finds out about his quest to control some of his more harmful sexual impulses.... she doesn't respect his wishes and instead decides to make it 100% harder for him by acting seductive, sexy, etc with back-rubs and the like. This results in her rape when she was asleep... (she woke up in the middle of it). And She's angry at Matt for the rape... but not for the reasons you might think. No, she choose the most illogical reason to be angry... apparently it was "Cheating on her" when Matt broke his lent promise and raped her.
Umm, what?? How about being angry that he did that without your consent, Erica??
Matt was unlikable here, and Erica was a poorly written character without any real depth... even her reactions to everything was unbelievable.

He's Just Not That Into You: The moral of the story--If you don't think you need a man in your life, you're wrong, and if you realize that you think you might be able to live without one, guess what? You're wrong.
The sad thing? The book itself was actually supposed to be an deconstruction of Romance movies and were supposed to be all about Women realizing that they didn't need a man that badly like they thought.The entire thesis of the book upon which the film is based is to teach women how to be less occupied with men who treat them badly so they can have time to focus on personal fulfillment. Greg Behrendt himself, co-author of the book upon which the film is based, was appalled by the movie's ending as seeing it defeated the entire point of the book .

No wonder why I friggn' HATE romance movies!!!

Ouch.

This piece makes me feel very sad inside. And a bit angry, actually.

Because the characters you're slating as so terrible and unrealistic are the characters my friends compare *me* to, the characters I love to see because they make me feel like being me is okay and not freakish and weird.

The trope of female character/love interest as catalyst for male journey of self-discovery is one that you can criticise without attacking specific personality types, especially since it's one that has a heavy degree of intersectionality with similar treatment of characters from minority or disempowered groups. They may not be "manic pixie dream girls" - which, seriously, kiss my manic pixie ass - but there's a near-infinite selection of female characters and characters of colour who exist solely to inspire the hero's journey of self-discovery. Singling out one character archetype is a bit pointless, and kind of insulting to me, as the kind of person whose friends will, in response to some of things I do, laugh and say things like: "*Such* a pixie."

Re: Ouch

The video does focus on a specific personality and you correctly point out that the use of women existing solely as a catalyst for a male lead is in not limited to such a specific type. However, I don't believe any criticism was actually being leveled at pixie-esque personalities themselves. To me, the issue was not with the sprightliness of the character's personality. Instead, the problem is this personality is often used solely to help develop the male protagonist, not to add any real depth to the character herself. While you could argue that this personality does in fact add to the character, this addition is really seems like it's merely a side effect to it's main purpose in the film.

Personally, I didn't come away thinking anything negative about pixie like qualities themselves. I felt the real nuisance was that colorful personalities like those mentioned are commonly used only to augment a male lead- not to create a unique and interesting character that it has the potential to do.

But the fact of the matter is

But the fact of the matter is that a good number of these characters are developed and do have depth. Sam from Garden State has epilepsy and lives with her mother. Summer from 500 Days of Summer has her backstory explained with in the first 10 minutes of the movie. Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind clearly states that this is a title you can't pigeon hold her into in the film.

love it.

i looooooved this video blog and have been trying to bring this touchy subject in film up for years. I am in no way surprised by the hyper-defensive comments I have read thus far.

Ohh...how troubling it must be to be white, waif like, and 'interesting.' *snore.*

I Am Not Amused

Great video, very well-done! That trope has been around for centuries and it's time for it to end!

The way in which these

The way in which these characters are used has always annoyed me, but I've never had a name for it until now. Manic pixie dream girl fits perfectly xD

I swear to god, everytime a guy and a girl go out for dinner in a film and the girl goes "Ohhh, I like to have my desert first" I want to scream. You just know she's going to breeze in, be all cute and "weird" and turn his life around.

How about the idea that these

How about the idea that these men are incapable of saving themselves; that they lack the vision and creativity to fix their lives? These brooding protagonists portray men as self-obsessed, weak, and users of other people. I don't think men come out of this portrayal of a very shallow relationship unscathed. I think the problem here is with the superficiality of the relationship being portrayed, not necessarily the individuals in them.

Yeah.

Yeah, romance movies doesn't really view both men and women favorably.... like, AT ALL. Somehow it's okay for people to be total jerks, stalkers, etc in the universe of Romance Movies.
Like it's perfectly normal for a person to fully expect some total stranger to come waltzing in and fix all of their problems in life.

Some bad behavior can be explained away as them just being flawed human beings....but some supposedly "romantic" behavior becomes horrifying when you think about it in context of "real life".

need more women in film

wow, I can even think of some more: Along Came Polly (maybe even There's Something About Mary), Forces of Nature, Pretty Woman...

I agree though that I don't think it's bad that women inspire some men - the problem is so many men dominate film and let their own tropes play on in our national subconscious. Clearly we need more women making films, more good female characters, and more women-centered plots.

Great Video!

Great video! MPDG really gets to me for some reason.
I think the only example I wouldn't wholly agree with here is that of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind b/c there is a scene where Winslet's character tells Carrey's character that men think she's going to fix them and she's not. that she's just as fucked up as anyone else.

Please do one of these on the

Please do one of these on the mother character in Terrence Malick's Tree of Life!!!! (and characters like her--so many.)

Tree of Life

Yes! I just saw Tree of Life and have been looking for discussion somewhere of the film that addressed the world populated by men, boys, and silent, ghostly or angelic women floating silently about, but haven't found any. There are probably less than 30 words uttered by a woman or girl in this entire film. And only one scene where a woman speaks to another woman. In fact, there are only a couple scenes with more than one woman in it, and the film is over 2 hours long. This is especially amazing considering that the majority of the film takes place in the "domestic sphere" and the kids actually spend a fair amount of time alone with their mother. She must communicate with them telepathically because she goes hours and even days without speaking ..... How can none of the reviews and criticism of this film even mention this? Is it because this film only takes the usual role of women in popular film to its logical extreme, but is actually not much of a departure from the tropes that we see over and over in films? Otherwise, it wouldn't feel like such a victory every time you find a new film that passes the Bechtel test, right? I would love to hear what Bitch readers (and writers) have to say about this film and why more critics are silent on the role of women in this "groundbreaking" and Palme d'Orr-winning film.

Finally! (((Agree with Briana re: Tree of Life))

I agree Briana & I too haven't found anything written about this really lame depiction of women from this over- rated movie. You know, it's 2012, I'm 45 & have 1 tween aged daughter & I'm actually surprised that these old, boring & sexist stereotyped female personas still present themselves! It's even more disappointing & shocking coming from an esteemed director. I say 'epoch fail' on the representation of over half the human population.

Depressed Straight White Guys

I couldn't agree more with your deconstruction manic pixie dream girl trope, but I have more to add. My comment was too long, so I wrote a blog post on it. Have a read: http://scottkobewka.com/2011/07/15/an-open-letter-to-bitchmedia-and-femf...

What's wrong?

The complaint seems to be that women are depicted solely as a muse for men and that women's personal interests and contributions to the world are not acknowledged. Why leave this to male writers and directors? Men don't see women's lives the way women do. Note the word *dream* in Manic Pixie Dream Girl. It is a mythological image of the female, idealized. Most men realize that women have talents and aspirations outside of their relationships with men or romantic others, but this is not what the male in the movie is focused on. We, the audience, are seeing the world, and the woman, from his perspective. This is not to say that how he sees the woman is exactly how she is in reality. While movies might strive to represent reality in some way, we have to remember that they are only a representation. The problem is when people forget that the "reality" of a film is not an objective one. I think that almost every woman has a bit of MPDG in her that may only exist with a particular person and at a particular time in her life. The MPDGs in these films might only be this way with these particular men, but we will never know that because it is from the males' perspectives. If we want the female perspective, a woman needs to create such a film. But this seems to defeat the purpose. I say let the guys have their MPDG....

Anita needs to work a little

Anita needs to work a little more eye rolling condescension into her videos. It's so charming.

did you just sarcastically

did you just sarcastically condemn sarcastic condescension?

Way off base

I'm confused.... Anita seems to have a problem with the MPDG not being portrayed as a "full human being", and only being used to further the male lead's role, but isn't that true of any sidekick in any movie? Can you say any secondary character gets to be a "full human being," male or female?
And what's wrong with being a muse? People can't inspire others by just being themselves? If a woman inspires another woman, or a man is inspired by another man, is s/he objectifying them automatically?

erroneous use of eternal sunshine of the spotless mind

This video uses a clip of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" but Kate Winslet's character is in fact a comment on the manic pixie dream girl. The brilliance of that script is examining that cliche as a real person transforming her from a haircut into a complex and flawed character. There's a key line of dialogue that sums this up:

"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."

Also, i think men can just be as easily be muses for women. I think the definition of the word has moved on from being gender specific.

Agreed

I completely agree with that key line discounting her character as a MPDG.
I do think that up until that point in the film, both Jim Carrey's character and Kate Winslet's character DID buy into her role as such. Even her fake 'relationship" with Baby Boy Patrick shows how that role no longer serves her. And as you say, the brilliance of the story is that we get to see them unravel that to find the real person.

Otherwise, I'm just glad to know why I disliked all those OTHER movies so much.

A Point I'm Not Clear On

I understand that having a ditsy dream girl with no personality is sexist, but why is it inherently sexist to be inspired by a woman?

I have written songs about my relationships in the past with women, (even if no one has heard them,) and there have been plenty times to my mind where women have sung songs about men. Is it that inspiration based on your a relationship, or on a person is ok, as long as it's not specifically because she's a woman?

The thing that always gets me

The thing that always gets me is why these interesting and lively women are drawn to the moody, boring male loser protagonists in the first place. Sure, a great partner can help you appreciate life. But where are her standards? Why these men? Why does the best example of bright and beautiful femininity need the attention of this paticular uninteresting man so badly? Why doesn't she have anything better to do?

Because that's the fantasy, men imagining that women desperately require their validation. That a man is the centre of womankind's world. It reminds me of these harem fantasy comics where powerful women are inexplicably fighting over some nervous everyman.

Manic pixie women roles in movies

I am a straight 60 year old Canadian male so my opinion may differ from the average 30 year old and may shock a few. Most of my life I have been an entrepreneur and a quite successful one at that. I have the mind for it, a good leader, creative and so on. My flaws are that I am often lazy, not organized, unmotivated and not detail oriented. My wife and I, throughout my various careers, have operated as a team. She has exactly the qualities that I lack. Of course I get the lime light and she may appear to be the sidekick but I couldn't function without her, or at least not as successfully. Some people have even accused me of using her and if she ever hears this they get an earful. The gist is that she is happy in her supportive role and we are a team. Strong male characters attract females followers ( as well as male) and if they operate as a team success is guaranteed. Theodore Roosevelt comes to mind and has always given credit to his wife for much of his success and no one would accuse her of being second fiddle. Same goes for President Obama's wife. Someone has to lead and men have through history led. It might have something to do with women being pregnant one year out of two or men being stronger physically because that is how leaders were traditionally picked. A woman hitched her wagon to the strongest guy and that insured her survival. Now that woman occupy 60% of university seats they want to lead. Wether they have the leadership qualities is irrelevant to them. They got the grades and enough of the exploitation. Well, someone sometimes has to give up their career and take one for the team. Men have traditionally been the bread winners, have long uninterrupted careers and often have the leadership qualities that woman lack. Good couples support each other try not to let their egos sabotage the team effort. It is hard for a man to step behind a woman to be in a supportive role but they do step behind other men. That's just nature.