With the popularity of the book-turned-movie “Gone Girl” (2014), the Cool Girl trope has been on an impressive publicity scheme, when she usually just lurks in the shadows. Gillian Flynn, author of “Gone Girl,” claims that this gendered role doesn’t exist — she is merely a fantasy that takes different forms in the minds of men, while tormenting women as she laughs and flips her hair. She never demands attention, never intimidates and never threatens. She simply reaps the benefits of being seen as feminine-looking and masculine-minded, but with zero self-acknowledgment of either. “Sexy? Who me? I’m just one of the guys,” she proclaims. Girls want to be her. Boys want to be with her. They wait for the day to come when a girl will just prance into their man cave, eat day-old chicken wings and drink Keystone while beating them at “Call of Duty.” He will know has found the one. And if he hasn’t found her yet, it’s just a matter of time until she appears with a glowing rim of light surrounding her — most likely at a beer-league slow-pitch softball game, a Bruins autograph signing, Comic-Con or a street meat hot dog stand in Alphabet City.
For those who still waiting their turn to be graced with their own God-given Cool Girl, there are celebrities — like Zooey Deschanel in “500 Days of Summer” (2009), Cameron Diaz in “There’s Something About Mary” (1998) and Jennifer Lawrence in real life — to hold them over until they meet their own. Though these actresses are modern representations of Cool Girls, this phenomenon dates back to earlier stars. Not an obvious bombshell like Bardot or Monroe, not classy sophisticated like Hepburn, but a whole new genre. If Marilyn is wearing a silk slip and Audrey is wearing a tweed petticoat, Cool Girl wears cutoff overalls and a white tank top and her hair in a messy side ponytail. Take Clara Bow, for instance.
A BuzzFeed article described this 1920s actress as having “short, flaming red hair, a thick Brooklyn accent and horrible manners; instead of dining with the stodgy Hollywood elite, she spent her weekends hanging out at the USC football games, flirting with the players, including a young, pre-stardom John Wayne.”
If in fact Cool Girl is merely a unicorn-type phenomenon — only rumors of sightings, no factual evidence — then it takes a smart woman to play the role of Cool Girl. She has to realize subconsciously that she will get the best of both worlds while toying with gender. I would be foolish to claim that a real, true Cool Girl does not exist for the same reason I have never claimed mermaids aren’t living layers beneath us. Who am I to say that the massive chunks of unexplored ocean aren’t mermaid-laden aquatic metros? Who am I to say Cool Girls aren’t out there too, probably offended by allegations of deception and manipulation (but still somehow totally chill about it because of her incessant “chillness.”) And to be honest, I don’t give up on either idea because a small part of me likes the idea that Cool Girls could exist, the same way the existence of mermaids could ensure that my childhood fantasies are real.
However, the Cool Girl aesthetic seems to be a tool developed by those who seek to be desired by all, but threaten no one. And at a place like Dartmouth, there are a high number of Cool Girl perpetrators and enthusiasts.
You’ve seen her, the Dartmouth Cool Girl. She wears wool socks, doesn’t blow-dry her hair and skis in the winter. She plays club sports, bikes to class, could kick your ass at tennis and doesn’t “believe” in the gym. She runs the table in a basement, appreciates a good dance party and never gets sloppy-drunk, but always stays at a carefree tipsy. After ordering EBA’s with the guys, you’ll find her at in the library at 9 a.m., studying, polished and put-together, cheeks rosy from her morning run and ready for the class she is TA’ing.
She does it all. She isn’t obnoxious, but when she talks, people listen. She studied abroad in Morocco, speaks fluent French and plans her exams around the sunny days when she can lay on the Green and read a book. She combines intelligence, wit and humor. We don’t see her break down crying about a midterm, vomiting outside a fraternity or gossiping on 3FB.
Jillian Katz ’17 said that at Dartmouth, the concept of Cool Girl represents an impossible standard of behavior.
“[She] represents the combination of the things we hope to achieve at campus — a perfect balance of academic and social, effortlessly beautiful, surrounded by girl friends and chased by guys,” she said. “Many of these things are inherently paradoxes. How can she finish the last three slices of EBA’s and still be skinny? Be the last person in the basement, yet also ace her econ exam?”
Florence Gonsalves ’15 agreed, commenting on how Cool Girls are more than happy to drink Keystone, eat Collis mozz sticks and still maintain an impossible figure. They don’t care about work but are naturally brilliant.
“The Cool Girl is unobtainable as all Cool Girls are,” she said. “I don’t think it’s an issue of gender roles but an issue of doing and being it all. There is a widespread goal of literally being everything, but it’s a paradox. Like being able to drink a lot but never being too drunk.”
From Flynn’s perspective, the Cool Dartmouth Girl is only an act. But for many of us, she so clearly epitomizes everything we feel that we cannot be, at least all at once. In fact, Cool Dartmouth Girl might take form in several different human beings, each possessing a quality that makes up her beast. Somewhere between female and male, she relates to both. Cool Dartmouth Girl is a bundle of insecurities manifested in a nonexistent being who we think others desire. But do they?
Cody Nilsen ’15 said she believes most women make some attempt at achieving the Cool Girl ideal no matter how much they deny it.
“I think women must walk the delicate line between being flirty and feminine while also low key and able to ‘hang,’” she said. “I think a lot of it involves a low-key sex appeal, and making it come off as natural and effortless, when in reality it is anything but.”
Nilsen said she thinks people are aware of the delicate nature of the gender politics debate on our campus, but that few people have genuinely internalized the issue and formed real opinions. Instead, Nilsen said people focus on not “coming off” as sexist, while in reality they secretly continue to idolize the people who seem to be Cool Girls which in turn only strengthens stereotypes. The delicacy means that these important issues are not discussed and dispelled, she added.
“Do most girls want to go into a smelling, Keystone-infested basement and hit a ball back and forth for an hour-and-a-half?” Emory Orr ’16 questioned. “My personal guess is no, but ‘since the girls that guys actually think are cool do it, I have to do it or they’re going to think I’m some princess.’”
With the creation of Cool Girl, comes the counterpart of “Cool Boy.” Less famous, underrated and less scrutinized, he resides as Cool Girl’s counterpart. From the female perspective, he has rock-hard biceps and broad shoulders, but he also plays guitar and writes poetry. He doesn’t need to be asked to listen, he understands. He cooks you gluten-free blueberry pancakes. Cool Boy is just as ridiculous as Cool Girl, and he exists in the mental realms of Dartmouth as well. Girls complain that “every guy is the same,” and they wait for Cool Boy to hit them like a ton of bricks. What they don’t see is that Cool Boy must live up to a different set of standards. To achieve his status, one must execute “effortless indifference.” Cool Boy must work hard, but not too hard. He must crush his paper, but if he doesn’t make it out to play three games of pong, can we really call the night a success?
Boys must excel in all areas of their life while appearing care-free. This paradox sets up the belief that it’s cool to succeed, but uncool to care.
There’s social pressure for boys, too. Orr said most boys don’t actually want to get dressed up for every formal with the “hot sorority girl.” Instead, they’ll argue that attending said events are necessary to be liked by friends and eventually to hook up.
Dartmouth culture can expect male and female students to exist in either one of two gendered spaces. Men crawl down to their basements while women get prepared to “go out,” be social and “cool.” Either Cool Boy is expected to dress up and take selfies all night or Cool Girl is expected to shotgun beers and sink cups.
The labels, Alexander Velaise ’15 said, come from the separation of genders at Dartmouth.
“I do think men strive for a lazier version of what you’ve described, with a bit less cooking and more drinking,” Velaise said.
But Dartmouth students often build their lives around a standard of perfection. Unfortunately, academics only represent one pillar of perfection, and this standard trickles down into daily decisions.
“Eating alone? You may as well put a sign over their head that says, ‘I’m unaffiliated, not an athlete and there’s nobody around me — stay clear because there’s clearly something wrong.’” Orr said. “Mental illness? Eating disorders? Bipolar? ADHD? Those are weaknesses and signs of vulnerability. Many don’t like either of those traits here at Dartmouth. They don’t have time for weakness. They’re always busy because even though they’ve binge-watched season two of ‘House of Cards,’ and put off work for three days, they still can’t be bothered with a FoCo dinner.”
The aesthetic that we are balanced, carefree, efficacious human beings must be met at all time, with our only alternatives as lying or hiding. Cool Girl and Cool Boy don’t come out until their well-secured masks are on.
“The façade of Cool Girl/Boy is rampant on this campus, and it’s a façade that needs to be addressed and terminated,” Orr said. “We are not perfect. Individuality is not a sin. But often times we’re treating it like it’s one.”
Let’s not overlook the obvious here. We are talking about children, Cool Girl and Cool Boy. That’s because Cool Man and Cool Woman don’t exist. If they did, they’d come along with a load of other inevitable qualities that make them man and woman — products of biology and evolution — and those qualities are far less convenient tools.
Maybe drinking vodka cranberries, using an elliptical, admitting to spending time on my hair and sometimes crying for no reason makes me so utterly not Cool Girl, but that’s okay. Just like it’s okay for a boy to skip the rom-com movie, question your overpriced KAF coffees and sometimes light stuff on fire just because. And it’s okay to fall somewhere in between those extremes. Gender politics are complicated enough without “Cool People” testing our ideas of perfection.
“When you think you found one in real life, they’re surely faking it, even if they’re good at it,” Mark Baum ’15 said. “Nobody can do it all. Nobody can even come close without lots of effort. It just takes a little time to realize that and let go of the ideal, because it’s dangerous. You lose yourself in the process of becoming ‘cool.’”
Cool Girl may have hit the big screen this fall, but she is just another face in the crowd at Dartmouth. Ask yourself if she can really immaculately strike down the gender binary, but also ask yourself if Ariel swims in the ocean with Flounder and Sebastian.
Gonsalves is a member of The Dartmouth opinion staff.