A little while ago, I read a post about the notion of the “Cool Girl”, and it really struck a chord with me.
“Does the ‘cool girl’ exist? It’s so exhausting trying to be her” was a fascinating insight into the internal struggles that women feel to try to embody an identity that is inoffensive, affable, and hits a few choice clichés of masculinized attitudes, gift-wrapped in a sexy body.
The post highlighted excerpts from the book “Gone Girl”, which I am eagerly awaiting to arrive from Book Depository, in which the main character laments that she is not a “cool girl.” She doesn’t love blowjobs and burping and videogames, and she has emotions, and sometimes they win out. The reddit post, linked above, explored how women are socialised to emanate these qualities without even considering whether they have merit. For many women responding to the post, the penny was dropping: they had been modelling their own behaviours and attitudes inadvertently to reflect the expectations of a "cool girl" put to them by a patriarchal world. To quote the passage from Gone 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... 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."
Once the post itself started a ball rolling in my mind, I was able to distinguish a very specific kind of gender profiling in common media, and in particular Disney, where desirable women evince an aloof, extraordinary quality. Belle in Beauty and the Beast is an outsider despite her looks because she’s academic, which in the provincial-town context makes her worldly and thus, strange. Ariel looks beyond the prejudices of her people in her hunger to learn more about life on land. Princess Jasmine yearns to lose herself amongst the common folk, rather than living a cotton-wrapped life of luxury, which paints her as more human and pragmatic than conventional women of wealth and power.
The common theme, one slipped into our subconscious as smoothly as moral lessons and questioned even less, is that in order to be a desirable, interesting woman, we must first be exceptional. To wit – we must be told by others, and ideally by men, that we are “not like other girls.”
Perhaps this is what breeds many women to envy and loathe the accomplishments of others, rather than boosting each other up the ladder. I am aware of the controversial nature of this generalisation, but I believe it has merit. Women internalise sexual competitiveness before they are even knowledgeable about sexuality, because we are groomed to yearn for exceptionalism without every quite knowing why.
The revelation of this cool girl cliché has detonated a cluster-bomb of concerned introspection in my mind. Upon learning of this trope, I have slipped every aspect of my identity under to the microscope, determined to excise any part that may be contrived from insincerity. My ear-splitting burps, my love of Bioshock games, my predilection towards giant steaks, filthy jokes and punk music all came into question. I ruminated at length upon how these things can be compatible with the rest of me. Although I love and like these things about myself in earnest, it was terrifying to me that I could not be sure as to whether I had developed them for the right reasons. How to guarantee that in my mouthy, punky pubescent phase, I had not carefully contrived this persona for the novelty of being "not like other girls"?
I have angsted over trying to make a good first impression when meeting new people, for fear that I did not only need only be myself, but be someone better. For lack of time and interest in crafting an entirely new, inoffensive, affable persona, time and time again, I simply work with the crude tools that I have, and a persona that is simply my own. Generally, it goes over fine. And when it doesn't, well, that's fine too. Can't win 'em all.
It was after one of these introductions to a new social circle that solidified my confidence in my mind. I can freely admit that I may bear some of the hallmarks of a cool girl. I don't know for sure how they came to be, whether it was manufactured or authentic, but however these features arose, they are mine now. There is no doubt in my mind that I was always going to wind up somewhat similar to the person I am now. My personality has seldom changed from the three-year-old version of myself in old home movies, who paired dainty dresses with Doc Marten knock-offs, had a finger jammed up my nose with a cheeky smile a lot of the time, and proudly declared to the camera that I could do “blurps” on cue.
There was probably a cool girl deeply-rooted inside my identity, once. Someone who wanted to be special and exceptional. Maybe some of her qualities germinated, and flowered. But if that is the case, then whatever those qualities may be have been absorbed by the greater picture. My cool girl mannerisms are complimented, rather than contradicted, by my less cool traits. It is not cool to respond to ideas and debate with emotion, but it does not shame me. I will proudly identify as a feminist and have become better at assertively challenging ingrained cultural sexism. I still get giggly over the rare occasion when my underwear matches my bra. I have amazing friends, and no longer plump for any elitist “I get along better with boys” bias out of some self-serving need to feel above other women. I do not stress about making my friends based on gender, as perhaps a teenage version of myself would have preferred due to the influence and adulation of my older brother. Now I seek only common compatibility.
It is hard work undoing a subconscious desire to be above other women when that is considered a prerequisite to win at life. But by refusing to buy into competing with other women for the validation of men, I already feel less burdened. Rather than anguish over whether my girly qualities undermine my affability, I am reorienting my scope. The qualities that define my identity do not fall into a binary “cool girl” and “crazy girl” columns. The qualities that define me require no more classification than the fact that they are mine.
Scarlett Hawkins writes novels... But in her spare time, she writes rants.