Unoffensive Manic Pixie Dream Girl has tainted my writer’s imagination for female characters. Thanks Hollywood.
Guy meets girl. Guy falls for girl. Girl falls for guy. Guy meets another girl. The. Drama. Begins.
Who is the Guy character? He’s a loser. What kind of a loser? The kind that doesn’t commit to anything, but feels sorry for himself. Who is this (first) Girl character? She’s smart, but dysfunctional and relationship-challenged. What does she do about this jacked-up love triangle cliché? Well, either she leaves and starts a “journey of self-discovery” along the lines of “Eat, Pray, Love” (orders deep dish, reads The Secret, gets groped by her OKCupid first date in his Ford Mustang). Or she becomes…what? The long suffering girlfriend/wife? The magical waif who changes him? Or the Psycho Hose Beast who we all pity. Either she stays or she goes. The play hasn’t even been written and I’m already falling asleep.
I, sadly, found that I cared more about the loser guy than the dysfunctional magical-waif would-be hose beast. A loser guy can redeem himself. A loser woman? What is that? A victim? A trope. (noun, trope; a figurative or metaphorical use of a word or expression…I was an English major and still not sure what it means.) The girl becomes a thing, an idea, something we roll our eyes at. I could make her into a righteous feminist, then we’re getting closer to Solange territory and now I’m even more bored. Or I could make her ambitious and unfeeling, getting into Lady MacBeth evil woman territory, and now it’s a Hollywood premise. Female characters are often anything but multidimensional. We are queens, dark angels, fairies, or pure physical matter, we consistently live at the edge of the emotional spectrum. We are anything but complex.
I got tired of banging my head on the walls of my media-drenched brain, drove to Yogurtland, and asked myself “Am I really just bumping up against my own internalized misogyny.”
It’s not (entirely) my fault. It’s not like my brain is exempt from a life-long bombardment of misogynist thoughts, images and attitudes that reduce women to talking points in a conversation a male dominated culture has with itself: Cruella De Vil, Daisy Buchanan, Blanche Dubois, Ophelia, Juliette, Psycho Hose Beast, or the latest, Manic Pixie Dream Girl…..fantasies, victims, bitches and psych ward candidates. The Western literary Canon of male characters is overflowing with complicated, nuanced, loserish or evil-ish characters, from Falstaff to Lebowski to Lecter Hannibal. Even sociopaths get cool guy pass, because they are so smart. Want to write a male character and not have to worry if he is sympathetic or not? The world is your oyster.
Like corn syrup and gluten, misogyny leaks into most every aspect of gestation when it comes to culture, media and art.
I do think that Black Women writer’s have done the most to bring women to a place much closer to an experience not defined by the male oeuvre. (oeuvre; noun; the works of a painter, composer, or author regarded collectively…I don’t think I’m using it right). I can’t trace “Beloved” to anything a man wrote. “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and “The Great Gatsby” were my favorite books in college but could not have a more different approach on the topic of the female search for love. Janie is a woman who “with her finger on the trigger of her own destiny, while Daisy cries about shirts and Myrtle turns into road kill. (I have since re-vamped my entire perspective on “The Great Gatsby”).
In short, my imagination has been tainted, yes maybe even raped, when it comes to creating full-spectrum Good And Evil dark, likable and annoying, female characters…
Regardless of what I churn out, I now know that I need to put it through the litmus test of Hollywood Taint. And that is sad.