My Least Favorite Trope (and this post will include spoilers for The Lego Movie, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Matrix, Western Civilization, and—cod help me—Bulletproof Monk*.) is the thing where there’s an awesome, smart, wonderful, powerful female character who by all rights ought to be the Chosen One and the hero of the movie, who is tasked with taking care of some generally ineffectual male character who is, for reasons of wish fulfillment, actually the person the film focuses on. She mentors him, she teaches him, and she inevitably becomes his girlfriend… and he gets the job she wanted: he gets to be the Chosen One even though she’s obviously far more qualified. And all he has to do to get it and deserve it is Man Up and Take Responsibility.
And that’s it. Every god-damned time. The mere fact of naming the films above and naming the trope gives away the entire plot and character arc of every single movie.
“You should date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes, who has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.”
You’ve heard of this girl before, her name is Summer or Alaska or something else that sounds cutesy and different because she’s always trying to define herself as not being like ‘other girls’. The girl who reads doesn’t shop, watch sports, play video games or anything else that she deems to be beneath her. She buys books instead of clothes because who needs to be dressed, she is obviously lying if she says she understands Ulysses and doesn’t find a strange man sitting down beside her in a coffeeshop and buying her a drink even though she doesn’t want one to be predatory behavior. It’s okay to lie to or fail her because she confuses real life with fiction, wanting conflict right before the climax and then a sugar-coated happy ending.
She isn’t a girl at all. She’s an idealized portrait of the already idealized trope of the manic pixie dream girl who only exists to serve as a love interest and teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life’s many mysteries. Women do not exist to complete you or give your life meaning. It is not our job to get you to see the world with ‘renewed eyes’ and we certainly do not live just for you to project your half-baked obsessive fantasies on us and then call us foul names when we don’t fulfill them because excuse us if they’re your visions and not ours.
And the Girl who Reads is one of the more toxic incarnations of the MPDG because it tells girls that if we like clothes, boys, being around our friends , taking pride in our appearances or anything else that doesn’t seem ‘deep or intellectual’ that we’re catty and jealous. We’re constantly trying to tell ourselves that we’re not like the other girls as if there’s something wrong with them. We all want to seem special and different and quirky so that we’ll eventually find someone whose personality quirks align with ours and create a lasting love affair. The girls who are not like us are called horrible names and treated like they’re worthless as if what they choose to do with their life is our decision. And as girls we cannot help tearing each other down; we see another girl on the street and think ‘oh she’s prettier, skinnier, smarter, more popular, more athletic’.
With the Girl who Reads we measure a person’s worth based on how many John Green books are on their shelves or if they enjoy Bukowski. You do not have to be widely read or able to wax poetic about your favourite author for hours on end to be intelligent or interesting. But it is not the Girl who Reads who looks down on the girls who don’t and labels them as stupid, catty, vain, promiscuous or boring, it is the people who created the idea of her, they believe that because she is so deep and mysterious that her special snowflake syndrome will prevent judgments from being passed at her. Everybody wants to be different, everybody wants to be special but let me tell you something. You are exactly like those other girls; you all are made of the same atoms that make up the solar system but do not think that because you have nebulae in your bones that you are better than anyone else.
I am sick and tired of people romanticizing this belief that if you don’t read that you’re not worth being loved. There are countless people I know who don’t like reading and who are still worth being loved the same amount as the people who do. Tumblr users say that they want to live like the Girl who Reads and be suffocated by the amount of literature they own because clearly book hoarding is the best way to go. Great for you if you want to find someone who likes the same things as you to be in a relationship with, you should want that. But if being a hollowed out shell of a manic pixie dream girl is your ideal life then you need to think more about what it means. I refuse to be a blank canvas on which you draw out all your delusions of what life and love should feel like according to you. I do not exist to counterbalance you.
Stop looking for the Girl who Reads because you won’t find her. There are girls who read but they are not singularly formed archetypes constructed for your approval. Stop looking for someone who fits your 27 point idealized criteria of a person and find someone who’s real. Nobody ends a date by saying ‘wow I think you’re great and all but you’ve never read A Farewell to Arms so it’s not going to work out between us’. That’s just ridiculous. Date someone who makes you laugh so hard that you snort soda out of your nose and even when your shirt is soaked with carbonated bubbles they will still find you and your laugh cute when nobody else does. Date someone who understands when you’re upset with them that you are not just waiting for the plot to advance because the hero always fails at one point or another. Do not fail her, do not lie to her, because she won’t think ‘oh boy this is some conflict before the resolution’ she’ll just think you’re a jerk. Which you are. Date someone who you can love as a human and not as a fairytale. A Girl who Reads may be able to give you a world full of adventure and imagination but you know who could do that even better? A person who actually loves you .
And pardon if I’m more than a little irked by the fact that we can’t even love each other as humans anymore, pardon if I am a ‘raging feminist harpy’, pardon if I don’t want to be the dramatic backdrop to your trials and tribulations, pardon if I would rather people to see me as a person and not a walking, talking library . But I am 50 shades of done with the elitist belief that reading makes you worth more as a person and why is that? Because I am a girl who reads, I am a girl who writes but most importantly I am a girl.
When women get behind something, their sheer numbers and passion force it into the mainstream. That’s why you can name the actor who plays that werewolf kid in “Twilight” and probably sing at least the chorus to one Justin Bieber song. What do tween boys like? I have no clue. Sports? Probably sports.
For starters, that’s a false analogy. It’s not “the same deal” at all.
Muslims are a minority group in this country. They face huge amounts of prejudice, and are stereotyped for something that is completely inaccurate. “Terrorism” is a racialized term, and white men commit far more violent acts each year in America than Muslims of all races and genders combined.
Men, on the other hand, are NOT a minority group in this country. They do NOT face vast prejudices, and statistically speaking, they DO commit the vast majority of rapes.
Of course, we know that not all men are rapists. Obviously. However, all of them unavoidably exist in a system (rape culture) that privileges them, makes excuses for their actions, and blames victims instead of calling out reality. Claiming “not all men” dismisses that fact.
And like you said, “They shouldn’t excuse the issue because they don’t cause it directly”… but that’s exactly what these comments do.
Consider the following male responses in a discussion of rape:
Which ones are helpful?
[Also, thanks for asking the question. It’s an important one.]