The Curse of the Cool Girl, And Why I’m Done With Pretending Not to Care

“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. 

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International Women’s Day, And Why We’re Still Having This Conversation

Happy International Women’s Day! So far this week I have fielded my mum’s concerns that a picture of me wearing fishnets on Instagram ‘gave the wrong impression’, as well as her accusatory questioning as to whether ‘all my friends are feminists now’. I have argued with a man about what defines the ‘shared female experience’, and had him disagree with me when I said it wasn’t giving birth. I have acted professionally towards a male colleague who suggested that a picture celebrating IWD on the work social media account shouldn’t just be of the women who work there ‘because men support women too’. I have felt guilty about eating pizza for tea, because as a six foot, size 10/12 woman I feel constant pressure to lose some weight. I have been called a misandrist. It is currently Wednesday.

I was brought up in an environment where women were seen as helpmeets to men, who are the head of the household. The pressure to marry so that you were spoken for, so you belonged to a man and could be neatly identified as his problem, was an overwhelming part of daily life. When I announced that I was going to university, I was quietly warned that it would make me unappealing, that no man wants a woman that is cleverer than him. Someone genuinely once said the words ‘if you act like a slut, you get treated like a slut’ to me. Women from the Bible were used as examples of how not to behave. Delilah the seductress, who cut off Samson’s hair as he slept in her lap, thus sapping his God-given strength, was the worst of femininity. No mention of the fact that he went along with her rather willingly. Dinah, who went into the city and was raped repeatedly by the King’s son – her own fault because she was friends with the local women. These were the women that were paraded before me as examples of why I wasn’t good enough, as a fifteen year old girl literally and figuratively tearing herself to shreds. I would like to say that it was a very different world but, realistically, it wasn’t.

Strangely, now I am newly empowered and happier than I ever thought possible, I find myself fielding new, different concerns that people have about me. I am called outspoken, wild, intimidating, aggressive – new words designed to police my behaviour. Men especially, but other women too, use words like this to suggest we should be smaller, quieter, we should not disrupt the status quo. Look at Donald Trump, calling articulate, powerful, knowledgeable Hillary Clinton a ‘nasty woman’. With those words he reduced her power to nothing, she was a caricature, a Disney cartoon witch holding out a poison apple to the people of America. People do it all the time, because words are important; words are power. I have heard male friends describe girls as ‘fundamentally unfuckable’ – and with that assertion she suddenly is nothing. Her brains, her success, her kindness, are impotent in the face of her lack of desirability. And yet these same men roll their eyes when we talk about the need for feminism. They say ‘not all men’, and ‘I’m just playing devil’s advocate here’, and ‘you’ll be burning your bras next’, because these phrases are reductive, they steal our power, make us laughable – make us nothing.

Well, I’m tired of feeling like I’m nothing. I will not sit down; I will not calm down, dear; I will not ‘oh shut up’. I refuse to be scared to speak up. Female oppression might not seem as visible to you as it once was. Yes, we have got the vote, we can drink in pubs, we can be the token one or two – alongside ten men – sitting in the boardroom. But the micro-aggressions of daily life are still going strong, as is the very real gender pay gap, the disproportionate number of women in low paid jobs, the unequal unpaid labour. I could go on. There are women across the world that have it much worse, for sure. I know this, so put your pint down and stop interrupting me. But here, in the United Kingdom, female inequality is still very present, very real. I, for one, plan to keep on speaking out against it, to keep on fighting it. I hope you do too. We are fifty percent of the human race, and it’s about time it felt like it. If this conversation is boring you, ask yourself this – why are we still having it?

The Fuckboy Phenomenon, And Why Boys Fear the Blogpost

Ah Fuckboys, the ubiquitous defining man of our generation; talented, good looking, charming and repulsive in equal measures. The phrase is used in various ways by different communities, but for my social groups it is always used like that. Maybe he is stylish, has a good haircut, drives a fancy car, but he always has one defining feature: women. Not just in his bed, the term is not one of sexual behaviour shaming, but rather a shaming of emotional behaviour. Alana Massey said in this article that ‘Fuckboy is not a dating style, so much as a worldview that reeks of entitlement but is aghast at the prospect of putting in effort…Fuckboys become emotional vampires to women who aren’t even their girlfriends.” And that, that nails it exactly.

I watch my friends fall for these men, I date them – inasmuch as it can be called dating; they are all around us, our friends, our brothers, our entitled boss. These are the men that approach me and tell me how my blogpost on emotional labour touched them, made them uncomfortable, because they saw the women that they string along in that post. It is descriptive of their behaviour, where not just physical connection, but emotional support is a glass of water they drain without ever filling up. What these men say to me is that they fear being the subject of that blogpost, or one like it. Not that they think they should change their behaviour, that they’ve recognised the emotional damage they are doing to women that they should be delighted to go out with and they’re going to stop. Rather, they fear being revealed for what they are. The Fuckboy relies on illusion, on the ability to convince a girl that she’s special, she’s different, for his success. Both myself and several of my friends have had boys tell them, “But you’re the only one emotionally”, as though them deigning to feel anything other than a physical attraction to us is some trophy to be polished and put on the mantle piece. He’s sleeping with half of the city, but he likes us. He’d speak to us when we’re dressed! Aren’t we lucky?

But, as Anne Lamott once said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” So, Fuckboys, this one’s for you. It is not good enough. You are not good enough. Wipe that pained expression off your face, stop trying to change the subject, because I won’t stand for it anymore. You will be held accountable. There are a thousand men out there that would love to be seen with me, that would love to be seen with my beautiful, clever, successful friends. There are men that text us when they’re drunk to tell us we’re the loves of their life and they can’t believe they let us get away. Stop telling me to ‘take it slow’, because boy, you’re on probation. I haven’t decided if you’re good enough for me yet, so stop acting like you are the ultimate hunting prize and I might win you if I creep up more quietly and more slowly than all the other lionesses. Talking to me every day and cooking me dinner isn’t a grand gesture, it’s the basics in decent human behaviour. Take me on a fucking date. Because I don’t know if I like you yet, and if you want to impress me it’s going to take a lot more effort than I’ve seen so far. If this blogpost is making you squirm, good. It’ll prepare you for the next one where I eviscerate your character, not because you hurt me, but because you didn’t measure up. I am not waiting, I am not pining. I am not impressed. Boot up and suit up, baby, because I’m a battle that none of us think you can win.

Bare Faced Prejudice, And Why It’s Not Brave To Go Without Makeup.

I can think of a lot of times in the last few months when I was brave to show my face. I was brave to show my face at work the day after my breakup. It was red and blotchy, not merely snotty but pouring with snot, and prone to crumple at the slightest setback. I was brave to show my face at work again, weeks later, when my medication had reacted badly with alcohol and I had spent two days puking after going out for drinks on the company account. It was shamefaced and pale, no matter that it wasn’t my fault, it knew it had done wrong. But I can also tell you when I wasn’t brave to show my face: every single day that I chose not to wear makeup.

In spite of the fact that, in a world where women are risking their lives for their right to be educated, for their right to freedom, for their right to have their voices heard, I would never dare to call myself brave, other women have been calling me just that.

“I love that you don’t wear makeup! It’s so brave!”

“I wish I was brave enough to go barefaced!”

When did we allow leaving the house in our natural state to become an act of absolute courage? It’s not just my friends that compliment me on the audacity to go without makeup, but also strangers, women I have never met come up to me in the supermarket and compliment me. Two drinks in on a Friday night, women sidle up to me at the bar: “You’re so brave! I love that!”

I’m hardly the first person to discover this phenomenon, in 2014 £8 million was raised for cancer research in just six days by women daring to put ‘No Makeup Selfies’ on the internet for all to see. The idea of letting your friends and loved ones see you without makeup was so stunning, so extreme, so brave, that people actually donated money to charity, so inspired were they by our acts of politicised facial nudity.

Makeup was once considered an expression of female emancipation. In the 1920s, women wore heavy eye makeup and lipstick to identify themselves as women liberated from the control of society. Painting our faces was a war cry against patriarchal oppression, women rejected the image of the angel of the hearth, embracing identities as her enemy: the seductress, the fallen woman, the whore. And yet, here we are, full circle, fully made up and living in a world where daring to show your natural face isn’t even ‘bad’ — it’s brave. 

My wonder at this bizarre attitude to going au naturel was heightened even further when two women I work with, both around my age, were discussing how unprofessional it looks to go to a meeting without makeup. Even in a business suit, with styled hair, they deemed that you couldn’t possibly expect anyone to take you seriously unless you were wearing a full face of makeup. As someone who rarely wears more than mascara during the week, and never applies a full face of makeup except for the most important of nights out, this means that I have look unprofessional at all times since the start of my graduate career. Every meeting I’ve ever had, every outstanding piece of content I have ever written, every time I’ve stood my ground over demanding to be paid the same as my male colleagues, I’ve appeared completely unprofessional without even knowing it. We ask why there aren’t more tenured female professors, more women in parliament, more women on boards, more women in charge of companies, and then we turn around and hold these women to ridiculous fabricated beauty standards as they try to do their jobs. Something needs to change.

It should be brave to stand up for the injustice that you see.

It should be brave to speak up for another woman who does not have a voice.

It should be brave to push forward for that promotion, to apply for that job, to chair that meeting, to start that company.

But it should not, it should never be, brave to go out without makeup.

Emotional Labour, and Why I Felt Weirdly Relieved When He Left

I have been thinking a lot recently about emotional labour, and the disproportional amount of it that women do in relationships. At this point, you might wrinkle your nose and dismiss this blog post as more shit that feminists have made up to be angry about now they’ve got the vote thing sorted, but bear with me here. I was recently dumped by a man that I was desperately, insanely in love with and now that he’s left, along with the debilitating heartbreak, I’ve found that I have an odd sense relief. Considering that he told me he didn’t want to cook and clean the flat whilst he was unemployed because he “felt like a maid”, you can imagine that in terms of gender roles, he wasn’t the most modern in his ideas. But it isn’t this total inability to help around the house that I feel freed from, it’s the absolute exhaustion of the amount of emotional labour I did in our relationship.

As an example of this phenomenon, take the reasons that we said we loved each other. I would tell him that he was the most amazing man I’d ever met, intelligent, handsome, gentle, I felt unbelievably lucky to be allowed to be with him. He told me he loved me because I made him happy. Now you can immediately see the flaw in this sentiment. If you love someone because they make you happy, the minute you cease to be happy you also cease to be in love with that person. Of course, that is exactly what happened. When he left his job and was unemployed for a long period of time, his entire self-worth evaporated and I was left with a man that I had neither the strength nor the resources to make happy. I felt powerless to improve our relationship, and he, in turn, began to remove himself from it, spending more and more time drinking with the friends that could help to distract him from his situation. And eventually, I was unbearably lonely and he was unbearably unhappy, so he left. On his way out of the door he told me that the breakup wasn’t about me, because not everything is about me. At the time I was devastated that I was so inconsequential as to not even have caused by own dumping, but in hindsight, I realise that he was in fact right. Nothing that I could have done could have made him stay, because it is impossible for anyone, no matter how superhuman, to entirely support another person’s happiness. In our relationship I loved and he felt loved. The entire emotional burden of our relationship rested on my shoulders and I, like anyone, crumbled under the pressure.

Now, looking back, I can see that from the very beginning I entirely orchestrated and supported the emotion in our relationship. When I met him, he was in a relationship with a girl that he swore wasn’t his girlfriend, but that he had been with for too long for them not to be together. No, it doesn’t make sense to me either. Apparently she felt the same, but I am yet to distinguish exactly what the feeling is that she was being attributed with. Anyway, this allowed him to see both of us for an entire month, without either of us being aware of it. He told me that he had never been in a relationship that lasted longer than six months, and that had been when he was sixteen. He had never been in love. Taking this as a challenge, I set about to force our relationship into something that could be described as serious with extreme gusto. I soothed him about his emotional and physical issues, treating them with a patience and kindness that you would usually reserve for a man you had been married to for ten years. Like so many before me, I thought I could heal this broken man and he, in turn, would think I was as amazing as I thought him to be. As things advanced we talked about marriage and children, I told him he was worthy and worthwhile, he would make an amazing husband and father, that I had never met anyone like him. He told me that I had given him confidence he had never had before. We ran towards the imagining of our shared future far too fast, and I was delirious with happiness.

Four months in, he told me that he had still been seeing the first girl for the first month of our relationship, but it was okay because she was still his girlfriend at the time. I, suddenly the other woman, fell into a spiral of self-loathing, questioning what was wrong with me. I wept, blind with rage and self-hatred, sick with the thought of her. He told me my emotions were terrifying, that I was unhinged and should go back on the antidepressants that I hadn’t taken since I was fifteen years old. I swore to him that we had discussed exclusively seeing each other and he’d told me he didn’t want me to see anyone else. He told me I was insane and it had never happened. I found texts that attested to my version of things. He told me that I was a spiteful, mistrusting bitch for looking for evidence in months-old conversations. I curled in on myself with disgust and self-hatred. His friends told me he was a great guy, lovely, kind, he would never have meant to do this to me. He was distraught, I should forgive him. He told me that it was the worst thing he had ever done, but also we weren’t exclusive, you know. And so, crushed and desperately in love, I set about forgiving him. If I cried or brought it up, he would lash out in anger, saying that forgiveness means never speaking of it again. And so I pushed it down. The last thing I wanted was to hurt or upset him, so I never spoke to him about it. I looked at her pictures on Instagram obsessively, trying to work out what was better about her, what I needed to change.

I spent my entire savings on a holiday to Paris, a trip to a fancy hotel, nights out, a fancy watch to replace his plastic one. I came home from work and he told me he had a train booked in an hour. He was moving to London. He had done it like this so I wouldn’t make a scene. When I wept, he left. When I rang him up devastated, he called an ambulance so I “wouldn’t do anything stupid”. Then he blocked me on all forms of social media and asked me to “refrain from speaking to him”. Three months later, I’m still dealing with the emotional fallout of the most devastating break up of my life. I’m not so sure about him.

Now, obviously, this is all one sided, and without a doubt he would tell you that I was a psychobitch and he just couldn’t cope with me anymore. Perhaps I was. But I also did all of the emotional leg work in our relationship, desperately trying to make him happy, show him how I saw him, how handsome, how clever, how talented, how amazing and interesting he was. Months later, just the thought of him still brings me to tears.

But why is it that the labour of love always seems to rest with women? We tell him he’s amazing, we dull our light so that he doesn’t feel threatened, downplay the importance of our new job, buoy him up with compliments, text his mother so that he won’t have to deal with the difficulty of his parents not loving us. We remember birthdays, choose gifts, spend hours with his horrible friends. Then he leaves us, because ultimately we stopped making him happy. A new city, a new girl is all he needs to fill the gap of us, because we were excitement, we were a confidence boost. We can never look after him as well as his mother, because unlike his mother, we have needs that must be met in return. And when he leaves, we have to do the emotional labour of our break up as well. We are “crazy ex-girlfriends”, to be torn apart at the pub, to make the next woman feel satisfied about herself in comparison.

I’ve read several articles recently about how masculinity is in crisis, because the world has changed but men have not changed with it. It’s no longer enough to go to work, because two people can’t live on one person’s wage anymore. Our boyfriends are the result of the last generation of mothers who had the time to do all the cooking, all the cleaning, all the emotional labour. And whilst we can teach them to cook, pretend that emptying half a bottle of bleach into the toilet counts as cleaning, we can never do enough emotional labour to make them happy on our own. In a world where everyone is connected, where your phone holds a thousand possible girls who might do all this without you having to change, how can we ever convince men that we need more? How do we ever get our needs met? Stop ourselves from taking the whole burden of creating happiness in a relationship? I don’t want to feel relieved when he leaves. I don’t want him to leave.