Growing up, we all loved fairy tales. We love stories that aren’t true, especially when those stories involve women objectified for their wistfulness and beauty.
However, many of us know the fairy tales we were told had much darker meanings, and more often than not represented the patriarchal standard that placed women in towers guarded by dragons. Women were seldom viewed as anything but pretty dress-up dolls created to stroke the egos of men. As adults, we figured out that Snow White was actually just a young girl who was kissed without consent, and Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” was a victim of Stockholm syndrome.
Growing up we quickly realized that our favorite princesses, fairies and damsels were simple tropes that weren’t real and oftentimes symbolic of the objectification of women. We have managed to create a post-modern fairytale character that is just as fantastical as Cinderella, talking mice and evil stepmothers.
Wild and full of idiosyncrasies, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an apparition written into a story to breathe life into the empty lungs of men who don’t know how to love. The pixie is beautiful, but not in an obvious way; she is full of quirks and “not like other girls” with fringy bangs that she cut herself during a breakdown or a blackout or a heartbreak.
Her bathroom is stained with her mental illness and bad habit of falling in love too quickly; pink, red, purple and blue sticks to the bottom of the shower, a place she's spent too much time clutching her knees as the expectation of being someone else’s life force drowns her.
If you look up the definition of Manic Pixie Dream Girl on Urban Dictionary, it says she is expected to like what men like, or at least what men think men like: rock music and video games. She's quiet when they want her to be quiet, and full of effervescence when the man, who is the protagonist and main character, needs a quick pick-me-up from his miserable excuse of a life.
Ramona, Clementine, Summer, Johnna? Her name is the kind of name you don’t share a Coke with and is never on a piece of jewelry. Her endless exes — with their floppy brown hair and major depressive disorders that they refuse to go to therapy for — seldom call her by that name anyways. To them, she isn’t a name; she is a shiny plaything to pantomime life with, a short dress, an empty prescription bottle, a bottle of absinth, Burnett’s vodka, red hair dye and a glass pipe on her nightstand.
The truth about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is that she is a dream girl because you can leave her whenever you want to wake up. Whenever the magic fades and she starts to look human, she disappears.
The other truth about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is that, sooner or later, those of us assigned to this trope realize that we don’t want to be someone else’s dream anymore, and we become your nightmare.
We stop falling in love because we don’t believe in it anymore. The hazy sparkle of naivety becomes heavy cigarette smoke catalyzed by a dopamine drop and a serotonin reuptake inhibitor. We get mean and angry because we were robbed of our humanity by the people in our lives that assigned us a gilded cage to be objectified in. The worst part of it all is that we argued and fought over which cage we get to be exhibited in.
At the end of the day, this stereotype is an easy way for the patriarchy to view us as nothing more than dress-up dolls that serve different purposes and add to some miserable man’s plot development.
The fact that I like astrology and have daddy issues isn’t a quirk that I created in order to appeal to men, and I am sick of men telling me to my face that it’s OK that I am the way that I am because “girls with daddy issues are the best in bed.”
It would be nice if my trauma wasn’t fetishized, and it would be even nicer if I had the space in society to be the complex person that men are allowed to be all the time. Instead, I am written off in someone else’s story as a lesson or a romantic interest or as a phantom oracle that gives advice and good head and disappears promptly into the evening of the man’s character arc.
I don’t know if there is a solution to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl problem, but I suppose it would start with writing our own stories. Maybe if we cracked open our laptops and journals and started romanticizing ourselves as complex creatures and not characters in the pages of someone else’s story, we could find the exit of that gilded cage and finally free ourselves from this archetype.
We are not damsels in distress, or mysterious fairytale creatures to be simplified, scrutinized and set aside as soon as we fulfill our meek purposes. It’s time we start writing our own fairytales where we are our own knights in shining armor and not supporting roles for men who are too weak to save themselves.