"The Quirky Aggressive": The Latest Female Archetype?

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In the context of her smart review of The Wackness and Olivia Thirlby's character Stephanie, blogger Lauren Bans introduces the concept of what she calls "the quirky aggressive" which she sees as a female archetype along the lines of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. "She's pretty without makeup, wears Converse, and says quirky and aggressive things," says Bans. Um, okay, so give us some more examples besides this one. Well, she does one better, giving us the "Signs You Are A Quirky Aggressive Female:


#1.) You do drugs or you like talking about how you do drugs.

#2.) You use unique, half-witty, half-annoying sayings like "Dudesies!", "For YAYs" and make jokes about "Rim Jobs" because you are so cool with your sexuality.

#3.) On dates, rather than awkwardness, you manifest your wants/needs/insecurities through aggressive lines like "So when are you going to kiss/fuck/lick my C???"

I'm guessing you're probably not going to discover, upon taking this quiz, that you are a QAF. Because the thing is, I've never actually seen any character besides Olivia Thirlby's character in this movie who pulled all this nonsense. (Okay, maybe Natasha Lyonne back in the day, but only cause I think she was kind of aggressive in real life. And on drugs. And if we're really trying, Betty Garrett in On The Town. ) Maybe she's trying to lump her in with Juno, who's also smart and wordsy? But that does a disservice to both characters. Cause, see, I actually thought that, whatever The Wackness's flaws, they made an effort with the characterization of Stephanie; it may have been borderline annoying, but they did try to round her out and I'd venture to say she was based on real people. I mean, I'm the first to admit that there are a lot of female archetypes at work in film (manic pixies, adorable neurotics, brassy best friends all spring to mind) and I daresay a dearth of really interesting roles floating around. But that seems to me all the more reason to give props when a writer makes an effort, and not try to reduce it to one more stereotype when there are plenty of crappy stereotypes out there. And "smart girls" really shouldn't be considered another.

I get it: people want to coin phrases. Everyone wants to have come up with the next "metrosexual." But a neologism can only catch on if it's labeling a phenomenon that already exists and that people have registered. Everyone's seen the annoying free spirit changing some uptight guy's life with her whimsy and magic. And I would go so far as to suggest there's a "zany" subset of that spectrum (see: Jenna Elfman in Dharma and Greg, Jennifer Aniston in Along Came Polly, Sandra Bullock in Forces of Nature) that almost overlaps with the "Quirky Aggressive" Bans is trying to invent. But the drug-addled eccentric shouting about rim jobs and "Dudesies"? Not so much. I mean, where does it stop? "The One-Armed Eastern European Taxidermist/Housekeeper With A Codeine Habit Who Used To Be A Child Star?" "The Transgendered Old Man With A Shady Past And An Interest In Concert Films?" "The Enigmatic Manicurist?" In a way, I hope The Quirky Aggressive does become an archetype - a kind of female version of the Apatow man-boy - as it would at least provide a change from the spunky cuteness we're used to. But until that happens, I'm afraid we're going to have to look for another phrase to coin.

In Which I See The Dopeness You Only See The Wackness
Related: Manic Pixie Dream Girls Are The Scourge Of Modern Cinema



Movies and stories typically deal with character archetypes. This isn't new. Most main characters are a version of one, just like most stories are a version of a root story type.

The problem is when characters aren't developed beyond the archetype or, in other cases, stereotype. Which happens very frequently with any non-white male characters in film.

But there's a danger in categorizing every female character by a narrow category that doesn't always fit.

Take Juno, which some people see as a version of the manic pixie girl. I have a few issues with that since one of the characteristics of that is that she exists for a male character to "learn about life" from, and she has endearing "quirks".

If we do a comparison of Juno and Portman's (a much better example of this category) character from Garden State, though, there are some huge differences. Portman's quirks are being epileptic, a compulsive liar, having a home full of pets and their graveyard, and a pseudo-step brother from Africa. None of those things have much to do with her actual character who is mostly cheerful and harmless.

Now take Juno. Her "quirks" are two-fold. There's her family, which isn't quirky, it's just the product of a divorce. Juno's actual quirks, as far as I can tell, are her turns of phrases, her love of horror movies and her love of older punk rock. My issue with categorizing those as "quirks" is that they aren't. They're just aspects of her personality. A quirk would be if she only wore blue. Or if the pipe thing was somehow used as indication of her character, which it isn't. The things listed above are part of who she is and are similar to what you'd find in an Apatow or Kevin Smith movie, albeit in a male character.

So why are they interpreted as quirks? Because she's a girl? That seems problematic. It makes sense for the Portman's characters stuff to be an issue because those are superficial things masquerading as character. But Juno is sometimes insensitive, she makes mistakes, she's snarky, she's been effected by her parents divorce and it influences her relationships with other people. She's not just a collection of surface "quirks" with no depth.

I think there's a danger in labeling every female character as "x type" without any further consideration. Sometimes a type is being used to deliberately and actively explore something (like Buffy). The problem is when it serves as the entirety of the character and doesn't go any further or even seem to be aware of it.

But I'd hate to get to a point where we can't see some of that because of concentrating on the archetype and not the execution.