In Defense of the Cool Girl
She’s not a dude in a hot girl’s body. She is real, and she has standards.
As Gillian Flynn brilliantly observed in her book and subsequent movie (directed by David Fincher) Gone Girl, “Men always use that, don’t they? As their defining compliment. She’s a Cool girl.”
Yes, they do, and I’ve heard every version of it: “You’re so cool and understanding, most girls would throw a fit over this.” “You’re like a dude. I mean, you’re feminine, but you have a cool sense of humor” “Wow, you and your friends can really drink! You’re so fun and cool”.
While I have taken all of these as compliments because they were meant as such, I haven’t always appreciated what follows. Maybe I was too young and inexperienced to make it clear that being “cool” only means I’m a reasonable person and that I am not spoiled. It doesn’t mean this:
Unpacking the trope
The Cool Girl trope often appears in movies, the most cited examples being Cameron Diaz’s role in There’s Something About Mary, Mila Kunis in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Meghan Fox in Transformers. In a nutshell, they are hot, they like the things men typically like and men love them for it. They are chill and they don’t take themselves too seriously. And then there’s Amy Dunne.
Unlike Amy Dunne from Gone Girl, these characters actually do like beer and sports, the outdoors, and whatever else I guess was decided that girls aren’t supposed to like. They are actually “chill” and “laid-back” or whatever you want to call it. They are not faking it. This trope has been relentlessly criticized by women who say they feel pressured to act Amy (Rosamund Pike), to fake a persona, in order to earn male attention and affection. You know, minus the murder.
But if Amy Dunne was actually “cool”, her monologue would be something more like this:
Cool girl is hot. Cool girl is game. Cool girl is fun. Cool girl has standards. She will only go with your flow if you go with hers. She likes what she likes, and wants a partner who loves all the same things. She lives in the moment. She is f***ing game. She enjoys the simple things in life with her man and they tease the best out of each other. She has a lightness, a humour, an ease, that she wants to share with the one she loves. She is as laid-back as she is real. She doesn’t take herself too seriously, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.
Let me be clear, I have no problem with the Cool Girl movie trope. Fiction is fiction, and there are also plenty of irrealistic, shallow portrayals of men that only exist to fit female fantasies. (I’m looking at you, Doctor McDreamy and every other Patrick Dempsey character ever.) Romantic comedy is hardly the pinnacle of artistry and nuance. But I take issue with the articles and youtube videos that condemn the trope, not because of the criticism of the screenwriting, but because they almost always claim that a “cool” girl must not exist in real life. Not really, anyway. She must be faking it for male attention, or maybe it’s a phase she’ll grow out of. I find that perspective narrow-minded and, honestly, a bit sexist. Can’t a girl just be whoever she is?
I think it comes from a place of insecurity that these women have from not fitting the stereotype that we have collectively convinced ourselves men dream about. Well, I’m here to tell you that fitting it isn’t great for your love life either.
First of all, just like women, real-life men aren’t one-dimensional characters and -gasp!- they don’t all think alike or want the same things. Secondly, the attraction that comes with the first reaction of “oh, you’re not like most girls”, however genuine it may be, can very easily and quickly turn on you.
As someone who has been called a “cool girl” and because in certain aspects, I guess I am very laid-back, I have started to consider faking it a little. Maybe don’t have another beer, even if I want one and can perfectly handle it. Maybe don’t make that joke, it’s not very ladylike. Maybe pretend to be a little more uptight than I am, because “cool girl” is often not respected in the long run.
“Cool girl” is hot, but does she ever become “cool girlfriend”?
Why does this supposed desire for “cool girl” and to be “cool girl” even exist? It’s because it’s very satisfying to be treated as an equal while also being desired. And it goes both ways. Man or woman, “cool” or “uncool”, I’ll go as far as to say that that’s what we’re all looking for. But once you start to be viewed as “low maintenance”, it’s very hard to come back from it.
When a cool man says a girl is cool, it means she’s relaxed, fun, strong and they probably share some, if not a lot of interests. But then, there’s the other type of men, who will see the slightest show of disappointment or pushback as a sign that you are, after all “like other girls”. Oh, you have standards? Suddenly, “you’re so cool” gets replaced by, “I thought you were cool”. The gaslighting begins and you can never be cool enough. For him, you’ll have to be okay with everything and anything, and the taking will never stop. Ate the sight of this, my dear cool girl, RUN! You’re just a buddy he’s attracted to and thinks he can do whatever he wants because you’ll be “cool” with it. So where should you draw the line? It all boils down to this:
Am I “not like most girls”? I don’t know and I don’t care. You’re supposed to be special to the person you’re with, and the rest doesn’t matter. But if I’m special to you, you better treat me as such.
I may not be impressed by fancy restaurants, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to go on a date, because I’m “so laid-back”. I simply don’t care what the date is, as long as we have fun together. I may not dream of grand gestures, I find them embarrassing, for the most part. But I do love the small ones. I’m an independent woman and I like independent men. That doesn’t mean I won’t mind it if you disappear for a week because I wouldn’t do that to you either.
Most of all, I have to hold myself accountable, for the moments where I have failed to set a standard for how I wish to be treated. I don’t want to just be someone who’s fun to have around to have some beers, laughs, but who, unlike a male buddy, will also make out with a guy. I can be that, but I am so much more. I like what I like, and that doesn’t make me any more or any less than any other woman.
I bring something to the table and I expect something in return. I’m not a caricatural princess, but I’m also not a beer-chugging man with lady bits. I’m just myself.
Youtuber Shallon Lester, with whom I had never agreed before, recently made a video where she explains this phenomenon and why it might attract the wrong men or, at least, set up the wrong relationship dynamic. A self-proclaimed “high maintenance woman”, she is coming from the opposite end of the spectrum from me, but she is spot-on:
“Dudes who want this Cool Girl trope, it’s not because she’s so unattainable, it’s because they are so beta, they need a woman who will be impressed by almost no effort. […] We are not just one thing. And guys who wanna try to make us one thing is because they are just one thing: beta.”
I’m not saying men should strive to impress women at all times. It’s a give and take. What I’m saying is, I don’t want someone to be with me just because they think I have low expectations. I just have a different set of high expectations, as any man I date should have for me.
Amy Dunne is pretending to be “cool” to be loved by a man, instead of finding someone she actually has something in common with and for that, she feels taken advantage of. Her rage is relatable. Again, minus the murder.
I’m over here being myself and finding that a lot of men that I have things in common with want “coolness” for all the wrong reasons. But no, I am not going to fake it, and neither should anyone. Wherever you fall on that “high-low maintenance” scale, stay true to yourself.
Order that cocktail or that fifth beer. Have the salad, or the burger, or both. Go camping if you love it. To a spa, if that’s what you prefer. Watch Adam Sandler movies or Nicholas Sparks. Hell, I’m sure you have Netflix, watch both! Do your nails, or don’t. Or better yet, do them, and then ruin them anyway. Swear if you must, or clench your pearls if it offends you. Do what you like, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, and sooner or later, you’ll be surrounded by people who not only like the same things as you but also respect you.