My time as a manic pixie dream girl was short lived. I dyed my hair every color imaginable outside of white, yellow and orange in between my sophomore year of high school and last year. The thing that sticks out to me from that time is one sentence. “You could be my Ramona Flowers.” I had seen Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World shortly before that, I thought it was a cute video game style movie in which our male lead, Scott Pilgrim, takes on the ever flamboyant Ramona Flowers’ seven evil exes. One of her exes is a girl because, according to Ramona, she was ‘going through a phase’. At that time it was only slightly annoying, and mostly adorable- everyone loves a love story, right? And at the end (sorry, spoilers) Scott fights for himself and his self-respect, rather than the girl. It would take me years to discover the actual repercussions a fictional creation like Ramona Flowers has had on society. Besides the fact that she perpetuates the stereotype that bisexuality is a phase, has time and money to dye her hair every other week, and goes everywhere via roller-blades, she brought brightly-haired weirdos into the mainstream. Everywhere you went you saw girls with bright hair who incessantly received Ramona Flowers comments. I was sick of it. I wasn’t a movie character. I wasn’t a character at all. I was just me, who by coincidence happened to really like whatever color hair tickled my fancy at the moment. I wasn’t going to make you travel to Mordor, or ask you to fight for my love. And I wouldn’t even play video games with whatever lonely gamer guy thought I was adventurous. In all honesty, I am (and was) pretty boring. I could not understand why a movie that was supposed to be about a boy winning his self-respect (albeit through a girl, her quirkiness and seven evil exes) could be turned into this fantasy. As a matter of fact I felt like if anyone was witty, smart, quirky and clever in that movie, it was actually Michael Cera, the manic pixie dream boy of actors.
I later discovered the wonderful world of men’s rights activists. Personally, I was lucky enough to escape having to deal with instances of their ideology, but nearly every girl seems to constantly be a few short steps from what we like to call a ‘fedora wearing neck beard.’ It’s a jokingly derogatory term for guys that tend to act really nice and gentlemanly to girls to get in their pants, and who then insist you were leading them on if you don’t eventually sleep with them as a reward for their friendship. They call that ‘the friend zone’, and though there are indeed some girls who take men for a ride, most women hold that the friend zone does not in fact exist. They reason that if romantic feelings are brought up honestly yet not reciprocated, that she would try to let her friend down as gently as possible and actually try to keep the friendship so long as he stopped crying about it and professing his undying love. This began my inquiry into the wonderful world of the manic pixie dream girl, and how tropes like this one lead men to a sense of romantic and sexual entitlement, as well as going further into the rabbit hole of the men’s rights movement.
‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ is a phrase coined by film critic Nathan Rabin in a review of Elizabethtown (a 2005 comedy-drama). He said that she is “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature [which] 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” (“My Year of Flops”). She is often portrayed as having no goals of her own and is only there to support the protagonist male- to bring adventure and quirkiness to his life. Rabin even went on to say the audience would either want to immediately marry this kind of girl, or to “commit grievous bodily harm against them and their immediate family” (Rabin). In other words, this trope represents a one dimensional woman who is there to inspire and fix the main character. A quote from Clementine, the female lead in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, illustrates how women (including, in this case, the manic pixie dream girl herself) feel about the trope and label. It also serves as an instance of the opinion that the ‘quirks’ men find so attractive in their dream girls come from a dark, twisted place (Natasha).
So how does the manic pixie dream girl trope play into the male fantasy? And how does this affect the attitude and actions of men’s rights activists?
In order to answer these questions, we must first take a step back and ask, what is a trope? Usually, the manic pixie dream girl is a term applied to characters in movies so, in film, according to Merriam Webster, a trope is: “a common or overused theme or device” (“Trope”).
The manic pixie dream girl has been the object of many discussions and arguments, the issue of which being whether or not the trope needs to be done away with completely. At one point, Rabin even apologized for creating the term. Some say it is not the manic pixie dream girl herself who is the problem, but rather the ‘sad boy’ she saves. She was fine without him, the argument goes: powerful, independent, and perhaps the closest cinema has come to an average, or at least flawed woman. The issues begin when her problems or quirks become ‘too real’; she is no longer fun or an adventure, and she becomes depressed, having human emotion.
Besides Ramona Flowers, other iconic examples of the manic pixie dream girl include Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Vanellope von Schweetz in Wreck it Ralph, and even Ellie in Up. Albeit Ellie has her own personality and does not in fact save Carl, her husband, as she dies within the first twenty minutes, nearly everything he does from then on is for her or in honor of her spirit. In order to save the day and finish his adventure, he must finally let the memory of her rest.
To analyze the impact that the manic pixie dream girl trope has had on men’s rights activists, we must first take a look at how the movement formed and came to prominence. The men’s rights movement began in Austria with a mission of “combating all excesses of women’s emancipation” (“Men’s Rights Movement”). They took issue with allowing women into the workforce, as well as advocating against men having to make alimony and child support payments to wives and mothers. In the 1970’s, anti-feminist portions of this movement broke off to create their own men’s right movement. Their issues of discontent covered a wide range of situations from custody laws and suicide prevention, to divorce, rape and abuse allegations. According to “An Introduction to the Men’s Rights Movement,” circumcision became a heated topic, and they believed that women not being forced to join the military contributed to the idea that men are disposable (Brockway) Arguments were even made that men are not given the same educational and health coverage as women.
Within the culture of men’s right activists there are two main groups that have been criticized both for their claims of misandry, and for engaging in rape denial. The first group is comprised of those usually referred to specifically as Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs). MRAs “[are] concerned about problems facing men and boys and focus on bringing attention to the problems in the wider community as well as discussing ways to alleviate and resolve these problems.” (Brockway) There is a common societal belief that MRAs do not value women, the LGBT community, or minorities, and that they hold to misogyny. MRAs themselves, however, hold that they are fighting for equal rights, and that feminist’s fight to make women the more powerful gender, with some MRAs insisting that this is already the case.
The second group is what is known as TRP, or The Red Pill. Those who have ‘swallowed the pill’ also hold that it is men, and not women, who have been treated unfairly. Online commenter FinalEquin0x said in a response on the Ask TRP message board: “TheRedPill is more about accepting the hand you’ve been dealt and making the most out of it. For the majority of the men here this means taking control of their sexual desires” ( “Questions, no Trolling I Promise”). However, columnist Dylan Love argues that the main goal of these men is to attract and seduce as many women as possible. They say that women are “…by nature, manipulative, attention-seeking, inconsistent, emotional and hypergamous…” ( Love). They hold that men should be in excellent physical shape and have sex with as many women as possible. They also tell ‘red pill women’ (women who have also swallowed the pill), that they should be as attractive as possible for their boyfriends at all times and never deny him sex.
TRPs are perhaps more commonly known as ‘pick up artists’, and although some MRAs also use this way of seducing women (most commonly including techniques such as peacocking or wearing nice clothes, and offering backhanded compliments such as “Your hair is pretty, is it real?”), they consider themselves completely separate.
So what does all of this mean for our manic pixie dream girl –a cardboard cutout of a girl with (most likely) brightly-colored hair, a mismatched wardrobe, and roller-blades? Or who is in a rock band, or has an OCD quirk? She walks into this scene, ready to fill this man’s life with adventure, save him from his inability to talk to women, worship him at all costs including her own possible mental illness(s). She is simultaneously a feminist, who this type of man usually hates, and also the girl made especially for him. He will accept no less.
Can she have her own emotions while still being adorable? Is it her who saves him, or he who deserves her? According to Dr NerdLove in his article “Four Lies Movies Taught us About Dating”) she is” just an excuse for not taking control of your own damn lives.” (Dr. Nerdlove, She is an illusion, existing simply so that the socially awkward nerdy boys don’t have to deal with real life rejection. In the minds of these men, they are her white knight. They believe they are doing her a favor by elevating her to goddess status, when in fact she has been reduced to a fetish.
Masculinity teaches men to be valued based on what they can offer women. Support, money, a jacket on a cold evening, or even the act of standing to offer a seat on the bus are examples of perceived value. This is how these men view the world, in black and white and two dimensions. So perhaps this is just their way of understanding women- to make women just as two-dimensional as the patriarchy itself in order to process their emotions. They don’t even comprehend that it’s the fault of neither women nor men but rather society’s, in that society is founded on a patriarchy. As such, the archetypes and tropes that people have seen and embraced throughout history are based on that same patriarchy.
Patience was born and raised in Chicago, Il., where she currently resides with her daughter, fiance, and cat. She’s been published in If Blooks Could Chill, as well as Hero of a Bunch of Faces: The Creative Writer’s Journey, and Some Days It’s a Good Day to Die, Some Days it’s a Good Day to do Some Writing. She is fluent in toddler, pig latin, and sarcasm, and conversational Spanish. Her hobbies include binge watching Netflix, Hulu, and staring at the mandolin she never plays. She also enjoys black and white photography and linguistics.
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Elliebytesisback. Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Digital image. BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed, 21 July 2014. Web. 7 Apr. 2016.
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