A Feminist Paradox


First, I am coming to you as a writer who is genuinely concerned about not presenting women in a subordinate objectified light in my stories.  I deeply and truly want the all characters  in my books to be real people and not just fill a role.

Having said that I have a question that I cannot seem to find an answer too when it comes to the trope known as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.   This is not my only question but one that comes to mind as I have recently watched Garden State which was written, directed, and stars Zach Braff.

/!\ Spoiler Alert for Garden State /!\

In the movie actress Natalie Portman who plays Sam is said to be Andrew’s (Mr. Braff’s character) manic pixie dream girl who only serves a purpose to “fix” Andrew.   After watching the movie I didn’t agree with this idea until the end of the movie where the two main characters are in the airport with Andrew getting ready to leave and he says to Sam “You changed my life.”  Because of this single sentence Sam is solidified as Andrew’s manic pixie dream girl.

This single sentence bypasses almost everything else that has happened in the movie.  Andrew stopping all of his psychotropic drugs, Andrew’s mother dying, Andrew starting to repair his relationship with his father because of the first two, Andrew coming back home after not being there for nine years.  All of these things probably did more for him than Sam.  But, the movie chooses to focus on this and because of that, in what I feel is an otherwise well written film, it suddenly falls into a trope.

Sam is a fairly well rounded character who is dealing with real life issues.  She works in a law office but has to wear protective gear because of her epilepsy.  She lives with her mom and adoptive brother.  She makes her own choices.  She states she doesn’t need to be protected but is still somewhat flattered when Andrew does it.  She has goals and dreams.   I know that her character is not perfect but this is much better than in a lot of movies.

In my pursuit of NOT writing the manic pixie dream girl I thought it would be an interesting change of pace to write about a female who is down on her luck, not going anywhere in life really only to meet a guy who, as the trope says, “uses his bubbly cinematic personality to teach a brooding soulful young woman to embrace life and and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”  You know, kind of turn the trope on its head.

As soon as I thought that I knew it was wrong because now all I am writing about is a lady who cannot get her life together without the help of a man.  I titled this piece “A Feminist Paradox” not because this is a problem that feminists are creating but because it is a paradox that exists when dealing with feminist issues.

So I ask plead for somebody to help answer this question.  How can a story be written that includes a pairing of woman&man or man&woman where one gets help from the other that does not fall into the trope of manic pixie dream girl or a women who needs her life fixed by a man?  I ask this because people helping other people is an important theme to life and it needs to be handled better.

Thank you,



  1. A strong female character isn’t about a female being actually strong- it’s about a female being portrayed as an actual person and being well rounded and thought out with actual emotions, those can most certainly include the feeling of hopelessness

    even the best of us fall on hard times and need help

  2. I think it could be done, atleast with some tough love.
    Maybe he could see her trying to lean on him, but not put any effort into supporting her. Or rather, his type of “support” gives her mixed signals.
    It’s not that he doesn’t care, it’s that he learned, well before hand, that you can’t demand people to be there to pick you up when you become a fall; they can lend a hand, pull you up, but they can’t hold and caress your entire body.
    This is how he helps her. Although he would be there, hugging her when she cries, he helps her stand up by forcing her to do it herself.
    It wouldn’t be him that changed her life, it would be life that changed her life. Because he is like any other bistandard, trying to live his life, deal with his own problems, and not let other people’s problems burden him. She gets to know him, but realizes this.
    If anything, she could learn this lesson, not only from getting to know him, but from getting to know other people. Her revelation would not have a single catalyst, it would be caused by the bulk of all her experiences, friends, enemies, aquaintances, etc.
    And, she could eventually break up with him. When this happens, he notices how she’s changed.

  3. Reasonably simply. The problem isn’t man/woman paring, but a romance between the two. A man that gets his life together with the help of a bitter old woman he’s hospisting for as she dies of cancer is very much not a “manic pixie dream girl” A woman that is helped by an autistic child(male) isn’t getting her life fixed by a man.

    The tropes come in with the romance, not the genders.

  4. I’ve been accused of being a misogynist more than once so I’d advise you to take what I say with a grain of salt. The troupe is that one partner needs to “fix” the other. The lie being that one isn’t broken and one is. We are all broken but in different ways. People change over time but never for a romantic interest… at least not for long.

    If you want a love interest in a fictional story that doesn’t follow the troupe I would suggest you write it so that they see each other as broken and no amount of help can fix the problem. The best relationships and the ones that work are two people who honestly love each other that will put up with the faults and shortcomings of each other; two people who strive to do what they can for the other. It is a team. A partnership. There may be different strengths thus different roles, but when the goal is to give, through giving to one’s partner one earns self-satisfaction from the act. A self-sustaining recycling of giving to another out of love to serve self.

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