Sunday Pinspiration No. 4: Manic pixie dream girls need love, too!

While reading feminist criticism about Clara Oswin Oswald, the character played by Jenna Louise Coleman in Doctor Who, I kept seeing articles questioning whether she is no more than a "manic pixie dream girl."

That term has always been jarring to me. It was coined to describe Kirsten Dunst's character in Elizabethtown, and denotes a sassy, free-spirited girl whose purpose in the story is to save the brooding, emo male lead from himself and teach him to enjoy life. 


The opposition to the MPDG — which is valid — is that she's shallow and outwardly motivated, existing only as an object of desire. Clara saves the Doctor, all while being spunky and very pixielike. But by saving him, she saves the universe. She didn't do it JUST for him. Clara didn't swallow up the time vortex and exterminate all the Daleks the way Rose did, so naturally, we can't judge her based on her own merits, and choose to belittle her and her contribution because we can do some mental gymnastics that lodge her into a neat little archetype we can then digest. And you know what? Just as much criticism is levied at female characters who require saving.

The MPDG just can't win!

But isn't it just as sexist to portray men as so emotionally fragile and self-centered that they can't get it together without a cute girl to hold their hand? Isn't it their own fault for objectifying the woman? Who are we to punish and marginalize female characters who possess traits like spunk and humor, and just continue female-unfriendly patterns by saying women should be something but not something else? What kind of message are we sending to women and girls who genuinely enjoy indie music or old movies or collecting books or making flower chains, or any other MPDG-esque pastime?

The message we are sending is, if you fit into this category, that's all you can be. You are shallow, you are a stereotype, you are nothing. If a man desires you, that's your identity, and it's somehow all your fault. Never mind that completely takes accountability away from other characters and from the viewer, who are presumptuous enough to assume you have no inner life or motivation toward your own happiness just because you add to someone else's life.

Even outside of the MPDG trope, we miss the point. Katniss Everdeen isn't any less hardcore and tough because she's got relationship drama with two boys. We, as readers and viewers, are the ones totally missing the point and narrowing her story's main theme down into Team Peeta or Team Gale.

I have yet to hear anyone call Ryan Gosling in The Notebook a manic pixie dream guy, even though he encourages the stuck-up and sheltered Rachel McAdams character to lie down in the middle of a street and look at the sky, and persuades her to go on a date with him by threatening to fall to his death.

At the core of any rant is something personal. I think that if someone made me a character into a movie, I'd be written off as an MPDG. As a result, any time that someone befriends me and says I'm funny or weird or that they like some oddball, whimsical trait of mine, I get worked up about it inside and get paranoid that I'm not being seen as a real person.

This is an unusual Sunday Pinspiration theme, but I propose that this week, we celebrate the unfairly maligned manic pixie dream girls. The women in fiction and in reality who are charming and "off," who might tell us the secrets of the universe if we stop dissecting them long enough to listen. After all, if she knows how to teach you how to enjoy life, chances are she's done loads of suffering to get there. Let's embrace the saviors of cinema and the ones needing saving, and stop worrying whether it's a girl saving a boy, a boy saving a girl, or a girl saving a girl/boy saving a boy.

A little whimsy and magic never hurt anyone.


  1. I love your Doctor Who references. I am a mild Whovian. I will probably have to read again, in order to comment or not comment, further.

    1. Thanks for reading! I've been dabbling in Classic Who. The selection on Netflix is limited, though, so I'll have to go to the library.

  2. Very interesting! I had actually never heard of the term MPDG. Sounds like such silly stereotyping.