N.C. Harrison attempts to redefine a hackneyed trope while coming to terms with his own masculinity.
The Manic Pixie Dream Girl, or Boy if that better fits your mode of sexual orientation and expression, is a much maligned trope in the contemporary world. This mysterious character is defined, by the magnificent time-suck known as TV Tropes, as a stock character who exists solely to aid a struggling artist (usually male and socially awkward) in living up to his potential. The poor dear has been accused–often correctly–of existing only as a static character, violating the Alison Bechdel test (a crime deserving of death if nothing else is), encouraging young, vulnerable men to view women as objects instead of people and making it more difficult for stories with better developed female protagonists to find an audience. The things that hack writers do to innocent pixies! The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is also often played by Zooey Deschanel in what is probably an offense greater than all the rest of these put together.
I, however, will always hold this particular trope–at least expressed in this fashion–in a place of affection in my heart because for several years I dated, and was later engaged to, the closest thing I have ever known to a flesh and blood embodiment of said trope. She, like one of Neil Gaiman’s Endless, incarnated an idea so effectively that it was sometimes difficult to disentangle the actual young woman and my understanding of her. Nevertheless, I can say without reservation that I loved her.
A little biographical detail puts the story into more meaningful relief against the trope’s larger backdrop in (especially online) society. In the fall semester of 2007, while planning a paper on the rape epidemic in Pakistan for a class on international relations theory, I struggled to uncover a particular theory which I could use to frame the issue. My professor, a wonderful lady and mentor of mine, suggested feminist theory. “It deals with power imbalances mostly,” she said, “and you are doing a women’s rights issue, after all.” This made sense to me and so I acquiesced, giving up my original plan to study it from a Realist perspective and diving headlong into the library.
This theoretical framework paid academic dividends for the rest of my undergraduate career. I made A’s on all of my research papers and won more than a few awards for presenting them at local research conferences. My personal life, however, was not necessarily enriched by my adventures in feminism. Always a shy and somewhat socially phobic young fellow, I encountered a “feminist blogosphere” that sometimes put me in a state of absolute paralysis. Strange, confusing terms swirled around my skull. “Nice Guys (TM)” and “Schrodinger’s Rapist” haunted me. As a much larger than normal, very physically powerful person with mostly petite female artist friends, I felt like I had to ask myself: Is my mere presence harmful or upsetting to those I care about most? I slunk around campus with my head lowered, eyes averted, and tried to avoid giving offense.
You might imagine that I didn’t go on many dates during this period. You’d be right. I also did not shop, write, or get out of bed more than was absolutely necessary. In retrospect, it might actually count as a major depressive period, but let’s not get too technical about that.
In an effort to recover from my Net-induced horror of humanity, I made an effort to see what, if any, counter-narratives were available to what had damaged me. Some seminal works of masculine theory like Robert Bly’s Iron John and Sam Keene’s Fire in the Belly, along with the poetry of Allen Ginsberg and philosophy of Ken Wilber and Sean Esbjorn-Hargens, helped to lighten my heart and open my mind just as much as my early forays into feminist theory helped to understand the world’s screwed-up power structures. Given that these were the early days of The Good Men Project, I read all that I could, fascinated and excited, and the site has remained in rotation as one of my homepages to this very day.
Most of what I found in the “manosphere,” however, did not appeal to me. Unlike the gentlemen producing this work, I actually love women in general (just as people) and quite a few in particular. Most my friends, as I mentioned before, are women. Do most of these jeeters (I daren’t use the word “creeps”), I often wondered, even have mothers or did they just spawn? In general, their words just made me feel icky and stained. I could not find healing in their halls.
In reality, though, I don’t think I could find healing outside of the arms of another person, and my Manic Pixie turned out to be the one. We met in the hospital, visiting someone, and while I’m not sure if I even believe in love at first sight, I’m pretty sure that’s what happened. It struck me like a thunderbolt. She asked for a package of Trolli sour bright crawlers because she hadn’t eaten all day. I bought them and we shared our first kiss right there in the gift shop, whiff of candy on her breath.
We didn’t last, for a variety of reasons, but that’s okay. We’re still friends and keep up as much as possible. She challenged me, pushed my boundaries and helped me to grow as a person, forcing me to become (largely against my stubborn fool’s will) more like the person that she believed I could be, the person with my potential could become but which was being held back by fears. I like to think, during those dark times in her life when demons assailed her, that I did the same thing for her. Isn’t that what those beautiful Manic Pixies are for, what they deserve from us? And can’t the same be said for lovers, too, or even just humans in general? Go on living, go on loving, go on growing–always.