In movies, the term “manic pixie dream girl” refers to a very specific type of woman. She is beautiful, carefree, and fun. She is mysterious yet approachable, calm yet flamboyant, social yet secretive. Men want her, and women want to be her. Everything she says is poetic, even though she hardly ever puts thought into anything. Even if this description doesn’t sound immediately familiar, this character is more common than you might expect.
Some of the oldest examples of manic pixie dream girls are Holly Golightly, Audrey Hepburn’s character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby. More recent examples of this stereotypical character include Sam (Emma Watson) in Perks of Being a Wallflower, Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) in Almost Famous, Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) in 500 Days of Summer, and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) in Silver Linings Playbook.
These women are fascinating in part because of their wildly spontaneous life decisions such as marrying a Brazilian politician or moving to Morocco. Their appeal is in their absurdity; nothing in their life seems real. However, beneath the surface level allure, there are significant problems with the manic pixie dream girl (MPDG).
For starters, although these women may seem like the prominent stars in their movies, they are really always secondary characters. Their only purpose throughout a film or book is to directly or indirectly teach the male protagonist a lesson about himself, his life, or the world. The MPDG is engineered for the sole purpose of helping a man experience an epiphany. These women have always experienced some hardship in their lives, which further adds to their mystique. How could anyone harm someone so perfect? This hardship rarely gets resolved for the MPDG, but rather it functions as a woman’s tool for teaching a man about his own life.
Whether or not you are conscious of the existence of manic pixie dream girls, they are a staple character in so many movies, television shows, and books, and they make a big impact on a large number of women. So many girls get fooled into idolizing these “glamorous” and “free-spirited” women, when in reality they are being trained to worship sad, shallow and subordinate characters, whose only function is to better a man’s life. The MPDG tricks viewers into believing that she is an independent and capable woman, but at her core, she is a glorified damsel in distress who very rarely meets her knight in shining armor.