I made an off-handed remark on my Tumblr one day about being the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, abbreviated as MPDG from here on out, is a popular TV trope where the societally classified woman opens the heart of the societally classified man and teaches him how to love and live life to the fullest with no concern about her own happiness. Ever since I made that remark, though, I feel more and more like it is true.
I confess, I like Elizabethtown, Garden State and Sweet November. Hell, on the AV club’s list of 16 MPDG movies I like every one I’ve seen (except for maybe Autumn in New York; Geer and Ryder are not a match). These are women I always inspired to be. At 28, I feel like I am becoming them in a lot of ways and that makes me happy.
The trope is rather simple –which is likely the point –, though I’m not just about opening the hearts of societally classified men. I am this way because I like it, and also it has always been a way for me to survive and find worth in myself. My life has not been filled with happiness and light. My personality is not one that is favored in the mainstream. My abusers made it clear to me from infancy that I was worthless if I could not give to others. Being from a poor family that lived in a small town of 3,000, without transportation, and having dropped out of school with no prospects for college, created a life that was empty of most everything. I don’t/can’t work due to mental and physical health issues. I’ve experienced severe depression since before I can remember. My life has never been about making myself happy, reaching my own goals, aspiring to anything, because, frankly, there was no way in hell I could do anything. I’m sure there are folks who will read that and tell me what a liar I am. I’ll be regaled with stories about how they struggled through, made their own luck, turned their life around and I could too. While I’m overjoyed for them, I know my own life history and I’m secure in knowing I was fucked six ways to Sunday and not in a manner which is in any way rewarding, fun, or interesting.
I don’t claim my MPDG status to make a statement that this trope isn’t harmful, or that it doesn’t contribute to a system which portrays societally classified women only in their relationship to societally classified men. I speak out on this only to let folks know that I’m not perfect. Even as an activist I am not free from the systemic messages I receive from my culture. I am a product of what is around me, no doubt. That said, I am more than that too. So if you are a MPDG, or Single Woman Seeks Good Man, or Femme Fatale, or any other trope in entertainment and in a defining moment of realization this freaks you the fuck out (as it did me), please take a few breathes and know you are not alone.
Okay, so I’m having a bit of fun with using tropes. That fact remains is that as someone who tries to unpack all the bullshit the dominate social paradigm hands me, I often get squicked out when I realize just how much I’ve been incorporating the messages. I get depressed. I mope around. I question my existence. I become embarrassed and want to hide away from all my amazing, smart friends because surely they will see how much I am a part of the hegemony and will laugh at me behind my back (they won’t; that’s why they’re amazing). I spend hours dwelling on it. Every time Jezebel decries the trope, or NPR discusses it, or someone uses the definition from Nathan Rabin — “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.” — I cringe because it’s me they’re talking about. Really, though, it isn’t me. MPDG is part of me, but that is not all I am. It’s about the portrayal of societally classified women. It’s about the way kyriarchy portrays societally classified women. It isn’t me, I’m not a trope. I’m not bad or wrong or pandering to the mainstream if I embrace these aspects of myself.
Because if I really look, I can see being a MPDG for other people helps me to be a MPDG for myself. It helped me to navigate society and struggle and strive and pull myself up out of that nightmare of a life I had before I flew off to Portland, OR to marry my heteroromantic life partner. I’m sure some people would look at my life on paper and giggle, or accuse me of being a traitor and a liar. Maybe, even, someone I casually meet on OKCupid will publicly mock me for daring to exhibit such anti-feminist traits and then I’ll be held up as an example and people will be encourage to dismiss me and my whole being for the simple fact I identify as a MPDG. Afterall, it’s more than a hobby right? It’s a fundamental part of my personality and if they are turned off by that, then I either need to change that aspect or accept that I will be Tnternet-pwned.