The ‘manic pixie dream girl’


Steadfast Feminist.  Natalie Dulka
Steadfast Feminist. Natalie Dulka

Jennifer Lawrence fell on her way down the red carpet again and the fact that her stumble was considered newsworthy enough to be featured on Time Magazine’s social media outlets worries me. America’s sweetheart is known for her work as Katniss Everdeen, a strong female lead in a seriously successful movie franchise, as well as her frankness about body positivity and Hollywood beauty standards. Despite all of these feminist aspects of her career, Jennifer Lawrence is renowned for her frequent clumsiness at award ceremonies.

Lawrence is best known for her appearances as a “manic pixie dream girl.” This archetype of woman, found in John Green novels and Zooey Deschanel movies, is the type of character who is fun and quirky but not very substantial. The manic pixie dream girl dances in the rain and wears band t-shirts she found at a thrift store. She is smart and witty and quite the whirlwind to date but she’s not very strong. Should she happen to have a personality of some substance, she has to have some heroic downfall like Jennifer Lawrence’s clumsiness. The manic pixie dream girl doesn’t have aspirations or beliefs. She runs not on passion or ambition but on the admiration of those around her. She exists not to create something new but to show the brooding male lead how to be adventurous.

A trend in modern pop culture is that women who are smart and pretty and strong aren’t likeable. Women who take charge and don’t shy away from their intellect are portrayed as bossy and stuffy — the kind of woman no leading man would ever want to be his romantic double. Women in movies and books who are strong leads with dreams and ideologies all their own are shown as frumpy and villainous. Hermione Granger is known for being smart and outspoken and funny looking in the books. They are threats to the constant of male leads, so they are dismissed as awful and undesirable. Because male consumers won’t buy a piece of pop culture with a strong female lead, there are less of them.

According to San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, only 12 percent of protagonists in the top 100 highest-grossing domestic films of 2014 were female. Female characters in television and literature don’t have gusto or believability because they just don’t sell. But characters that don’t have gusto or believability can’t be leads. We find ourselves in a world where the only popular female characters are women who read as manic pixie dream girls with little to say other than supporting their male protagonists or being someone for them to whine about.

Women don’t get cast in as many roles as men, and, when they do manage to snag a role in a book or movie, they’re never very interesting characters. What this does, other than forcing the women in Hollywood and on Broadway to have to work much harder than their male counterparts, is that it forces some very concerning ideals into our pop culture. When we only portray women as attractive when they’re vapid and neurotic, we tell the young women in our society that they can’t be smart if they want to be pretty. When we only glorify female characters who mind their business and study art and history, we tell young women that it is objectionable for them to study anything within STEM fields.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, “Although women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs.” According to “Stability and Volatility of STEM Career Interest in High School: A Gender Study,” an online article published by Wiley Periodicals in 2012, there is a “a lower retention of STEM career interest among females and a greater difficulty in attracting females to STEM fields during high school. During the high school years, the percentage of males interested in a STEM career remained stable (from 39.5 to 39.7), whereas for females it declined from 15.7 to 12.7.”

When we preach to young women that they are more desirable when they have less to say, we perpetuate the archaic stance that women are better seen and not heard. When we teach our children and our siblings that science and math are for boys and that women who study those things are nerdy and gross, we extend the gap between male and female intellect. When we praise celebrity women for falling down at galas more than we praise them for the work they do, we tell our daughters that being cute and quirky is more important than being strong. We teach them that being clumsy is more attractive than being smart. We teach them that the ideas they have are less important than the way they hold themselves in high heels.


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