When I read this passage in Gone Girl, I immediately wanted to photocopy it and post it all over, Mean Girls style in the halls at my high school. Or wherever, really. Gillian Flynn managed to eloquently (and comically) say what many women were already thinking and feeling. I think about this quote maybe twice a week. It also brought to mind my (and my friends') use of the "not like other girls" joke - making it known when we feel something is disingenuous and based on trying to be Cool. But before I go any further, let me just say that I know that I use this joke more than anyone and its presence in my life is entirely my own fault. I think I'm pretty funny. And I'm fed up with Cool Girls.
But I have this nagging feeling that the entire dialogue is toxic. Kind of funny, kind of self deprecating, but above all counter productive. The original goal wasn’t so bad – to call bullshit on girls putting on the “Cool Girl” façade. The feeling that “that girl doesn’t mean that, she doesn’t really love xbox so much, she has just watched too many movies written by socially awkward men and thinks that that will make her more desirable” and responding by trying to make it ok to be like other girls.
But defining behaviour in terms of “like other girls” or “not like other girls” continues to put women and our emotions in narrowly defined boxes. Gone Girl points out that Cool Girl isn’t a whole person, with a full range of interests, activities and emotions. Getting angry when he blows off your plans doesn’t make you “uncool” and it doesn’t make you “like other girls” it just makes you human. And it isn’t a bad or illogical response, within reason.
When we first started tossing the “not like other girls” joke around, I think I would have written a blog post about why we should embrace being like other girls and stop trying to not be like other girls – why we should stop trying to be Cool Girl. I think now I want to say that we shouldn’t be worrying about whether we are like other girls or not like other girls. Hannah Horwath feels what she feels when she feels it, and so do I.
Just because you follow football doesn’t make you “cooler” or “less cool” – and if it does, that’s because we're operating under the paradigm designed by men who are still searching for Cool Girl (and who will be very disappointed after maybe 3 weeks of dating anyone). Calling bullshit on people’s interests is a tough game to play. Rather than encouraging each other to pursue passions and engage in activities, we’re limiting ourselves. The “not like other girls” joke makes it difficult to genuinely participate in a male dominated culture, hobby, sport or career. Not that people aren’t bullshitting – they are. The Cool Girls (women pretending to be Cool Girls) are out there, and they’re acting in response to pressure (or positive feedback from men) to Not Be Like Other Girls. And it’s annoying and women see right through it and it sucks because it’s dishonest and depends entirely on how objectively hot you are. Guys don’t care if you love videogames and eating nachos and never going to the gym if you’re homely and overweight – but videogames, nachos and never going to the gym will make you overweight.
We need fewer Cool Girls and more cool girls – women with real and varied interests, whose emotions and appearances are grounded in reality. Mindy Kahling and Amy Schumer are two of my favorites. This article, comparing Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kahling's character on The Mindy Project) to Cool Girl explains:
Amy Schumer is loud and crude and unafraid to speak her mind – and an uninformed party might accuse her of trying to be a Cool Girl or Not Being Like Other Girls. But Amy is all of those things while also being unapologetically herself. Amy is a cool girl rather than a Cool Girl, and she’s way ahead of you on that joke - her skit: A Chick Who Can Hang
So bow down then follow suit.