It’s Cool to Catch-22

Photographer: Chanel Irvine

As I complete my final semester of university, I have become somewhat reflective.

I feel it is safe to say that throughout my university career I have a learnt a lot about myself. By moving away from home at the ripe age of 18, one is truly forced to look inwards and contemplate the world that surrounds them through the looking glass of their own eyes. Additionally, having lived in a college for three years with around 300 other adolescents, all trying to make sense of themselves and their future, you could say that realisations and awakenings occurred frequently. However, a notion I have not found ease with as of yet is that of the ‘Cool Girl’. Although I should note I do not have trouble with it in the way that one may expect. I do not believe the ‘Cool Girl’ is a lie. Nor do I believe that it should be the epitome of what a man wants. This, in fact, is where my struggle lies.

The other week in a forum I am a part of, a post was created asking for the names of celebrities and mainstream television characters that are consistently endorsed by the patriarchy. Women who are applauded for being down for anything and lacking a ‘rock the boat’ mentality. I will note that this post was made for the purpose of researching tropes, representations, and the following issues that accompany these. However, the whole concept did not sit well with me, so I commented the following …

“What defines how a woman should be? Why can’t a woman be ‘cool’ or ‘chill’ or enjoy beers and burgers, or even a salad, without it having any relation to men? Why do our personalities and attributes have to be put in comparison to men, and seen as worse if they are in line with what men do? Or what men expect/desire us to be like? Also what does that even mean?

“What is more why are we targeting the women? …

“For me a lot of the characters (listed in the forum) are some of my favourites! Some of the most inspiring! They’re just women who are being women. I somewhat see it as dividing and demeaning to classify women characters as playing in the patriarchy, is it not playing right into it ourselves by ‘name shaming’, as it completely takes away our own autonomy and right to just be as we are because that is who we are. Not because we are our way in comparison to anyone else, by it a man or a woman or other … I understand the notion of cultural capital in being a ‘Cool Girl’ and it is frustrating but I am just divided because when and why did it become so wrong to be a ‘Cool Girl’? …

“What about the male ideal of being buff and tough etc. that so often permeated the industry was well – there is a huge issue there as it suggests to the male viewers …  that its ‘cool’ not to care, that its ‘cool’ to play around, that if you have emotions etc. then you aren’t ‘cool’ …”

A discussion ensued.

I know it is naïve – and to be blunt, false – to believe that a women’s characteristics will not be, and are not, a result of those around them. I am aware of the frustrating institutionalisation of the ‘ideal woman’. I know that we, inclusive of men, as social beings, adopt and adapt to the situations that we find ourselves in; sometimes becoming something we are not, which may in fact resemble the ‘Cool Girl’. However, one of my main questions above still arises: what does this even mean? Why is it that I cannot help but feel that being ‘cool’ is no longer ‘cool’? That it is now seen as a representation of a man’s ideal woman, and not just women being whoever the hell they want to be on their own merit?

Today women are judged on everything. From their Splendour outfits – or as some of the news outlets would have it, lack thereof – to their behaviour and emotions. There unfortunately exists a culture in which women’s bodies are stigmatised and criticised. As Erwin Straus, a phenomenologist and neurologist, discussed, boys and girls adopt different postures within lateral space when throwing. Girls, of just age five, do not stretch out their arms, twist their trunks, or move their legs away from a side-by-side stance. In preparation to throw, her arm is simply lifted and released, producing a lack of force and aim. In stark contrast, a boy of the same age, stretches his arms sidewards and backwards, his trunk is twisted and turned, and a leg is moved. All to provide a supporting stance allowing optimal strength and goal-direction.

However, the trouble does not stop here. As young children were studied, physical differences in bodies, most poignantly breasts, cannot be blamed for the difference in behaviour. The weaker power muscle of girls was also considered by Straus, however, he concluded that the girls should be expecting and compensating of this with added changes in their physicality. Thus the difference was conclusively explained through the ‘feminine essence’ women have in relation to the world and to space. An essence, which is not to deny individual variation, but is defined by a common basis in history, culture and society. In an ‘Always #LikeAGirl’ commercial, women and men of various ages were asked to run, fight and throw like a girl. Both men and women adopted dainty and weak motions, that were synonymous with being an ‘insult.’ Motions which move beyond the physical extremes of throwing and running, to simply the way women sit.

Society for years has internalised the mantra of the patriarchal ways that have come before us. Consequently, women address tasks differently and thus enact them differently – a notion which expands beyond the physical and into our mental and emotional ways of being. As exemplified in the way in which being ‘cool’ is now dangerous, as it is viewed as means of giving in to the patriarchy. 

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A women’s existence today is a catch-22.

I cannot help but feel there is no escape. It seems each and every action we do can be explained through and attributed back to the ‘patriarchy’, which at the same time we are systematically trying to protest. As presented in the film Gone Girl being a ‘Cool Girl’ means one is “a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football … and dirty jokes, who plays videogames and chugs beer, loves … anal sex … while remaining a size two, because cool girls are above all hot …”

As the monologue continues, however, it begins to depict a ‘Cool Girl’ as always smiling, and having something wrong with them if they deviate from the above. A conception which is definitely problematic as it produces a ‘this way’ or ‘that way’ mentality; and one which is most frustrating to me.

Not only am I seeing girls who have the above characteristics being criticised – on the grounds that their ways of being are not due to their own autonomy, but systematically produced and adopted due to a male ideal – but I am also seeing women who are not ‘cool’ receiving their own round of criticism. I cannot help but find this catch-22 infuriating. Although I guess that is the entire essence of a paradox.

Interestingly, amongst all of this contemplation, what I have noticed is that the concept of the ‘Cool Girl’ seems to largely be discussed and debated by women. Gone Girl itself is written by the female author, Gillian Flynn. A woman I see as very ‘cool’. What I wonder is this: by detailing the ‘Cool Girl’ as being a male’s ideal, are women not adding to the systematic patriarchy? Are we not taking away our own right to be as we are, whether its ‘cool’ or not, due to nobody but ourselves? Are these not convictions which perpetuate beyond the written form, and into the way in which women hold themselves? And honestly, what does cool even mean? I mean, Google cannot even seem to get it right …

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If one was to use the above to define a ‘Cool Girl’, well then she’s low in both temperature and friendliness. Thus, as answered by Google (as always), words are meaningless beyond our interpretation and use. The culmination of my annoyance is that the term ‘Cool Girl’ is just a term. Made up of two words, eight letters, and nine characters. The choice in what it means and denotes is up to the individual. A women’s history is clouded in inequality and injustice; however, today I see the world as being more hopeful. Women have gained degrees of autonomy and power they have never had before, so why is it that we attribute our own actions to men?

The notion of the ‘Cool Girl’ is just a phenomenon of the mind. So let’s take it back.

I won’t lie, I do see myself as somewhat a ‘Cool Girl.’ I’d even say I’m a ‘Chill Girl.’ Why you might ask? Because I am a girl who is “doing whatever the fuck they want in 2017”.

What is more, is that something awesome is also happening today in the media – the typical ‘uncool’ girl is now ‘cool’. Just take Mindy Kaling within The Mindy Project, or Zoe Deschanel in New Girl. This, and all of the above, all culminates to what I see as probably the most ironic thing of all, which is that all girls are cool. Whether you are chugging down beers or reading a book. If you’re into anal or good ol’ missionary, girls are cool. We are versatile and ever-evolving. We are not better or worse than one another, and definitely not anything because a boy says so.

I’m a cool girl, I’m a, I’m a cool girl 
Ice cold, I roll my eyes at you…