Everything Wrong With the Cool Girl Ideal
The Cool Girl is the woman that men can’t wait to tell “you’re not like other girls”. The Cool Girl is the woman who can’t wait to tell men “I just get along better with guys”. The Cool Girl is a repackaged and easily digestible presentation of femininity and womanhood that replaces a woman’s personality with a reflection of the men around her. She’s another one of the lads - but one you could actually fuck.
The issue with the Cool Girl Ideal (or one of the many issues, let’s be real) is that it reaffirms that a woman needs validation from a man. For her work to be respected, her opinions to be valued, her existence deemed as acceptable, she has to tone down her opinions, convictions and girlyness. She should be chill. About everything. Like men. Because the more masculine something is, the more it deserves respect.
And so, performing the role of the Cool Girl can also function as an exchange. In an environment that does not feel secure, or one that a woman feels will not take her seriously, adopting the persona of the Cool Girl can be a peace offering - I won’t challenge you, a man, with my womanhood if you don’t treat me like you treat other women. Unfortunately, exchanges like these don’t tend to last long. Any Cool Girl credit can be destroyed as soon as a woman voices one thing she is uncomfortable with doing or saying, or with other people doing or saying. “I thought you were cool about this type of stuff”, comes the defence, reducing a woman’s worth to the way she does or does not affirm a man’s actions and opinions.
Part of being a Cool Girl also means downplaying your own emotions. For fear of being labelled a nag the Cool Girl Ideal demands that women regulate their emotions to distinguish themselves from normal, ‘overemotional’, ‘irrational’ women. Laughing at sexist jokes and even making them themselves, allowing their friends and partners to get away with saying or doing hurtful things because they shouldn’t make stuff into a big deal. Accepting the fact that they should look impeccably attractive every single day, but of course without spending money or time on makeup or clothes. Giving priority to other people’s interests and preferences over their own.
The Cool Girl ideal ultimately comes down to internalised misogyny. This is exactly what it says on the tin - sexism that people internalise which then surfaces through interactions with other men and women, and in the way you view yourself. Everyone internalises prejudice that is informed by the patriarchal and racist societies that we grow up in: when they are not challenged they produce ideals such as the Cool Girl, which then act as foils for other women who do not meet those standards. The Cool Girl Ideal devalues anything that is not masculine and laddish.
So how do we start to address this type of issue? For many women the Cool Girl Ideal gives them a means to navigate a sexist reality in the workplace, with friends or even in intimate relationships. But by perpetuating misogynistic ideas the Cool Girl Ideal only delays the effects of sexism for the time that the Ideal can be upheld, or until the next woman comes along. Self-preservation should not have to come at the expense of others.
Of course, the Cool Girl Ideal is a product of sexist environments. The key to addressing this phenomena really lies in addressing patriarchal and sexist institutions, which is no mean feat. On a more personal level, though, it is possible to make a difference. Speak out in environments that do not foster respect and equality, or if this is not possible then remember that the performance of the Cool Girl Ideal is borne out of the fear and often experience of not being respected or taken seriously. Take time to get to know a woman who fulfils the Cool Girl criteria, ensure she feels respected and secure as she is. Although ultimately we can only be responsible for ourselves, working against prejudices and oppressions to create more respectful and positive communities should really be a priority.
Article by: Mairi Lubelska