Think of celebrities like Chrissy Teigan and Mila Kunis. The first thought that comes to your mind may just be, “Damn, she’s a cool girl.” Due to their likeable status on-screen, they have assumed the role in their off-screen personas as well. These women are extremely well-liked and seen as the authentic “relatable girl” celebrities that Hollywood has long been lacking. But what does it really mean to be a cool girl?
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Growing up around Western pop culture, the idea of a cool girl became ingrained in my head pretty quickly. No, not the one who was cooler than everyone else. But someone who was ‘one of the guys’, someone who felt like her true self in competition with other women, and someone who goes out of her way to say that she gets along with men better than women. I remember taking pride in the fact that I stayed out of the drama, while contradictorily joining men in criticising other women, individually and as a gender.
And hey – the idea of being the cool girl was tempting. In fact, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl coined the term for this phenomenon. “…the Cool Girl. 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 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.”
So while the archetype depicts a fantasy, there is inherent sexism that lurks underneath. Starting with, of course, the fact that this fantasy is a predominantly male one. Almost all of us have been in a position where at some point, we’ve changed parts of our personality to fulfil a man’s ideas of the perfect woman – and by following this trope, we’ve internalised the characteristics to a point where it becomes a hole that’s difficult to dig out of. And let’s not forget, the layers of misogyny that surround it. There’s this idea that if you distance yourself from other women and align yourself with men, not only will they ‘choose you’ over other women, but they will treat you with the same respect they show their friends. It’s a phenomenon known as ‘proximity to power’: the idea that aligning yourself with the person/group in power will give you access to said power.
Even if you look at desi pop culture; for instance, Deepika Padukone‘s character in Cocktail. DP played the quintessential cool girl – she was fun, lively, one of the boys, while Diana Penty’s character was more like the ‘girl you would take home to your mother’. The problem with depicting such contrasting ideals of women isn’t just about the misogyny – it’s about the fact that these women are, essentially, being pitted against one another. And in the long run, especially for girls growing up, it causes dissonance with your own gender. This may also be why the ‘I’m not like other girls’ phenomenon has been gaining so much traction as well.
So, the problem with playing the cool girl character doesn’t just limit itself to abiding by patriarchal notions of the ideal woman. It also becomes about sexism towards your own gender, and at the end of the day, changing what you’d like to fit in with the norm. And I don’t know about you, but I think that we as a society need to evolve past the need to please members of the opposite gender by changing who we are. And while it’s an uphill battle, just having come out of the archetype myself – as an ardent feminist – it’s one that’s possible. And needs to be fought.