Manic Panic!

If you were confused by the last blog entry, no, I wasn’t compelled to write it by brain parasites, but by cool fellow author Melissa Walshe of Between the Lightning Bug and the Lightning. The following is my response to her response to this article by Laurie Penny about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. I personally find the trope annoying, but Melissa convinced me MPDGs are more than just annoying: they are a threat to our very way of life.

The good thing about writing books as opposed to making movies and TV shows is that your characters don’t look like anything. Or rather they look however the reader imagines. TV shows don’t have the luxury of depending on their audiences to visualize their actors, however, so they have to cast people who look a certain way. And because they want to make money and they cater to a bunch of damn dirty apes, casting directors will pick someone attractive 9 times out to 10 (and number 10 will be an ugly, scary man). If you’re an unattractive woman, you will probably not appear on my TV. You might, however, appear in my book (and then I’ll imagine you as pretty because I’m a dirty ape too).

The problem is that while actors can just stand around looking pretty, your main character in a book (and okay, in a good movie, too) has to do something.  And when we think of active main characters, we often jump to the male gender, which have to be proactive and assertive, otherwise they come across as boring and wimpy (I got around that problem in Tyrannosaur Queen by making EVERYONE assertive and bashing them off each other). Couple that with the fact that more female readers are willing to read books only about men than male readers are willing to read books only about women, and you get a glut of male heroes in fantasy and science fiction.

This hearkens back to professional female gender rolls of the 70s and 80s, when people thought that women had to act like men in order to be taken seriously in the workplace. There is such a thing as professional and nonsexual feminine, just as there is non-sexual masculine. We just need to find it.

But who care about non-sexual anything, amirite? Certainly all of my books have some gooshing going on all the time, but even in the bedroom (or a Maastrichtian floodplain under the gaze of the moon and a couple passing Quetzalcoatlus or, you know, wherever) I can’t seem to escape those pesky gender roles. And that’s because of evolution and game theory. Strap yourselves in now.

There ought to be a philosophical or game-theory phrase to describe this situation: Two people are interacting, both have their own interests and abilities to bring to bear on the interaction. It would be objectively more romantically efficient for A to approach B and say: “hello, I am attracted to you and would like to begin a sexual relationship with you. Here is my history, experience, a list of my fetishes, and my emotional baggage. How about it?” But then of course the other party might decline, and we can’t have that now can we? What we get instead is a situation where both sides try to manipulate the other in order to gain advantage thereby. Which brings us back to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Penny (the ex-Manic Pixie Dream Girl) may have decided that the advantages to being a MPDG (attracting sexual partners, getting favors from people wishing to be sexual partners) are outweighed by the disadvantages (being dismissed as stupid, being manic all the time, which must be exhausting, maybe she isn’t attracted to men who are attracted to MPDG, or maybe she has a committed romantic partner already). So while it’s easy for you and I to point at her and say “she shouldn’t act like to get attention, and men shouldn’t respond to her the way they do” objectively, she made a rational decision. She DOES want attention (as do we all) and some men DO act that way. Now, I would be interested in what makes men attracted to MPDGs (or are they? Maybe the MPDG market comes from other women, or from men who aren’t sexually interested in MPDGs, but are interested for some other reason. Fashion advice? Morbid curiosity?).

But the elephant in the room here is that (sorry) men are sexually attracted to any vaguely woman-shaped animal, mineral, or vegetable they can find. Prop a woman in front of a camera, and men will enjoy looking at her, no matter what she says or does. Of course if you want your art to be taken seriously (and not rejected by your hetero-female audience) you can’t just pin up a swimsuit model and call it a day. You have to make this woman-creature DO something, and it has to be something that is interesting to people of both genders. A MPDG, I argue, is successful not only because the hetero male audience enjoys imagining that she’s their girlfriend, but because the female audience enjoys imagining that she is THEY. While half the audience things “yeah, I bet it would be easy to trick an idiot like that into bed,” the other half is thinking “yeah, I bet if people recognized me as a unique and creative free spirit, they would stop thinking I’m an idiot.”

Men aren’t wired to find a woman’s actions sexy in the way women are for men. Of course I can’t go out and impregnate a never-ending cavalcade of beautiful nameless bimbos because (a) those don’t exist (b) society would revile me for it and (c) I might feel, like, bad about my actions, or something. Wish fulfillment fantasy removes those impediments, but fortunately, I can’t just plug my computer into my crotch and write “Burly Space Pirates Plunder the Planet Venusian Vixens Yet Again” because I want my audience to be larger than lonely teenage boys. Also, I think it’s a bad idea to remove agency from people, even in fiction. Those poor Venusian Vixens’ interests won’t be served by surrendering to the lusty embrace of Captain Thrustarr, however much fun it might seem at the time…

Hm. Maybe I’m on to a book idea after all.

High five, Melissa! Now our blogs are twinsies!

This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink.