If you’re unfamiliar with the term “Cool Girl”, I can highly recommend watching this video before reading the rest of this post – it’s incredibly well done and explains the trope really well, with lots of examples. A Cool Girl is basically someone who embodies typical male traits (gobbles down burgers and hot dogs, drinks beer, watches sports, plays video games all day, cares more about career than relationships, etc etc), all while remaining skinny and beautiful in an effortless I-woke-up-like-this kind of way. This is typically accompanied by being super “chill” and laid back, never getting annoyed or angry, and saying things like “I don’t have many female friends, they’re just too much drama”. It’s usually juxtaposed with the stereotypical “high maintenance” girl who takes ages getting ready, is “shallow” for caring too much about her appearance, and has standards for the men she dates. Although these are both stereotypes, I personally think the Cool Girl is far worse – but more on that later. For more reading material on what the Cool Girl is and examples of this phenomenon, see here or here or here or here or here. Or watch Taylor Swift’s You Belong With Me music video. Cool Girl is essentially not-like-other-girls personified.
The following paragraph from Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, where the Cool Girl term originated, explains it perfectly:
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.
If you’re still unsure about what a Cool Girl is, here are a few examples from films and TV: Mary (There’s Something About Mary), Andie (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days), Robin (How I Met Your Mother), Angie (New Girl), Jamie (Friends With Benefits), Black Widow (Avengers), and Megan Fox’s character in Transformers.
I am ashamed to say that when I a teenager, I had a serious case of Cool Girl-itis. Here are a list of things I did in order to portray this image:
- Bought and played Call of Duty and Fifa
- Deliberately ate unhealthy foods that I didn’t even particularly like
- Went to watch football games with guys and even “supported” teams when in fact I don’t and have never given a flying fuck about football
- Bought and listened to every single Eminem album
- Disliked other women for not being “rational” or “logical” enough
- Bought Superman and The Hulk onesies (which I still own), despite my passionate hatred for almost all superhero movies (I think they are garbage)
- Was never offended by anything, including objectively sexist comments such as “I don’t believe women should have jobs”
- Flirted outrageously with everyone I found attractive and basically had zero standards personality-wise
Of course, all this while dying and styling my hair, wearing pretty dresses and lots of makeup, remaining slender.
To everyone who knew me in this time frame: this was an image! I was not actually like this! I did this because it’s easy. It’s an easy way to get validation from men, and to “stand out” from other women. And by “stand out”, I mean “undercut”; being a Cool Girl is the dating equivalent of offering to do the same job as someone else for pennies. It’s undervaluing yourself, it makes working life worse for everyone else, and it’s the reason why we have things like minimum wage.
Why is the Cool Girl problematic?
Why is it, in my opinion, worse than the “uptight girl” stereotype? Don’t worry, you’re not being quizzed – these questions are in fact rhetorical. It’s a problem because it’s an act. It’s not real. It lowers standards for women everywhere, because you’re willing to settle for less and act like that’s the norm. It’s “playing the system”, meaning that if everyone did it it would make life worse for all women, but if only a few play this game then it raises them above other women in the eyes of men (#notlikeothergirls). It requires you to carefully curate your image by, say, making it look like you eat tons of burgers and fries, but secretly having a balanced diet and exercising regularly, or making it look like you put zero effort into your looks, but secretly spending time on your appearance; level 10 deception. It requires you to “stand out” by allowing yourself to be treated like crap. And worst of all, it’s deeply misogynistic, as it implies that traditional “female” hobbies and interests are somehow “less than”.
If everyone behaved like this we would end up with essentially a revamped “Stepford Wife”, 21st century style. And the thing is, it comes across about as inauthentic as a Stepford Wife – other girls can see right through it, which is probably why you “don’t have many female friends”.
I genuinely believe the Cool Girl trope originated through noble causes; trying to create strong, edgy female characters. It’s just that it didn’t quite work.
It’s probably at this point that I should add that there is of course, nothing wrong with actually enjoying these things. Plenty of women like beer and football and aren’t Cool Girls. The key distinction here is the motivation; whether you’d keep these hobbies if they were actively unappealing to Hot Guys. If the answer is yes, then you’re golden. Think Megan (Bridesmaids) or Eleanor (The Good Place). The other thing to note is that the Cool Girl has many different forms. As Flynn puts it:
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.
One could argue that given how ingrained some of these things are in society, it’s sometimes hard to tell whether you enjoy something for its own sake or because we’re told it’s Cool to enjoy – but as a former Cool Girl, I can tell you that it is in fact possible to tell when you’re being honest with yourself and when you’re not. And even if you can’t, just trying, just being aware, is a massive step in the right direction. At the time, it’s true that I told myself I enjoyed all of the above – but, particularly looking back, it’s very clear to me which hobbies I was pursuing because I actually enjoyed them (painting Warhammer and playing Adventure Quest online), and which hobbies I pursued to come across as attractive and chill (following the world cup and eating burgers). It ain’t that hard.
How to avoid being a Cool Girl
Being married, there’s little reason for me to be a Cool Girl now. But I still actively try very hard to avoid being catering to the Cool Girl trope, as I think it can be a really damaging image. I suggest embracing the way you feel about things, whether these things are traditionally feminine or not; in other words, be a Phoebe Buffay, not a Robin Sherbatsky.
A great litmus test for whether you’re subconsciously trying to be a Cool Girl is whether or not you would keep your hobbies and lifestyle choices as they are if no one knew about them; that is, if you stopped talking about how much you love junk food, would you still eat so much of it?
Luckily, we are in an era where this image is being torn down. There’s a current movement focusing on women supporting other women, rather than competing with them, and the Cool Girl is slowly being replaced with actual nuanced female characters on TV (see: Crazy Ex Girlfriend). Personally I’ve embraced my Basic Bitch qualities as a way of avoiding being too Cool Girl. Hold my Starbucks while I go to yoga in my lululemons and photograph my avocado toast for my insta story.
Anything can be cool as long as you embrace it, and aren’t ashamed of it. Want to get married and start a family? Great! Enjoy exercising and eating salads? Not a problem! Love your job and want to focus on yourself? That’s fine too! The key is figuring out who you are and dating people who fit YOU, not the other way round.
Let me know if you’ve ever been a Cool Girl in the comments, or know anyone else who has, and if you have any more thoughts on the matter or suggestions on how to counter this trope!