Image by Marissa Malik
The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a trope so tired, the guy who coined the phrase has since apologised. This caricature describes wacky women whose life purpose is to take brooding men on a journey of self-discovery, to lighten up and enjoy their lives to a late 2000s indie soundtrack. Think Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown and Zooey Deschanel in basically everything. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a confection plucked from the deep recesses of the mind of her creator (typically a man). Naturally, she is a white woman; a blank canvas, an empty vessel, the easy-going “girl next door” who will be loved by Tory-voting friends and grouchy racist father alike. As an archetype it intersects with the “Cool Girl”, defined in Gillian Flynn’s 2014 novel Gone Girl as: “a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who […] jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry.” A Woke Pixie Dream Girl upcycles this stereotype with a palatable vanilla frosting of “politics”.
You meet at a party with an eclectic mix of decidedly white and middle-class guests. You have suffocated the room into silence with your righteousness again. All you wanted to do was talk about Love Island! He works in corporate law or management consulting. He has a compulsion to tell you about his recent volunteering day at work, painting fences or whatever. He thought about working in a charity himself, but then he didn’t. But he loves that you did.
He might sport working-class credentials but later you’ll find out his parents have a pool. He thinks “poor” is when he has to swap swordfish for canteen sandwiches after dropping a month’s wages on cocaine. We’re all trying our best under capitalism, after all, and he seems like a good guy. You accept the offer of drinks next week.
Dating you is a crash course in intersectional feminism and postcolonial studies but with sex, cocktails in speakeasy bars that used to be youth clubs, and good theatre seats instead of a shoddy seminar room at SOAS. “I’ve never thought of it that way before,” he says. That feels nice. Of course, his unlearning and re-education walks a rocky path. You are starting from a deficit: despite his private school teachings, he thinks bell hooks is a sister company for Farrow & Ball.
“You are his Corporate Social Responsibility. You are his Black History Month.”
As a Woke Pixie Dream Girl, you gently steer him on a moral voyage towards actually learning the names of the reception staff in his building, and boycotting body scrubs made in Israel. At the same time, you are expected to check your politics at the cloakroom of his private school alumni soiree, and break bread (or tear sourdough) with venture capitalists and property tycoons. He’s more interested in first impressions than intersecting oppressions. Conveniently, your social justice organising absolves him of his white patriarchal guilt. Every time he pays for dinner or orders an Uber and doesn’t split fare, he is “giving back”. You are his Corporate Social Responsibility. You are his Black History Month. He listens just enough to learn all the right terminology, and then deploys his new knowledge to reinforce the gaping chasm between you. He tells you he can provide a “safe space” where you don’t have to think about state violence, misogynoir, and all that minutiae that occupies your thoughts when you’re not with him.
But he doesn’t get why you have to be so angry about it all. He hates that you ruin every champagne reception, day at the horse races, and episode of Friends. Why do you have to over-analyse everything? Is it really such a drama if his boss wants to touch your hair? It’s a bit much. Your socialist sensibilities recoil when he says he doesn’t really care about the impact of his work as long as it’s interesting.
Men who seek the Woke Pixie Dream Girl expect the women they date to showcase – on demand – an improbable combination of progressive political beliefs, as well as genuine enthusiasm for anecdotes about the morally and politically bankrupt company he works for. Much like the character of Patrice Dumas played by Laura Harrier in Spike Lee’s recent film BlacKkKlansmen, the Woke Pixie Dream Girl might be the radical president of a black student union, sure, but she’s also willing to collaborate in a police operation when the mood strikes her. Because All Cops Are Bastards but at the same time *bats eyelashes* #BlueLivesMatter?
“How deep a fracture will the cognitive dissonance required to be a woke trophy wife cleave in your psyche?”
You ponder for a long time the appeal of a life of luxury, dedicating your time to performing good deeds. You wonder: how deep a fracture will the cognitive dissonance required to be a woke trophy wife cleave in your psyche? On the other hand, you could holiday at Lindsay Lohan’s resort in Mykonos! You’d pay your taxes and volunteer a few days a week at a drop-in centre. Would it offset that work project he lead on, restructuring a mining company with holdings in the Democratic Republic of Congo?
You may not have the receipts to hand, but judging by the fact that he refers to dinner as “supper”, his ancestors probably enslaved your ancestors. In a moment of wild delusion, you convince yourself that by funding your anti-racist activism, he is basically paying reparations. Surely that’s commendable? With some mental acrobatics, you frame his daily clangers (that he “doesn’t see colour” and that his flatmate, the chair of the Young Conservatives, is “well-meaning”) as markers of the fact that he’s “on a journey”.
But as even the most die-hard pith-helmet wearing colonisers learned, all voyages must come to an end. Over oysters, he invites you to a festive lunch with his grandparents in Surrey. Maureen and Edmund voted for Brexit but “not for racist reasons”, he tells you, as he drops a five-piece set of Le Creuset crock-pots into his Amazon basket between courses. There’s little point challenging them, he says, it was a “different time”. You picture the scene: Maureen folding her treasured golliwog napkins into neat bishop’s hats as she asks if you’ll be joining the family’s annual jaunt to Chamonix? You worry that all the sage and palo santo in the world won’t be able to cleanse your aura. You politely decline and subtly re-download Bumble whilst he gets the bill. He’ll pay, as always. You’ll miss that.