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The Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Who She Is and Everything She Represents

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Who She Is and Everything She Represents

A popular trope in movies and media is the “manic pixie dream girl.” The trope is usually used by men to describe a girl who is “different” and “not like other girls.” This girl tends to be defined as “quirky,” and she gives a greater life purpose to the male protagonist. The push of this archetype damages not only the image young girls develop of themselves but their idea of feminism too. Rooted in misogyny, the archetype is used to further men at the expense of women, their choices, and their needs. The dream girl takes on the role of making a man better. Whether through his actions, emotional maturity, or life aspirations, she serves as a tool to further his development but is still considered an expendable figure. Many times, this character ends up dying or in a situation in which they need saving, allowing the man to be the ‘hero’ of the story and still fit a masculine stereotype. Why should she be used as a tool rather than having her own form of agency? 

Popular manic pixie dream girls (MPDGs), in movies and television include: Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim Versus the World; Summer from 500 Days of Summer; Alaska Young from Looking for Alaska; and Penny Lane from Almost Famous (just to name a few). MPDGs often share a common set of characteristics. The manic pixie dream girl tends to be someone with some form of trauma in their life, such as the death of a close family member or personal trauma, that is vaguely mentioned but rarely explored in depth. They usually have colorful hair and whimsical philosophies about life, death, or their purpose in life. The defining characteristic of the MPDG is that she’s “not like other girls,” meaning she tends to read books and listen to indie or older bands. “Normal girls” wouldn’t listen to indie music because they listen to pop music and they rarely read for pleasure. This supposedly “normal girl” is basic and uninteresting and, thus, can’t keep the attention of a male protagonist the way the MPDG does because she’s mysterious and unknown. 

Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim v. The World, a clear depiction of the “manic pixie dream girl". Image courtesy of Insider.com.

In an article from The Atlantic, writer Hugo Schwyzer discusses everything wrong with the manic pixie dream girl. Schwyzer doesn’t necessarily say that there is anything wrong with the MPDG specifically besides the fact that she’s used as a plot device. He quotes the writing of Laurie Penny on her own exploration of the MPDG, “‘Fiction creates real life,’ Penny notes. ‘Women behave in ways that they find sanctioned in stories written by men.’” The MPDG may reveal how male writers view and perceive the women in their stories, reflecting their perceptions of women even in their own lives. 

This is where it seems the MPDG goes wrong. It is said perfectly by Laurie Penny in Schwayers article, “For Penny (and for many who commented on her piece), manic pixie dream girlhood served as a model for how to live as a teen and early 20-something.” Life imitates art, or so the saying goes, so does this mean that young women are now taking on the characteristics and physical appearances of the MPDG? Are they acting as a supporting character in someone else’s story rather than having their own story and their own voice? How is the MPDG dismantled? 

In an article from The Guardian, by Ben Beaumont Thomas, Thomas explores the critique of the MPDG, and her origins. Essentially, he says that this is because of the misogynistic trope the role has taken and how prevalent it has become in Hollywood to use this role. The term was coined by film critic Nathan Rabin in conjunction with the 2007, Kirsten Dunst film Elizabethtown. Rabin reportedly says, “I’m sorry for creating this unstoppable monster…I feel deeply weird, if not downright ashamed, at having created a cliche that has been trotted out again and again in an infinite Internet feedback loop.” Rabin obviously feels terrible about the misogynistic context on the term and its portrayal of women in film, and although it’s his monster, the writer and directors utilize it to benefit their films, so who’s really at fault here? 

A side-by-side comparison of the book cover of Looking for Alaska and the promo image for the television show featured on Hulu, featuring the main character Alaska Young. 

Alaska Young is one of the most well known Manic Pixie Dream Girls in contemporary literature and television today. The author of this famous MPDG is John Green, a man who is well known for his Young Adult novels and his use of the MPDG throughout multiple novels. In an essay for the L.A. Book Review, Mary Jo Tewes Cramb writes about Green and his first MPDG in his novel Looking for Alaska. Alaska is quirky, creative, self-destructive, beautiful and flirty, and free. She makes life interesting for the male protagonist, Miles, at their boarding school. However, Miles falls in love with the idea of Alaska rather than who she actually is, ignoring all of her faults. This story is about Miles and his journey in learning who Alaska really is beyond the image he created of her in his head. Unfortunately, he only realizes this after her untimely death. 

Although she is an MPDG, Green uses her in a different way. Green gives caution to the MPDG and the cost of creating a mental image of someone. Cramb describes a certain scene in the novel and offers analysis, “His friend says to him at one point, ‘It’s like now you only care about the Alaska you made up,’”. By the end of the book he realizes how his conception of Alaska was flawed and narrow. He understands that Alaska’s fragility and volatility, the very things that made her so attractive, were her downfall, and he accepts that he can never fully know what motivated her; thus Green’s deconstruction of the MPDG occurred side by side with her creation.” Alaska’s character offers the beginning of the deconstruction of the MPDG. 

Maeve Wiley from the Netflix show Sex Education. Image courtesy of Bust.com.


There is some hope in a world of Manic Pixie Dream girls in the form of her antithesis. The antithesis of the MPDG is, although still not necessarily self-defined, is a woman on a journey of self discovery. She is not solely used to push forward the journey of a man in her life. An article from Bust Magazine goes into who these women are in television. Examples of this girl include: Maeve Wiley from Sex Education; Tracey Grodon from Chewing Gum; and Jessa Johansson from Girls. Although this archetype of the antithesis are few in number compared to the MPDG, she does exist and will hopefully make more of an appearance in future films and television series. With this antithesis, female characters can provide young girls a more positive influence in their life, inspiring them to create their own journeys and paths rather than encouraging them to be a part of someone else’s. 

The Women’s Network encourages young women to have individuality and to cultivate the life they want rather than centering themselves around someone else. Through a variety of events and speaking engagements, The Women’s Network seeks to allow young women to shape themselves in the best way possible by supporting one another through academic and personal relationships and building networking skills to benefit them in their future journey’s in life. The Women’s Network embraces young women creating their own story and pushing forward their own personal narrative.