The Manic Pixie Female Archetype

“…how we rely on lazy character creation in life just as we do in fiction.”

Go read I was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl by Laurie Penny.

It’s full of perfect quotes.

Men grow up expecting to be the hero of their own story. Women grow up expecting to be the supporting actress in somebody else’s. As a kid growing up with books and films and stories instead of friends, that was always the narrative injustice that upset me more than anything else. I felt it sometimes like a sharp pain under the ribcage, the kind of chest pain that lasts for minutes and hours and might be nothing at all or might mean you’re slowly dying of something mundane and awful. It’s a feeling that hit when I understood how few girls got to go on adventures. . . mainstream female leads very occasionally got more at the end of the story than together with the protagonist.

That’s how I feel when I’m searching through Steam for a game I might want to play. For a girl hero, non-shooter adventure game. I don’t even care if she doesn’t look real. I don’t look so real myself. “But Laura Croft…” you might say. Yea. One game. A few more. Out of all of them. That dull, dry ache from wanting something that should exist. A mothy hush of accepted gratitude.  “First world problems.” But are they? Stories have the power to reach more lives in more places than ever before.  Every girl needs heroes.

I don’t often write about love and sex on a personal level these days, even though I spend a great deal of time thinking about it, like everyone else in the It’s Complicated stage of their twenties.

Oh, right. That stage. ❤

… But there have been times when I didn’t write, because I was too depressed or anxious or running away from something, and those times have coincided almost precisely with the occasions when I had most sexual attention from men.

Interesting. I was about to say that I don’t relate to that coincidence. Musically though, I do. A symbolic theme in returning to UCSD to study Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts was this persistent desire to have an avatar as the vehicle for my art. Read an avatar as the object for other people’s fantasies. I like making things more than I like attention. I like singing more than I like being a singer. It’s not that I have stage fright. Not at all, actually. It’s more of a cheesy feeling, and Laurie’s essay describes it so eloquently. It’s the sensation of being in limbo between my own creative fantasies and other people’s projections. I know I shouldn’t let other people *stop* me, but I don’t think I have really. I’ve got a lot of music left in me. I feel an earthy pride when I notice that I’m singing my unrecorded songs to myself. Like having knit a quilt or skinned a deer or something. The limbo discomfort and it’s many parallels as a young woman in the music any industry led me down this path that I love so dearly. It’s rough around the edges, and in the middle, but it’s so personal.

I try hard, now, around the men in my life, to be as unmanic, as unpixie and as resolutely real possible, because I don’t want to give the wrong impression. And it’s a struggle. Because I remain a small, friendly, excitable person who wears witchy colors and has a tendency towards the twee.

Urban Dictionary – Twee: Something that is sweet, almost to the point of being sickeningly so. As a derogatory descriptive, it means something that is affectedly dainty or quaint, or is way too sentimental.

::: looks left: two glass horses with gold ribbons sitting by stack of patterned glitter cardstock, bag of cotton candy on shelf:::

::: looks right: another miniature  animal, black sparkly tack board, bundles of tule in shades of pastel :::

Stories matter. Stories are how we make sense of the world, which doesn’t mean that those stories can’t be stupid and simplistic and full of lies. Stories can exaggerate and offend and they always, always matter.

For this and the  other reasons mentioned I’m going to this game jam on creating female protagonists. Also because last time I tried to go to a women in games game jam the well-meaning [all male] organizers scheduled it on Mother’s Day weekend so not enough women could come and it was cancelled. Ironic fail.

We expect to be forgettable supporting characters, or sometimes, if we’re lucky, attainable objects to be slung over the hero’s shoulder and carried off the end of the final page. The only way we get to be in stories is to be stories ourselves. If we want anything interesting at all to happen to us we have to be a story that happens to somebody else, and when you’re a young girl looking for a script, there are a limited selection of roles to choose from.

Manic Pixies, like other female archetypes, crop up in real life partly because fiction creates real life, particularly for those of us who grow up immersed in it. Women behave in ways that they find sanctioned in stories written by men who know better…

My sister and I often talk about how Disney’s popular mean girl trope engendered a type of copycat persona in some young girls who accept it at face value as a real life role that some people play. There’s a funny emotional disconnect when someone’s acerbic gesture manages to offend without being culturally convincing.

In recent weeks I’ve filled in the gaps of classic Manic Pixie Dream Girl films I hadn’t already sat through, and I’m struck by how many of them claim to be ironic re-imaginings of a character trope that they fail to actually interrogate in any way. Irony is, of course, the last vestige of modern crypto-misogyny…

Crypto-misogyny is the best name I’ve heard for this subtle pervasive sexism that I didn’t know how to describe. You know it when you see it, a study demonstrates it, or when you go to a show titled “Bass Goddesses.”

“Everybody is setting out to write a full character. It’s just that some people are limited in their imagination of a girl.”


Those imaginative limits, that failure of narrative, is imposed off the page, too, in the most personal of ways…

I still love to up sticks and go on adventures, but I no longer drag mournful men-children behind me when I do, because it’s frankly exhausting. I still play the ukelele. I wasn’t kidding about the fucking ukelele. But I refuse to burn my energy adding extra magic and sparkle to other people’s lives to get them to love me. I’m busy casting spells for myself. Everyone who was ever told a fairytale knows what happens to women who do their own magic.

The gift that looks tattered until you open it. The ecstatic satisfaction I get from reading Maggie the Mechanic.

Penny Century and Guillermo del Juevín

Penny Century and Guillermo del Juevín

How does Jaime Hernandez know about my reptiles with Spanish names? R.I.P. Jorge Luis Borges. Abby, you took great care of him. Love and Rockets makes me feel optimistic. What an awesome universe… ripe for a game maybe… hmm. Writing my own narrative JavaScript programs also makes me feel optimistic. They’re up on I feel like I spent my whole life sussing out the rules I was supposed to play but that no one would say. Maybe that’s part of being the oldest. There’s more to it, of course.

…you can spend your whole life being a story that happens to somebody else. You can twist and cram and shave down every aspect of your personality that doesn’t quite fit into the story boys have grown up expecting, but eventually, one day, you’ll wake up and want something else, and you’ll have to choose.

2009 was the year I learned how to love having adventures on my own. Re-learned, I should say. I remember having imaginative adventures alone in our neighborhood or on my computer as a child. It took a few more years for me to learn how to shield my personal adventures from romantic interests, to realize the space for happiness those boundaries provide. Residual people-pleasing habits still erode my judgment at times. I was recently offered a one day social media gig that sounded fun and gave a super low price… to be nice. The single day offer was extended to a week, so I said I needed to raise my quote because a week at that rate wasn’t sustainable. The guy asked why I was trying to negotiate all of a sudden. I caved. I felt like he was accusing me of being… I don’t know what. Greedy? Manipulative? I was worried about being liked maintaining a good impression. I should have stood up for myself. It wont happen again.

What concerns me now is the creation of new narratives, the opening of space in the collective imagination for women who have not been permitted such space before, for women who don’t exist to please, to delight, to attract men, for women who have more on our minds.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.


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