gone girl

PBR Cool Girl

The Cool Girl exists in beer commercials and raunchy comedies. She lives in chick flicks that want to fling internalized misogyny at their female target demographic. She’s just “one of the guys.” Last year, I wrote a piece about Manic Pixie Dream Girls: the fantasy of a beautiful, quirky young woman who helps push a man out of his comfort zone. The Cool Girl fantasy is a different beast than the MPDG. While the MPDG exists to expand a man’s personal boundaries, the Cool Girl exists to make sure he never leaves them.

One of the most recent references to the Cool Girl that you might recognize is the biting rant in Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl and its film adaptation. That rant was worth reading the whole book, and it was even worth seeing Ben Affleck look tired for two hours, just so I could feel the raw anger for a few short minutes. Amy, both the protagonist and antagonist, describes the Cool Girl as two essential things, hot and understanding:

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.

The enjoyment of football and video games loses its novelty when it comes in the body of an “unattractive” woman. A Cool Girl cannot look like she eats hot dogs and chugs beer every day, because getting fat from a poor diet doesn’t play into the fantasy. She has to eat double-bacon cheeseburgers while looking like she only eats kale, through the impressive powers of Cool Girl metabolism. She doesn’t wear loads of makeup, unlike a woman who is considered high-maintenance, while conveniently looking like a Victoria Secret model. She is perfect, but effortlessly so.

Gone Girl is a best-selling thriller about the married couple Nick and Amy Dunne. The reader is introduced to Nick on the day of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy disappears, with what looks like a struggle. Nick appears to be the number one suspect in her murder, and looks guiltier with each passing day. Spoilers ahead: we find out that Amy is alive, and that she orchestrated her own crime scene. Amy decides to ruin Nick’s life after discovering Nick is cheating on her.

She lives in chick flicks that want to fling internalized misogyny at their female target demographic.

Nick loses interest in Amy after she stops being a Cool Girl. So, after several years of marriage, he replaces her with a brand new one: Andie. Andie has all the qualities to make up a Cool Girl: “Andie was a nice, pretty, bosomy Irish girl from my hometown, unassuming and jolly. Andie sat in the front row of my class, and she looked soft, and she looked interested.” Andie drinks beer, looks better in jeans than a dress, and wants to have sex all of the time. Most importantly, Andie is completely unfazed that Nick is married. Nick describes his relationship with Andie concisely, “She was easy. It was all so fucking easy.”

The ease that comes with the Cool Girl is the key to her allure. Cool Girls aren’t supposed to be difficult, which is why they have interests that completely mirror the male character’s. There are many variations of the Cool Girl to fit the man:

… 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.

To transition from Amy’s “Cool Girl” take to another, comedian Amy Schumer’s sketch “A Chick Who Can Hang” does a silly but cutting takedown of this trope. In the sketch, Schumer enters a bar wearing a plaid shirt and jeans. She aggressively orders shots, eats a sloppy hamburger, and yells at a sports team on TV. A group of men watch her from across the bar, talking about how everything she does makes her hot. The men then compare her to hot chicks they’ve met in the past, and the descriptors for these women quickly become more masculine, going from, “She could recite all of ‘Boondock Saints’ verbatim while rebuilding a deck” to, “She had a prominent dick.” At the end of the sketch, the men conclude that they’re not really attracted to a woman like Schumer, they’re attracted to each other.

Schumer’s sketch isn’t that silly when you consider how often the Cool Girl is supposed to mirror the men interested in her. Cool Girls tend to have names that are unisex or traditionally masculine like Andie (Gone Girl), Sam (Grandma’s Boy), or PJ (My Boys). Cool Girls are seen as sexiest when they’re wearing basketball jerseys, jeans and a t-shirt, or a large button-up shirt with no pants underneath. In the TV show How I Met Your Mother, Robin impresses the playboy Barney in the episode “Zip, Zip, Zip” by dressing up in a sleek suit, drinking scotch, and smoking a cigar. It seems like part of Barney’s attraction is that Robin completely matches him. She sits directly across from him, wears a similar outfit, smokes a cigar, and says exactly what he would say.

The Cool Girl holds up stereotypically masculine traits as ideal and stereotypically feminine traits as unappealing. The male character likes the Cool Girl because he benefits from having a woman who doesn’t bring anything feminine to the table, other than her body.

She has to eat double-bacon cheeseburgers while looking like she only eats kale, through the impressive powers of Cool Girl metabolism.
gone girl

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Many variations of the Cool Girl brag that they don’t have female friends because they’re dramatic, jealous, or uptight. These Cool Girls makes dirty jokes and don’t care about sexist comments. They distance themselves from other women so that they can be classified as “one of the guys.”

An example would be Andie Anderson (yes, it’s double the Andie!) in How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days. Andie stuffs burgers into her face, even though she’s played by notable health-nut and Fabletics creator Kate Hudson. She likes swearing, playing cards, and the New York Knicks. And in ultimate Cool Girl fashion, she works at a women’s magazine and hates what it produces. She wants to write “stuff that matters.” Adding to her dismissive attitude toward other women, Andie writes a piece based on “everything girls do wrong in relationships.” Her compilation of “everything girls do wrong” puts emotionally abusive behaviour on par with putting tampons in his bathroom and taking him to a Celine Dion concert.

The fact that the Cool Girl must be interested in everything the male counterpart likes is rooted in misogyny; it presents the idea that “feminine” interests and connections are seen as lesser. When a man takes part in “feminine” interests, he is emasculated; making him witness and participate in something “feminine” is classified as a relationship deal-breaker.

A Cool Girl can become uncool by losing her hotness, either by aging or gaining weight on her fast-food diet. A girl also stops being cool when she becomes complicated or non-compliant in her own disrespect. Maybe she will get mad when her boyfriend ditches an important event in order to get drunk with his friends. Maybe she’ll get upset when a friend is being sexist. Or maybe she’ll just reveal that she is a flawed human who doesn’t want to be a perfect fantasy 24/7.

Gone Girl’s Nick didn’t distance himself from his wife because she was a vindictive sociopath; Nick and Amy grew apart because Amy changed from the Cool Girl he knew:

I hated Nick for being surprised when I became me. I hated him for not knowing it had to end, for truly believing he had married this creature, this figment of the imagination of a million masturbatory men, semen-fingered and self-satisfied. He truly seemed astonished when I asked him to listen to me. He couldn’t believe I didn’t love wax-stripping my pussy raw and blowing him on request. That I did mind when he didn’t show up for drinks with my friends.

Nick distanced himself from Amy because she became bitter and not like the fun woman she used to be. But Amy had good reasons to be unhappy and unpleasant. The two of them lost their jobs. They moved from New York City, a place with all of Amy’s friends and everything she loved, to North Carthage, Missouri, with nothing for her to do. Nick had family, friends, and a support system waiting for him when they moved in, while she had no one but him. After Amy uprooted everything and let Nick use her savings, including to help him open up a bar with his sister, he cheated on her with a young student. Her actions after discovering his infidelity are completely irrational, but her being a killjoy before then is justified. She felt isolated and uprooted, but those feelings are too complicated for a Cool Girl.

The Cool Girl who stops being cool eventually turns into a nag, a killjoy, a cold bitch, an ice queen, etc. The names all mean the same thing: a woman who isn’t easy to be with. A quick example is a Carl’s Jr. commercial that has the voiceover, “Guys love going out for Buffalo wings, that is … when they’re out with the guys,” as a man ogles a waitress when his girlfriend is sitting right beside him. His girlfriend silently reprimands him for being disrespectful, ruining his fun. The audience is not supposed to like these women, even when they’re right.

As an aside, I just finished reading Book One of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s comic series “Bitch Planet,” which brands itself as “Margaret Atwood meets Inglorious Basterds.” The comic is a sci-fi exploitation riff about a women’s prison in a dystopic, patriarchal world. Women are punished for crimes that upset the patriarchy and are labelled as “Non-Compliant.” While some crimes are similar to our worldview (i.e., murder), most of the crimes that land a woman on Bitch Planet are related to the rules set for her gender. These crimes include: egotism, marital neglect, criminal literacy, gender treason, gender propaganda, mockery, narcissism, jealousy, irreversible ill-temper, agitation, and obesity.

The fact that the Cool Girl must be interested in everything the male counterpart likes is rooted in misogyny; it presents the idea that ‘feminine’ interests and connections are seen as lesser.

The crimes violate the two primary qualities of the Cool Girl fantasy: being hot and understanding. One character in particular, Penelope Rolle, is chastised for a list of offences that include “insubordination, assault, assault, assault, repeated citations for aesthetic offences, capillary disfigurement, and wanton obesity.”

All the other criminal offences are for directly disobeying male comfort, whether that is not being the perfect wife to a husband, having too much confidence, or being upset over their own oppression. The fear of the difficult woman is so rampant that a prescription pill, Agreenex, is used to remedy the situation. Agreenex’s advert states, “Be the you HE likes. Good to be around, any time, any day. AgreenexTM helps. It doesn’t change your circumstances, but it keeps you from caring. Because without thoughts, feelings, or inconvenient opinions, you’re more fun to be around.” The women on Bitch Planet do not comply with the law, but more importantly, they do not comply with their own dehumanization.

A Cool Girl is the fantasy that does not push a male character’s boundaries. They are effortlessly attractive, love everything he loves, and they are never difficult. Cool Girls will appeal to this sense of comfort, even if it means they are consistently disrespected. She is so cool, she’s compliant in her own destruction. But we could do away with the appeal of the Cool Girl. Even if they’re fictional, we should strive to write women who would be sent to Bitch Planet.

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