“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.” – Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl.
We’ve all met a Cool Girl, with their long hair and perfect arses, their craft beer knowledge and their fluid sexuality. Or, rather, we’ve all met a girl who is pretending to be her. I should know, I tried for a long time to be exactly that. Maybe I still look a bit like her, because some of the Cool Girl traits also happen to be real human woman traits too. I love whisky and craft beer, dirty jokes and eating an entire pizza. Those things are fine; I actually like those things. But some of the other Cool Girl traits aren’t me at all, and I’ve found them hard to give up.
I’ve always prided myself on being good at being one of the lads. Me, with my four older brothers and my devil-may-care attitude to wearing clothes in the house. Tall and blonde and filthy. Show me the girls you’ve matched with on Tinder whilst I’m laid in your arms on the sofa, because I don’t care. Ask me who I think is hotter. Call me up when you’re between women. Act like you barely know me when we’re with your friends, but forbid me from seeing anyone else. I don’t care, because I’m fucking cool. I put up with all of your shit and never call you out on it, whilst hiding any of mine – or worse, carefully not having any – so you don’t get hurt. Don’t I sound chill?
Spoiler alert: I’m not chill. I’m angry and stressed, I can’t sleep, I have a crick in my neck from that awkward position I never say anything about, my friends are fed up of listening to me. Why? Because what the Cool Girl attracts is an endless parade of scumbags. Men who put your needs last, because they can. Men who are seeing other women, because they can. Men who never text you unless you text them. Men who never take you on dates. Men who make you feel small and stupid when you haven’t heard of a band/niche French playwright/school of philosophical thought. Men who never go down on you. Men whose friends ask if you’re together and they say “No! I mean, I duno, I guess we’re sort-of-semi seeing each other?”. Men who can’t stand to see you with someone else, but will never ever commit to you. Cool Men.
I read this article the other day, about how the ‘cute but psycho’ joke is normalising abuse and women need to stop saying they identify with it. Whilst that’s a valid argument, all I could think about was how the ‘cute but psycho’ trope is just a reaction to the ever-pervading Cool Girl. She’s the opposite of the Cool Girl: she keeps a tight leash on her man, checks up on him, insists on a terrifying level of control. No one can deny it’s problematic. But, as women who have been denied any control, who have forced themselves to put up with all kinds of crappy treatment under the guise of being ‘cool’, is it any wonder that the reaction is to push back and claim some kind – any kind – of control?
We constantly talk down about women who have a dominant or, let’s face it, even an equal role in relationships. This is why I detest the word ‘whipped’. I hear people describing men as whipped all the time. Does he drive down to see his girlfriend at the weekend? Whipped. Did he bring her a glass of wine when she asked? Whipped. Does he cook all the meals while she cleans? Whipped. This rhetoric perpetuates the idea that women don’t deserve to be treated well, that being kind or considerate to your girlfriend is unmanly. There is no word to describe a woman who fetches her boyfriend a beer, who lovingly makes dips and buys in crisps for boys’ night. It is expected. Not only does the idea of being ‘whipped’ shame women for having needs, it also shames men for acting in a caring, nurturing way. It looks at healthy, loving relationships and calls them out for not adhering to some ancient 1950s stereotypes of how to behave.
How we talk about relationships is so important, because it shapes our expectations and the expectations of those around us. To be desirable, I felt overwhelming pressure to be the Cool Girl, no matter what the cost to my enjoyment and even my mental health. No matter what awful sort-of-semi relationships I had to endure. Pretending not to care, not to have any needs, is emotionally exhausting and damaging. I’ve seen girls put up with horrific behaviour and never call it out, because they’re scared of looking like they’re not a Cool Girl. I’ve done it myself. It’s time for us to start demanding what we require, and breaking off the damaging, sort-of-semi relationships if they fail to provide for our needs. We need to start saying no to that thing he’s asked us to do that always hurts, because doing it isn’t cool: it’s problematic. We also need to stop shaming men for being caring. It’s not fair to say we aren’t having our needs met, and then make men feel bad when they are meeting those needs. We need to pay attention to how we talk about relationships. Stop putting up with it. Stop perpetuating it.