The Cool Girl Dilemma
With Gone Girl hitting theatres this weekend a lot of shade is being thrown at the Cool Girl. Why is it happening, and what does it mean?
With Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl hitting theatres this weekend, I've been reading a lot of articles that quote the "Cool Girl" rant - if you haven't read it, it's here for you (don't worry, it's relatively spoiler-free):
"Men always say that as the defining compliment, don't they? She's a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she's hosting the world's biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don't mind, I'm the Cool Girl.
Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they're fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men — friends, coworkers, strangers — giddy over these awful pretender women, and I'd want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who'd like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them. I'd want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn't really love chili dogs that much — no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They're not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they're pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you're not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn't want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version — maybe he's a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he's a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn't ever complain"
Reading this and the articles that quote it, I'm hearing a lot of Cool Girl hate, the sort of stuff you hear when people say that Jennifer Lawrence's whole personality is a performance and there's no way she's that cool in real life.
If you were to ask a modern gender scholar, they would likely be happy to tell you that all gender is a performance, that sex and gender are completely different, that the male-female dichotomy is a societal construct, and that it is possible for the genitalia of your birth to be irrelevant to your personal gender identity. This sort of discourse is familiar within the queer community, but has a larger impact on the more traditional value system, because along with this deconstruction of gender comes the realization that if gender is a performance, then so too are the roles that go along with it.
Back to me, though, because this is the part of the conversation that confuses me. Because I have always been a Cool Girl. I like dirty jokes, sports and the outdoors; I curse like a sailor and drink like a fish; I can hold a conversation about cars and a slightly longer conversation about the Marvel universe; I generally live by a no-drama policy. I even like sex. In actual fact, I was into these things long before I ever realized that they were things that boys like. When I see Cool Girl celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence, or characters like her onscreen, I rejoice not because I idolize them, but because I am seeing myself reflected back at me.
Did I learn from my tight circle of highly intelligent, razor-witted male friends in high school? Absolutely. I had girl-friends too, lots of them. But I WAS one of the guys, and they weren't interested in me back then. Nowadays, while I will never be a size 2, I believe I am considered a "hot girl" - but I didn't have a boyfriend until I was 18. Even then, it would be years before I developed an intense relationship with high heels and haute couture; before the men I was interested in grew up and out of their desire for high school-level emotional passion in a girlfriend (and I realized the ones who didn't weren't interesting); before I realized that these other parts of my personality set me apart from the rest of girls in a way that actually made me MORE desirable than the generic pretty, popular girls who were always having breakups and crying in the bathrooms. At the risk of sounding like some kind of Cool Girl Hipster, I was a Cool Girl before it was cool. It wasn't a performance then, and it isn't now.
The thing is, though, I grew up in the sort of '90s post-feminist household where my mother taught me to fall in love but never be financially dependent, where my dad did the cooking, and where I was always encouraged to do what felt right for me. Gender roles were a non-issue in my house, except my mother's running joke about my wedding party being all men, and would they have to dress in drag?
With that in mind, then, I don't know why anyone is surprised that I grew into a confident, well-adjusted, assertive woman, who surrounds herself with other confident, well-adjusted, assertive women. Does the fact that I am a laid back, self-aware and relatively reasonable mean that my man walks all over me? Fuck no, quite the opposite. Just ask him.
I have never felt the need to be anything but myself (including the occasional bout of hormone- or hypoglycemia-driven insanity), and to be honest, in the last 10 years I've been through quite a few guys trying to find one who loves me for exactly that. Let me just say that again: I have NEVER felt the need to ACT cool to get dudes to like me. It's always been my opinion that ACTING a certain way because you think that's what a guy might want is the perfect way make yourself miserable by attracting the kind of guy who isn't going to stick around when he finds out your personality is totally fake, or worse, the kind of guy who's going to do exactly what Flynn said – manipulate, take advantage and shit on you.
Ain't nobody got time for that.
The point of all this is that I wonder if all this shade being thrown at Cool Girls isn't just plain old jealousy at the fact that we don't have to act, because we're perfectly happy being ourselves. We don't have to worry about what guys think of us, because we don't give a shit. We are ACTUALLY cool.
So I guess my question to all the random "feminists" decrying myself and other Cool Girls as some idealized male fantasy is this: we have fought long and hard against the stereotype of the classically gendered woman as dramatic, possessive, weak-willed, jealous and manipulative… if the Cool Girl is off the table, what exactly are we allowed to be?