Who run the world? (Cool) girls.
With the social media craze dominating our society more than ever, it seems that people around the world — especially girls — are passing increasingly superficial judgments on one another. Even here at Dartmouth, social standards and expectations are certainly set high, with more and more conditions necessary to meet in order for a girl to be labeled by her peers as “cool.”
According to Ezgi Okutan ’22, her first encounters with the Dartmouth social scene have posed a number of new, unexpected challenges, including a constant need to put on a facade of ease and happiness.
“In college, I feel there’s this perception that you have to be social and happy all the time to be considered a cool girl,” Okutan said. “Even when I’m feeling down, I’ve noticed I always try to smile and say hi to people, which can be hard at times.”
Reminiscing on her own freshman year, Nashe Mutenda ’20 shared similar sentiments of the social expectations she faced, recalling the sometimes unrealistic or even toxic standards that she and her friends had often aimed to meet.
“During my freshman year, I personally felt this overwhelming pressure to be active in the social scene because I felt like I’d miss out on something if I didn’t act that way,” Mutenda said. “The social pressure here can be pretty intense sometimes because there are unspoken expectations for girls to seem that they have a lot of friends and that they’re always having fun.”
It seems that much of the extreme social strain imposed on girls at Dartmouth stems from the fact that the Greek system plays such a significant role in the social sphere, especially compared to other Ivy League institutions. Joelle Park ’19 shared her own experience with the Greek system and its relation with her social experience at Dartmouth.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a unanimous decision of what it means to be cool at Dartmouth, since people and their social environments are all so different here,” Park said. “That being said, people definitely treated me differently after I rushed, which introduced me to the concept that the Greek house I’m in might say a lot more to people than my personality does.”
Similarly, in Mutenda’s experience, a girl’s Greek affiliation very often played a role on girls’ initial judgments of one another.
“When people don’t know a person, one of the first questions they’ll often ask is where that person is affiliated, and they pass subsequent judgments about that person based on the answer,” Mutenda said. “There’s no doubt that the Greek system definitely plays a large role in shaping the idea of who’s cool on campus or who has a lot of social capital.”
At this point in the year, with nearly half of the Class of 2023 already committed through Early Decision, current students had much advice for the incoming freshmen, particularly the girls. For one, Okutan called the ’23s to embrace individuality on a campus that can so often value conformity to social norms.
“I think the most important thing is to be open about who you are and what you want and to share that with other people,” Okutan said. “Showing people who you really are is honestly the coolest thing you can do. Don’t do things because other people are doing it, but rather because you want to.”
Mutenda also shared her story of rooting her social life through her personal identity rather than through the mainstream Dartmouth nightlife.
“Don’t get me wrong, pong can be great,” Mutenda said. “But sometimes sitting around watching people play pong isn’t the most fulfilling thing, and you’re not crazy for thinking that. After two and a half years of being here, the social scene can get really repetitive, which is why I now think it’s a lot cooler and more rewarding to seek a social scene through things I care most about, like music and the arts.”
As her four years at Dartmouth come to a close, Park encouraged ’23s to employ a positive mentality of unique personal growth and change — rather than uniformity — during their undergraduate years.
“What I would personally define ‘cool’ as now is not the same as what someone else here would define it as, or even what I would have thought in the past,” Park said. “Always have intentionality with who you want to be, and know your own values and worth no matter what anyone around you says.”
So, while being known as a “cool” girl on campus might seem to come with some unappealing criteria such as putting on an act of perpetual enthusiasm, happiness or perfection, many girls here actually come to similar conclusions: that these standards are rather unrealistic — and simply unfulfilling — for most.
This phenomenon is not specific to Dartmouth, however. Now more than ever, women are prioritizing self-care and emotional well-being over previous traditional social standards. They have started to embrace more “wholesome” lifestyle trends, such as social media detoxes and booze-free living. In other words, being grounded and authentic seems to be society’s new version of “cool.”
Cultivating this type of culture at Dartmouth will no doubt be a challenge, as there is no foreseeable end to the college’s “work hard, play even harder” culture. However, through candid conversation between members of the female community here on campus, I think we’d all be able to agree on tweaking the definition of a “cool” girl, at least a bit; after all, why set these unrealistic expectations if we ourselves don’t truly even wish to meet them?
Okutan is a member of The Dartmouth.