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I Hope My Daughter Never Suffers from “Cool Girl” Syndrome

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Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel Gone Girl has been adapted for the big screen, and with David Fincher directing, there’s already Oscar buzz surrounding the film.

Gone Girl is a thrilling whodunit that opens with the fifth wedding anniversary of Amy and Nick Dunne, played by Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck. Amy turns up missing and all signs point to her husband as the murderer. Much of what we learn about Amy is conveyed to the audience through her old diaries, and it’s one of these diary entries that’s struck a nerve among women.

The “Cool Girl” speech describes a new stereotype for women to strive to fit in. Flynn came up with the idea of the “cool girl” during a writing exercise for her novel. The concept jibed so perfectly with the main character, Amy, that the free writing made it into the novel and has turned out to be one of the most compelling parts. A “cool girl,” basically, is hot, brilliant, funny, loves football, burping, and dirty jokes. She is the all-around guy’s girl but is also really pretty and always in the mood. Cool girls don’t get angry or ever nag their man.

Amy writes in her diary in Gone Girl:

“They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – 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…thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain.”

It’s the new iteration of a woman who acts a certain way to please a man. You don’t see men going through the same kind of extreme shapeshifting in order to please women as often, and Flynn sees this as problematic. She tells Vulture:

“There’s something wrong with the fact that we’re constantly willing to make ourselves over for men, that we’re so interested in pleasing men in a way that men would never do for women. …  I think it’s a very female trait to want to please men, and to want to be considered the Cool Girl. And if you take that to the farthest reach where you’re actually selling yourself out and degrading yourself by doing things you don’t actually want to do, only in order for this man to think that you do, that’s a very perverse thing. That’s like, ‘Yeah, you win! Larry, let’s tell her what she’s won. She’s won a lifetime of pretending to be someone that she’s not, and for someone to like her for the wrong reasons!’” 

The problem with “cool girls” is that they don’t really exist. Men created the ideal (as per usual), and women buy into it and try to live up to it.

You’d be hard-pressed to name a movie that doesn’t feature a “cool girl” or token helpless girl awaiting rescue, which is why Gone Girl is so important. The story exposes the “cool girl” syndrome and points out the difficulty women face in living up to the image. But more than that, Gone Girl succeeds in being a story — and now a major blockbuster — about lots of different types of women. Some are dumb; some are smart; one, in particular, is arguably a psychopath. But none of them are token. While I’m not about to take my daughter with me to see Gone Girl, I appreciate Amy Dunne’s exposé of “cool girls.” The way she turned the image on its head is refreshing and makes way for women to be who they really are (for better or for worse, in Amy’s case) without fitting neatly into a stereotype.

This is what I’m trying to drive home with my daughter. Her high school is full of “cool girls.” In fact, “cool girls” start to emerge as early as fifth and sixth grade. They’re the girls who act the way they think the guys want them to act. Certainly, kids try on a lot of different personalities and interests as they navigate adolescence. That will always be the case. But I hope my daughter can explore who she is authentically and not just as defined by what boys want. The temptation to act like a “cool girl” is pretty big. The sexual politics of high school can be treacherous for young women who want to fit in and yearn for a boyfriend. My daughter has friends who disappear from the social scene with their friends when they get a boyfriend and turn up again (maybe a semester later) when they’ve broken up. I try to encourage my daughter to take care of her relationships with her female friends, even though it’s easy to get caught up in being boy crazy. (I certainly was at that age!)

“You don’t want to be the type of girl who sells out her friends for a boy,” I tell her.

“Don’t act like you like stuff just to seem cool to a boy,” I caution.

I think it’s great when a couple brings out the best in each other; you can definitely date a person that brings out your good qualities. But I really hope my daughter doesn’t adopt a persona just to make herself more attractive to a man. It’s like Flynn says, you don’t want someone to like you for the wrong reasons. And what if you do marry that person or end up in a longterm relationship with them? Are you going to continue to put on an act? The only way I know to teach this to my daughter is to constantly check in with her, to pay attention to her new “interests” and hobbies, and to know her friends and any guys she dates. Women aren’t necessarily even aware that they’re shapeshifting for a guy, but my daughter has me on the lookout. If she has to become a “cool girl” in order to get a certain guy, I hope I can talk her down and show her that he’s not worth it. Anyway, my daughter is a pretty cool girl in her own right. I doubt she’ll have to fake anything for a nice guy to be genuinely interested in her.

Photo Source: IMDB

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