The Myth of the Cool Girl

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“She’s different than other girls, man, she’s a cool girl.”

The “cool girl” is a male fantasy — a concoction of everything straight men wish women were. Most of the time, this means a reflection of themselves. For an athletic man, a cool girl wants nothing more than to kick up her feet, throw back a couple of beers and watch some football. For a gamer, a cool girl will make some snacks and join him on the couch to play “Halo.” For an artist, a cool girl will rock tattoos and baggy jeans while reading a beat-up copy of “The Catcher in the Rye.” She is a mirror of the man she aims to please. She never nags, and she’s rarely insecure. Most importantly, though, she is unworldly hot.

The Making of a Cool Girl

From the manic pixie dream girl to the dumb blonde, it seems that women in the media are always being written to fit into a box that makes them easily comprehendible. Whether that box is designed to lift the woman up as an unrealistic example of “the perfect woman” or tear her down for possessing qualities that make women “undesirable,” a female character is rarely nuanced. The “cool girl” trope, while appealing on a surface level, is one of the most common offenders of this pattern.

Think Cameron Diaz in “There’s Something About Mary” and Megan Fox in the “Transformers” movies (or anything she’s in, really). Donna from “That ’70s Show” and Robin from “How I Met Your Mother.”

The “cool girl” also extends into the real world with celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence adopting the trope as a personality tactic, seemingly to make herself more appealing.

In her 2012 best seller, “Gone Girl,” Gillian Flynn dismantles the “cool girl” trope. Her protagonist, Amy, is at a breaking point after years of pretending to be the “cool girl.”

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“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,” Flynn writes.

Unraveling the Myth

Being a “cool girl” is conditional. It is reliant on appearance and agreeableness. You cannot be a “cool girl” if you aren’t conventionally beautiful. You cannot be a “cool girl” if you vocalize when you feel mistreated. You cannot be a “cool girl” if you regularly outperform men in areas they feel you shouldn’t.

So, yes, a “cool girl” can know more about cars than you so long as she looks hot while fixing them, and you’re still better at math, right?

The cool girl trope is symbolic of a never-ending battle that all women face: finding the balance between being capable (so as not to be viewed as a “dumb woman”) and being unassuming (so as not to be viewed as a “frigid bitch.”)

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However, being the “cool girl” is simply unmaintainable — because she doesn’t actually exist. Masquerading as a male fantasy, no matter how deeply ingrained in women it is as the ideal, will always backfire. Look at Jennifer Lawrence, for example. Being the “cool girl” made her America’s sweetheart, until it didn’t. When the public decided that her pizza-loving, clumsy persona was an act, they attacked her for it, claiming her behavior was pandering and disrespectful. There is no winning. After all, how can a real woman ever live up to a fantasy that was written by men, for men?

Breaking Free from the Cool Girl

For so many women, performing as the “cool girl” is second nature. We get dressed in our most feminine clothes, we do our hair and makeup, and then we get around men and play up how chill we are. We say things like “I could never spend that much money to get my nails done,” or “Can you believe she got lip injections? I wouldn’t want to look unnatural like that.” It’s ironic, isn’t it? Exerting so much effort into our appearances only to turn around and criticize women who make their effort known instead of trying to appear oh so effortless.

Breaking free from this habit begins with knowing yourself. What hobbies do you enjoy? What clothes do you like to wear? What sort of relationships do you value? Answer these questions honestly and with only you in mind. Then, make a conscious effort to stop performing otherwise.

It’s hard to change patterns of behavior, especially ones that have been subconsciously ingrained in your values through a lifetime of consuming media. However, finding a way to disengage from this constant performance will allow for healthier, longer-lasting relationships and, more importantly, true self-confidence.

Tweet us, @VALLEYmag, with your favorite example of the cool girl trope.



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