I am embarrassed by the number of men who have told me I am a “cool girl”. But even more so by how often I have taken it as a compliment.
To be fair, I appear to tick all the boxes of the Cool Girl stereotype that they have come to know: I am a straight shooter in conversation, and would choose beer or whisky over wine any day. I also enjoy typically masculine hobbies like hiking and various outdoor sports, and have closer male friends than female ones.
In other words, most guys think I’m “chill”, and I’ve never had any issue with falling into a seemingly harmless (and admittedly fun) stereotype.
That is, until Harvey Weinstein.
Where sexual harassment and assault is concerned, many victims don’t come forward or stand up until other women do. Typical reasons include a fear of power and money being used against them, as well as being the subject of victim-blaming.
Yet, I know there’s also a deeper, unspoken reason that they don’t.
From young, women learn the need to be chill in all aspects of life if they want to fit in, get ahead or be taken seriously. From unwanted propositions and inappropriate remarks made in social gatherings to colleagues getting too close for comfort during office photoshoots, women learn to let things go.
As a result, being a Cool Girl becomes both a defining privilege and an unwanted burden.
Being a Cool Girl elevates us to the same level as men, because it is only then that women are taken seriously.
Throughout life, we are taught that emotion is weakness, and therefore the enemy. Revealing an iota of it is ’uncool’ and can be seen as making a mountain out of a molehill.
Think of the ‘bimbo’ girlfriend stereotype parodied by YouTubers, the kind who are un-chill, jealous and insecure about everything. In return, their boyfriends ‘put up’ with them.
This social faux pas is the antithesis of being a Cool Girl. Society tells us that this is how not to be a woman if you want to be taken seriously.
So regardless of the situation, knowing how to successfully control and even suppress our emotions is a skill that we learn to master if we want to be respected.
On social media today, self-deprecating wit and a broad sense of self-awareness are the trademarks of the Cool Girl. She knows how to craft tweets or Facebook updates that resemble smart one-liners used in stand-up comedy. On Instagram, she’s not afraid of mocking her own curated feed.
In the workplace, the Cool Girl is calm and collected, so as not to fuel the negative stereotype of temperamental female colleagues. She isn’t bothered when she’s wronged in a professional argument
Instead, she shakes it off, fully aware of the compromises she needs to make solely because of her gender.
Similarly in one’s relationships, both platonic and romantic, the Cool Girl remains detached so she doesn’t come across as intense or clingy, traits that are known to send people (especially men) running. Particularly in hookup culture, where the power lies with the person who seems to care less, the Cool Girl understands that ‘catching feelings’ is likely to result in disastrous consequences.
A Cool Girl doesn’t question a romantic partner’s behaviour, even when she’s unhappy. She knows how to let go and how to tell herself, “It’s no big deal.”
Unsurprisingly, this composed and logical state is exactly how the average man is typically perceived to behave. Being a Cool Girl elevates us to the same level as men, because it is only then that women are taken seriously.
Yet the aspirational quality of the Cool Girl perpetuates the belief that women are incapable of being their own person, good or bad, if they don’t take the lead from how men behave. Or at least, how we think men behave.
It also ignores the way we associate certain behaviour with each gender.
For example, we know that in reality, most men don’t even behave the way a Cool Girl is expected to behave. In fact, they too can get emotional, unreasonable, and super insecure.
And because of how men are expected to behave, this is often behaviour we don’t see in public. Instead, it rears its ugly head during private moments in relationships, when no one else is there to witness the man kicking up a fuss about having his opinion challenged.
These are still traits we associate only with women.
So the issue with the Cool Girl stereotype isn’t just that it paints women in broad strokes.
Instead, when we expect women to step up and meet the expectations that society sets for men, we do a disservice to men too by reinforcing male gender stereotypes.
Our adoration of the Cool Girl suggests that men can’t handle women who are complex, challenging and emotional. We reduce adult men to simple creatures by teaching them to believe that they need women to be one-dimensional, chill, easygoing, and unemotive, all of which are traits that men themselves are expected to possess.
This creates a form of masculinity that shuns anything involving feelings or emotion because “it’s complicated” or “unmanly”. Additionally, anything that is traditionally associated with being feminine is automatically regarded as ‘lesser’.
Eventually, men learn not to see women as equals or multi-dimensional human beings unless they reflect typically masculine traits. This is what breeds internalised misogyny and sexism.
And as proven time and again, with Weinstein, Louis C.K., and Jack Neo, both misogyny and sexism are inherent causes of sexual harassment and assault.
Our adoration of the Cool Girl suggests that men can’t handle women who are complex, challenging and emotional.
All they want is just a single dimension of the Cool Girl.
But being a Cool Girl isn’t about having palatable characteristics.
A true Cool Girl also has all the seemingly unpleasant traits that rub people the wrong way. This includes making no apologies for who she is, especially if others may disagree, and showing as little or as much emotion as she pleases.
She also knows what’s better than being cool is being real, whether that be angry, passionate, or messy.
The thing is, society has always known this too. They were just not comfortable with Cool Girls finally owning it.