If you haven’t read or seen Gone Girl yet, this isn’t going to spoil anything for you (but you must get yourself to the theater!). There’s nothing subtle or hidden about the premise of the film/book: Nick and Amy Dunne are a beautiful young couple recently relocated to a sleepy Missouri town from New York City. On their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing and the prime suspect, of course, is her hunky husband Nick. Amy, however, may not be what she seems, either. In one particular passage that has been called a veritable cultural critique, Amy writes vitriolically:
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.
By now, everyone who writes (online, at least) has opined hotly about this “issue.” (Because ebola, global warming, terrorist threats, or even just existential angst…are all secondary to the question of allure.) On one hand we have writers who believe (yes believe!) that the cool girl doesn’t exist. Then there are those who claim to be cool girls themselves, and advocate for the authenticity of their cool-girlness. (“Just because a cool girl likes the things a straight male likes and looks good while doing it, doesn’t mean she doesn’t truly enjoy being that way or acts thusly just to attract the male gaze.”)
From personal experience, I can’t attest to the existence of actual Cool Girls in real life, though they probably do exist, like all sorts of people that I don’t encounter must. I suppose the said Cool Girl may have a genuine propensity for acting like a straight male (beer pong, carefree attitude, love of casual sex) or take on those interests strategically. (The difference between having an innate interest and one developed for other motives seems rather semantic, but). But the real question is why we bother labeling women into these archetypes, that barely make sense most of the time (I mean really, if no one can agree on whether they even exist). And the damage is greater than just the empty feeling you get after reading a nonsensical blog post and thinking, “Did I just really click on that? Because of Jennifer Lawrence’s photo at the top? Then why did I spend 2 minutes scrolling through it?”
First, this dialogue propagates the idea that if these women are “cool,” then the rest of the women are “uncool.” Then there is the fact that whether or not the Cool Girls are being “authentic,” we are still defining them by the male gaze. They’re “cool” because the guys call them that, not because people in general (i.e. men and women) call them that. Finally, their main defining trait is that they are evidently irresistible to men. Can’t we all just agree now that in the 21st century, women don’t have to be defined by their relationship to men? All the Cool Girl discussions are really just an expansion on articles like, “10 Makeup Looks Guys Actually Like,” “What He Really Thinks About Your Style,” and “How to Be the Best Sex He’s Ever Had.”
What I’m really wondering about with the advent of the Cool Girl is the effect on young girls and adolescents, who might grow up believing that this Jennifer Lawrence/ Mila Kunis hybrid is a real ideal with which they must identify. Fed on a steady diet of Cool Girl triumphalist blog posts, they may well aspire to a certain idea of womanhood without understanding or exploring who they are. And most crucially, it’s concerning that these young girls will believe they won’t be lovable if they’re “difficult” or “complicated,” and try to neutralize whatever they are with a beery infusion of Cool Girl ethos.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never been called a “cool girl” by anyone, and that doesn’t bother me in the least. I embrace all aspects of my femininity, whether it’s enjoying cooking, dressing up, or just “caring about things” in general. When I’m sad I do things like light candles and hop into a bath. I have burst into flames because I wanted to put my hair up and wear red lipstick, and my boyfriend would have been happier with my hair loose and face bare (possibly the very definition of “unCool Girl”). When dinner plans change, I freak out. (None of my girl friends are cool with this, not just me). And I’m vegan. But I’ve never for a moment thought about changing myself to suit other people, especially the members of the opposite sex (on a matter of principle). It doesn’t worry me that these traits would turn anyone off. And isn’t that nonchalance and self-possession the very idea of “Cool”?
Are you a Cool Girl? How do you feel about this Cool Girl craze? (Or Gone Girl, book or movie. I loved it!)
Related: 9 Things to Feel Okay About Your Love Life
Self-Image: Are We Required to Love Our Bodies?
20 Things I Wish I Knew in My Early 20s
How Gilmore Girls and Buffy Helped Me Find My Roar
Photo: Entertainment Weekly