Recently I read a fabulous article on Vulture about Mindy Kaling, who is one of my idols, and, more importantly, one of my girl crushes. When she’s not talking about being a grown-ass woman who happens to like pop culture, she mentions a few of her strongly held, somewhat controversial opinions. Yes, her dislike of birthdays is surprising, but it’s not what I took issue with. Minds, as I sometimes call her when we are having romantic comedy marathons in my daydreams, said she hates the phrase ‘girl crush.’ She is certainly not the first to make such a statement, as I’ve read everything from serious pieces on political correctness to grammatically shameful Tumblr rants dealing with the phrase. But once I found out Mindy shares the opinion, I decided I had to take a stand.
Here’s the thing; I’m not going to hold it against you if you don’t want to use the term. That would be stupid and pointless and I don’t have enough drive to be so stubborn. But I don’t understand nor do I agree with people who take such a vehement stance against it. Do I get where they’re coming from? Of course. Yes, if you want to use a very narrow definition of the word ‘crush’ then it might be seen as backpeddling or homophobic to say “girl crush” because it is as if you are saying you can’t have a crush on another female (assuming you yourself are female; the same goes for the term “man crush” when used by those of the male variety). But with a word like “crush,” which is hardly any sort of serious academic term and much more of a cultural concept/abstraction, it’s meaning is not so confined to romantic ideas.
I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I don’t use “girl crush” to refer to women I might actually like romantically and/or be sexually attracted to. For any woman about whom I do feel that way (looking at you, Shannon Woodward), I will proudly announce my crush to the internet. (I don’t really leave the internet, or I’d say it out there, too.) To me, “girl crush” is a way to refer to a woman I really admire, either for her gorgeous looks (Katy Perry), her sparkling wit (Jennifer Lawrence), or her sense of fashion (Emma Watson), just to name a few. I might have a girl crush on someone for some very specific thing they do (Zooey Deschanel doesn’t take any crap for her public persona), or for some overall thing that they’ve done (who among us has not crushed on Helena Bonham Carter’s general badassery, and I mean crushed on it HARD). But the thing about my love for all of these woman, is that it’s not romantic or sexual, so it seems like it would be incorrect to just say “crush,” because it would demean the term’s connotation.
The thing about a “girl crush” is that it’s like saying you have a “talent” crush on someone because of the awesome skillz they have at whatever it is they do (writing, breakdancing, executing the perfect French braid), or a “beauty” crush (intense eyes, cute chin, manageable hair), or a “brains” crush (ability to do math, extensive trivia knowledge, quick comebacks). In some way, you admire this person for being the girl that they are, or woman, if you prefer. The point is, just because we have the freedom to be attracted to a person regardless of their sex, it doesn’t mean we can’t differentiate between sexual and non-sexual admiration for another human. In fact, we probably should, or none of my friends are going to realize how much I’d love to take Shannon Woodward to a drive-in movie.
- Gabby Costa, Staff Writer
At first I was like, “what a sweet cute indie movie!” And then I was like, “ew, no, Zooey Deschanel is the worst.” But then I thought, “wait a second, this movie is literally perfect.” And everyone who left the theater thinking, “Summer sure was a bitch to Tom” was completely missing the point. Including me.
This is the part where I talk about Manic Pixie Dream Girls and how I disagree (to an extent) with the Zoe Kazan interview that’s been making its way around the internetz. For the TL;DR crowd, I’ll skip to the good stuff. Kazan told Vulture:
(1) ”[“Manic Pixie Dream Girl”] is a way of describing female characters that’s reductive and diminutive, and I think basically misogynist. I’m not saying that some of those characters that have been referred to as that don’t deserve it; I think sometimes filmmakers have not used their imagination in imbuing their female characters with real life. (2)You know, they’ve let music tastes be a signifier of personality. But I just think (3) the term really means nothing; it’s just a way of reducing people’s individuality down to a type, and (4) I think that’s always a bad thing.”
I really want to focus on the bolded text, because, while I agree that the term itself is harmful, especially in application to real life people (hey!), I also think that it can be a beneficial trope. Which brings me back to (500) Days of Summer.
(1) “MPDG” is reductive, diminutive, and basically misogynist: Kazan is spot-on here in her analysis of the term. The characterization of any ~quirky young woman as a Dream-anything necessarily reduces her to a collection of ideas inside someone else’s head. She is no longer a cool, spunky awesome individual; she is somebody’s dream. The term is not merely reductive - it strips women (and less frequently men) of their agency. In that sense, the label is indeed misogynist. It says, “your identity depends on mine,” and that’s really not okay.
In the movie, we see on a number of occasions that Tom’s own perception of Summer is very different from reality. The “expectations vs. reality” scene is probably the most obvious example. Based on all of Summer’s past behavior, including her admittance that she isn’t ready for commitment and her continued disinterest during the relationship, Tom still EXPECTS her to want him. He expects her to greet him with love and affection after all that time, because he’s just the nicest guy, you know?
In reality, she’s just a smart, thoughtful twenty-something who knows herself well-enough to know that this guy is not the one for her. She initially turns him down, which should have been the Big Damn Signal of Truth and Destiny (“dude, she’s just not that into you”). But Tom is persistent, and she is, presumably, lonely.
Another great example is the conversation between Tom and lil’ sis Chloe Moretz, when she tells him to basically get over it and grow up. Here we clearly see just how much Tom had been projecting his own Manic Pixie Dream onto Summer. I mean, look at how quickly he vilifies Summer for what he had preivously found praise-worthy about her. Her birthmark is now disgusting, her knees too knobby, her smile crooked, her laugh obnoxious. People see what they want to see, and this movie is all about Tom’s perception.
(2) Music taste as a signifier of personality: Again, Kazan is spot-on. The now infamous elevator scene is the greatest example of this issue, and it’s one of the reasons I hold (500) Days so high. Summer and Tom share an elevator. She sings along to the song on his iPod. Tom falls head-over-heals infatuated with Summer. It doesn’t really matter that it’s a Smiths song (Morrissey is king, and if you think he is obscure, I pity you). All that matters is that Tom thinks it is important, and that Tom uses it to project all sorts of bonus girl-points onto Summer (because he just met her and this is super crazy).
(3) The term means nothing: Ehhhhh…I disagree. I obviously don’t think Zoe Kazan is trying to say that when combined, the words Manic, Pixie, Dream, and Girl are actually rendered meaningless; instead, I think she’s trying to hit home the point that the term, in application, does not define the girl but the perception of the girl. And I can get behind that! But I also think it’s counterproductive to claim that the term itself lacks real meaning. Because, boy, does it pack a punch.
The term means everything. I mean, it says literally everything that needs to be said. The “Manic” and “Pixie” allude to the whimsical, carefree, quirky nature of the girl it typically describes. She doesn’t actually need to be whimsical, carefree, or quirky, but she is perceived as such. “Dream” tells us that the label depends entirely on perception. “Girl” tells us that she is…a girl. That’s exciting! So, without knowing anything about MPDGs in pop culture or their vast tradition of perceived unobtainable perfection (reaching all the way back to Katherine Hepburn), a person can know that the label refers to a girl whose identity has been imagined.
(4) “MPDG” is always a bad thing: Again, I disagree. I think that the term can be a really, really good thing, but only if it’s being used to actively showcase the problems caught up in the label. Like I’ve said, (500) Days is a fantastic movie, and there are two basic reasons for that:
While I despise the last three minutes of this film with all my heart (seriously, Autumn?), I love, love, love that Summer and Tom don’t end up together. If Summer had not gotten engaged to someone else (someone we never even meet), the movie would have lost all meaning. She defies all of Tom’s internal logic (which is also largely the logic of the film, because we’re dealing with his perspective), and she does what she effing wants to do. The first time I saw this movie, I was like,
Now all I can do is *headdesk* when people say they wish Tom and Summer had ended up together. This movie is precisely a good, beneficial use of the MPDG trope, because it takes our own prejudices and expectations (that Summer is flighty and cute and ultimately predictable) and turns them upside down. Summer is intelligent and independent, and ultimately, she is the person in charge of her own life and decisions.
When I say I hate you, I’m not talking about your particular combination of letters, vowel and consonant sounds, the way you taste when I speak you. A rose by any other name, right?
When I say I hate you more than (probably) most venereal diseases, I don’t say it out of that dark place in my heart I’ve reserved for My Chemical Romance lyrics and biographical information about the Madden brothers (really). I say it from the other part of my heart: the part that values things like intelligence, self-respect, puppies, morally complex female characters with superpowers, Pictionary…
Why seems it so particular to me, you say? Nay, it is. I know not “seems,” bitch.
I’m not the first person to hate on you, oh New Girl buzzword, and I won’t be the last, but hear me out. Understand why I want to burn your image from my mind, gouge out mine eyes and boil the very brains I have used to construct this sentence.
I hate you because
But look what they’ve done to you! Can you blame me?
REDUNDANT: Right off the bat, we have some problems. When were “dorky” and “adorable” even mutually exclusive. This is 2012, and I’m pretty sure the glasses-wearing, rail thin look has been ”in” since I was a wee bitty high school sophomore. Try harder.
INSULTING: “A higher state of being all dorks strive towards.” Okay, a) it’s “toward” and b) no they don’t what what is happening I don’t strive for that shit get me out of your sweeping generalization please thanks.
I want you to do something for me right now. Picture yourself in a public space - maybe a school hallway or a cafe. An acquaintance of yours approaches you, and in an even tone of voice, with a straight face, says to you: “You’re intelligent, but endearingly so. You know, you’re downright adorkable.”
It doesn’t work. It doesn’t come across as a compliment. Why? Because of that but. You’re intelligent but. You’re interesting and. Anyone actually deserving of this “compliment” should at least be a little miffed.
JUST GAG ME WITH A SPOON.
Okay, in conclusion: