This week I read an article by Nathan Rabin, who coined the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl — and now regrets it.
He closed the article with this:
Let’s all try to write better, more nuanced and multidimensional female characters: women with rich inner lives and complicated emotions and total autonomy, who might strum ukuleles or dance in the rain even when there are no men around to marvel at their free-spiritedness.
I’ve been thinking for a while about the boxes we use to classify ourselves and one another. How likely we are, as humans, to be reductive in our judgments of one another and constrain each other to small boxes to fit our confirmation biases and preconceptions. What Rabin said also applies to, you know, people. The kind walking around unguided by a writer’s inkings. We are humans with rich inner lives and complicated emotions and total autonomy.
This week on Facebook I saw someone had posted a picture of a man with a lot of heavy body modification. Gauges in his ears, lip, nose, etc. The comments that followed were nasty, rude, and extremely judgmental, from making assumptions about his parents and upbringing to calling him a freak, a moron, and a retard. (That last made me see red.) I don’t like to get in Facebook spats, but that one got me to chime in. I commented, saying that making assumptions about the man from a single image was rude and uncalled for — and that calling him names said more about the name callers than the name callee.
It made me think.
As humans we want to put things — and people — in boxes. It’s easier for us to understand things if they can be neatly compartmentalized. But as we’ve seen with the coverage of Ferguson, there aren’t people-shaped — or society-shaped — boxes things even fit into. It’s like trying to pack up a home you’ve lived in for a decade. You’re going to keep finding silverware after you’ve packed the utensils. You’re going to have a blanket box that needs some towels to fill it up, and there will be some things that flat don’t FIT in a box.
People are like that. We change and evolve. Some aspects of us may remain constant, but everything from personality to appearance is mutable. You don’t have to be just one thing, and neither does anyone else. I sincerely doubt the people on that comment thread would want to be thought of solely as name callers and judge-y pantses.
When I was 5, I wanted to be an astronaut. Or a professional hang glider. I wanted to be a scientist, an explorer, an historian, a linguist, a writer.
I’ve had blonde hair, red hair, brown hair, black. I’ve gone years without wearing bright colors and years wearing only one or two. I like leather. I like lace. I like pearls. Sometimes all at once. I like cargo pants and linen trousers. I like flannel shirts and beaded silk blouses. I like geeky t-shirts and slinky dresses.
I like heavy metal and folk and classic rock and pop and country. I can like Pharrell and the Rolling Stones both.
I can be kind and compassionate but also grudging and unforgiving. I can be loyal and trustworthy but also selfish and egotistical. I can be happy and have regrets. I can be confident and share myself, but also have deep insecurities and fear and anxiety in intimacy.
I can be just as comfortable in a baseball shirt and jeans as I am in a strappy vamp dress — and feel sexy in either.
These things do not make me inconsistent — they make me human.
Someone looking at me doesn’t know at first glance that I grew up having to dig my own outhouses. That I bathed in the sink as a pubescent pre-teen because we had no shower. They don’t know one of the reasons I don’t have facial piercings is because my body just doesn’t heal well from those.
They might make some assumptions based on my skin color — generally positive because, heyo, white privilege is a thing — but they won’t know me any more than the commenters on that thread knew the man in the picture.
We are not all one thing.
We are made of many things.
This world is full of enough nastiness without forcefully pushing people into boxes and lashing them when they don’t fit.
Empathy is not inborn, but it can be cultivated. It starts with an open mind and a willingness to listen.
Dolly Parton once said, “Find out who you are, and do it on purpose.”
Be as many things as you want.
And also? Try to follow Wheaton’s Law. Don’t be a dick, dude.
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