Since it was coined in a 2007 A.V. Club review of Elizabethtown, the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl has been used to describe everyone from Zooey Deschanel’s character in (500) Days of Summer to Zooey Deschanel, the real-life human being.
On its surface, the label of Manic Pixie Dream Girl appears to be no more than a critique of a specific type of character. However, the phrase has been thrown around so much since its inception 9 years ago that it has become a shorthand for any quirky female (fictional or not). What began as a feminist critique of an exaggerated male fantasy has become another cliché with which to classify and label women. Since coining the term, Nathan Rabin has tried to distance himself from it, largely due to the way the term has been twisted over time. Ultimately, improving female representation in film and television isn’t about finding the correct type of female character. It’s about having a wide range of types of female characters.
There is nothing wrong with creating a female character that is quirky, unapologetically feminine, philosophical, and kind. There’s also nothing wrong with having characters help other characters grow, learn, and self-actualize. What makes the MPDG problematic isn’t that she exists in a story; it’s how she exists in a story. Here are some important questions to ask yourself when creating a female foil for your male protagonist: