Director David Fincher’s film adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestselling book Gone Girl arrives on the big screen on Friday. Which means it’s a grand time revisit the titular character Amy’s epic Cool Girl rant — and not just because it’s one of the few aspects of the story one can discuss without risking spoilage; the screed is truly a thing of beauty. If you’ve somehow forgotten the choice passage (or are one of the five people on earth who didn’t devour the book like … well, like Cool Girl downs chicken wings—extra sauce, please), allow me to refresh your memory:
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.
Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time, Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men—friends, coworkers, strangers—giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them.
Now, back when the book was on everyone’s bedside table, autopsies of Cool Girl were nearly as ubiquitous. And it’s hardly difficult to see why: We recognize Cool Girl; we know her; we love her, we hate her, maybe we are her. Pass the nachos!
The gist of the treatise, which continues for a couple of pages, is not that women cannot enjoy five-card stud, hot dogs or threesomes, nor that women who purport to like Grand Theft Auto, PBR or anal sex are necessarily full of crap; Amy’s vitriol for Cool Girl has to do with the show, the farce of it all. That Cool Girls are pretending is bad enough; worse is that “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.” Depending on the dude’s proclivities, the particular quirks of the Cool Girl might change, but her ultimate mission never does.
And Cool Girl’s mission (besides being hot — the absence of which renders any girl, no matter how many burgers she’ll put down pre- or post-threesome — Not Really That Cool) is to leave the men surrounding her comfortable. Ergo, she is never angry, and is resolutely unruffled by those things that render so many other girls tragically Uncool, among them: thoughts, feelings, concerns about the patriarchy.
Above all, Cool Girl is unchallenging.
For too many women, Cool Girl is not confined to the pages of a novel; she is a kind of archetype — and the problem is that she’s channeled not only when trying to appeal to the sort of man who prefers his women unchallenging (which would be bad enough); she rears her sexy (but, you know, not sexy in a way that looks like it required any effort), unthreatening little head at times when it really matters.
There are whiffs of Cool Girl in the GOP’s oft-trotted talking point, recently articulated by New Hampshire Republican House candidate Marilinda Garcia, who, when questioned about how Democrats are using women’s issues against her, said, “Frankly, I think it’s insulting, because they’re preying upon what they see as a vulnerable group, one that can be swayed with scare tactics.”
Cool Girl isn’t like all the other girls. She doesn’t need “special treatment.”
And she knows just how annoying those other girls can be, too.
In a 2007 speech in support of a law requiring parental notification for abortion, Garcia — a real gal’s gal, this one — said, “a pregnant teen — I mean, most women are emotional roller coasters — but a pregnant teen is an emotional roller coaster going at warp speed.”
Cool Girl isn’t bothered by trifles like paycheck fairness, the Violence Against Women Act, or reproductive rights (hell, Cool Girl officially opposes them all!); Cool Girl only cares about what arrives pre-stamped with the boys’ approval. No need to worry about us, fellas, our concerns are safe! OMG, you care about entitlement reform, national debt, and security? So do we! And we totally don’t mind making less money for the same work, in fact we prefer it; a bigger paycheck is so sexy on a man!
When several female celebs’ privacies were breached when their nude photos were stolen and published, there were echoes of Cool Girl’s voice in the calls for these women to just “own it.”
When criticism aimed at a woman takes a more personal bent than that directed at her male counterpart, Cool Girl isn’t fazed. Don’t take it so personally! she says.
Cool Girl doesn’t ruin football night with pesky concerns about its culture of violence. (Not least because she’s too busy drinking you under the table and stuffing her face with those magically non-fattening hot dogs to bother.) And Cool Girl doesn’t take issue with dress codes that ban yoga pants from high schools because they’re so very distracting; she knows boys can’t be expected to control themselves! Besides, Cool Girl thinks to herself, Lululemon really does do spectacular things for a woman’s butt.
Cool Girl doesn’t buy into that whole “rape culture” thing either; don’t people sometimes drink too much and make bad choices? Cool Girl thinks that women shouldn’t put themselves in compromising situations. She knows that men can’t be expected to control themselves, either! (And women who have a problem with being catcalled by strangers should just lighten up already. Cool Girl realizes it’s a compliment!)
And in the face of that never-ending question—Are you or are you not a feminist? — more often than not, it’s Cool Girl talking when an otherwise smart, empowered woman says no.
She’s a stealthy thing, but her fingerprints are dead-giveaways: It’s Cool Girl pulling the strings when we don’t speak up for ourselves or stand up for our own interests, when instead we acquiesce to the comfort of the status quo. When asked what we want, Cool Girl’s talking when the answer is a chipper: whatever! — and she’s wily enough that we don’t believe we’re putting on a show. No, it’s just that we don’t want to make trouble (or we are too busy participating in super fun orgies and eat-a-thons to notice). Who wants to be all serious all the time? Being serious is such a downer!
It may begin when we’re young and impressionable and want to make ourselves “attractive” to boys — and the message that being Cool Girl will help you achieve Peak Attractive is everywhere (thank those socially awkward movie-writing men) — but then, what happens? When we grow up and see things in the workplace, in our own families, in society at large and in our own social circles that deserve being called out — rather than doing the calling, is Cool Girl’s pull so strong that, even in the face of the health or safety of our own daughters and sons, we’d rather play it cool? Is that why things don’t change?
If you ask me, it’s the Cool Girl who needs to get Gone.
Just a thought.
Er, who wants a beer?
Shannon Kelley is a writer and author based in California who writes frequently on the intersection of feminism, pop culture and politics. Follow her on Twitter @Shannon_BKelley.