love out loud: the hellcat dream girl
We’re all pretty familiar by now with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl: the term coined by the AV Club’s Nathan Rabin to describes characters such as Natalie Portman’s Sam in Garden State, and pretty much every character played by Zooey Deschanel over the past few years. They’re essentially designed to catalyse a male protagonist’s development, using nothing but their girlish charm, adorable looks, and whimsical interests (if you could even call them that). And I know that this is a character that has come to pervade many men’s fantasies of how they will achieve self-actualisation, because there have been a number of occasions where dudes have tried to cast me in this role (most notably while I was travelling and meeting law students and Marines who wanted to talk about how deep they were, and saw me as an appropriate person to share that depth with, probably because they’d never met anyone who was into poetry who wasn’t an English teacher), even though I’m actually a pretty lousy candidate for it.
The Hellcat Dream Girl, MPDG’s lesser known cousin and the creation of Jaclyn Friedman, however, is the more superficially obvious choice for someone of my demeanour/’tude/whatever.
Friedman says, ‘I sort of feel that I get cast in these dudes’ narratives as the Hellcat Dream Girl, there to prove how bad-ass they are because they’re dating such a bad-ass woman. They think it’s cute or sexy. But when I use that smart, outspoken bad-assery to challenge their own perspectives, it’s suddenly not sexy at all.’
To be clear, I have no misconceptions about my “bad-assery” compared to that of Friedman; mine is nowhere near as fierce or impressive. And unlike Friedman, the men in question generally haven’t wanted to date me for it so much as they’ve become besotted by me for half an hour, before they get sick of me talking back to them.
What usually happens is this: boy makes dumb comment. I make remark that highlights and opposes said dumb comment. Wash, rinse, repeat. This continues for 20-25 minutes, at which point they tell me that their eyes are starting to hurt from rolling back so far in their head (actually, they never say that; if they had the level of wit required to make this comment, I imagine I wouldn’t have spent the 20-25 minutes prior calling them out on stupid, ignorant and/or offensive remarks).
Where it falls down, I suppose, is that the men I’ve come into contact with are those who believe they want a strong, independent girlfriend, but really they also want a lot of compliance from this person. These are unlike the pseudo-feminist dudes that I assume Friedman’s referring to, who want to legitimise themselves by being with somebody who embodies qualities they want to embody themselves. But both situations are essentially propelled by wanting to assert one’s own individuality by being with a woman who they don’t see as adherent to the status quo, without realising that you can’t be with a woman who doesn’t adhere to traditional assumptions of femininity and gender roles within relationships, without having your own such assumptions challenged.
This is why narratives such as that of Love and Other Drugs drive me so crazy. It’s not that I don’t believe that sparring partners can have great sex (though I should note that when guys who make me angry have said to me, ‘we would have great sex’, my response has invariably been, ‘I don’t want to have sex with you because you make me angry’), or that no one can love a woman who expresses opinions (and vitriol) rather forcefully, but that where there is a need to do so, the person who this is directed at typically isn’t going to be someone you want to share your life with.
See, I am both coupled up and very willing to argue with people; the two aren’t mutually exclusive. But the night that I met my current partner, he wasn’t saying things to me that I found stupid, ignorant and/or offensive. He does challenge me, and we’ll definitely mention it if we think the other is out of line, but these conversations are never articulated in a way that brings out my anger and/or rampantly raised eyebrow. And the men (and women) who do evoke these things are not ones I tend to want to date, or otherwise have in my life.
I’m not saying that all men really want submissive women, but that the desire for women who aren’t willing to let stupid comments slide is severely overrepresented. Moreover, these are usually smart women who likewise want smart and aware partners, not cretins.
Being a hellcat is only useful for attracting a mate if it is actually who you are (or possibly if you are Anne Hathaway), but given that it’s quite an effective douchebag filter, I would encourage all women not to let their inner hellcats lie dormant.
(Image credit: 1.)