Understanding the Myth of the 'Cool Girl' Trope through Gone Girl
Artwork by Nour Kzar
Written by Shubhada Sonwalker
The fantastic film Gone Girl's most iconic scene is a monologue. It's that part in which, Annie the protagonist executes the whole montage of her own murder and frames her husband for it. She does so not just to avenge an affair, but, more importantly, to seek a release from all the years of play-acting the 'Cool Girl'. The girl who is one of the guys, someone who can share all his passions without judgment, she doesn't try to cling to her man, She believes in him never tries to change if in any way at all. All these qualities make her fundamentally not like the 'other girls'. By becoming one of the guys, she consequently becomes the cool girl.
We can witness this character in so many rom-coms, sit-coms, and even in celebrities who seamlessly don the persona for the public. This trope defined by the writer of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn has some common features across all her iterations. Her character is one of the guys, she takes an interest in predominantly- supposed and perpetuated- masculine activities, which includes showing an interest in cars, cigars, booze, and sports. Most importantly she reflects the male protagonist's interest. 'She likes what he likes. If he likes girls gone wild. She's a mall babe who takes football and endures buffalo wings at hooters', cites Flynn in her book. She is always fun-loving, casual, uninhibited, and raunchy. But, this ‘bro-like’ temperament is always packaged in an effortlessly (believe me there is no such thing as effortless) hot female body.
She is also very easygoing and never gets angry. All through these crafty portrayals, most saliently she is not a real girl. She's a myth created by men who desire her and perpetuated by women who pretend to be her. The problem with this trope is not that it's a male fantasy, more deeply it's a problem that not only does this woman need to look exactly like the guy wishes and wants but she also needs to be the same on the inside.
Gone Girl investigates this toxic fallout of a woman feeling emotionally drained out by constantly being pushed to perform and live up to these bizarre expectations. As the monologue plays while she commits the perfect crime, we can infer that it is the pretense that made her a total sociopath. She is out to seek revenge from the one person she spent most of her life with, pretending and vying for attention. It is clear that this facade, like most others, has a breakdown point and a memorable one at that.
No such pretense can survive a long term relationship as it requires the burdensome chore of constantly suppressing your true and authentic self. This trope has also been termed as a phase that most women go through in their early 20's. But, Gone Girl argues that this buildup starts way before- when we are mere children.
According to Gone Girl, when the cool girl gets tired of pretending and starts to express her individuality, her man will ditch her for a newer model of the same kind. However, the movie does not put the sole blame on Nick (the protagonist’s husband) for the fallout. Nick is simply dumbfounded because he never had to accommodate any women who have her own mind into his life.
Throughout the history of popular culture, we can see countless such portrayals of the cool girl trope. From the romcom There's Something about Sally (1998) to the character of Robin in How I met your Mother. These are headstrong women, beautiful, yes, but also have a genuine and fierce personality. They enjoy the work they do and also enjoy things like sports, scotch or casual sex (things which aren’t surpringly exlusive to a gender, yes). The male protagonists in these films/shows cannot help but fall head-over-heels for these women. Although funnily enough, her individuality is the factor that simultaneously drove these men towards the aforementioned women but also away from them.
These women’s fundamental issue with long-term commitment is given a dogmatic significance. Most shows and movies are centered around taming them down and cajoling them into a domestic life. In the TV Show FRIENDS, Ross falls for Bonnie, a stunning and brazen activist who’s also adventurous. He genuinely seems interested in her, but loses all his proclivity once she expresses herself in ways [shaves her head] he doesn’t deem lies in the ambit of adventure or attractiveness . She can be adventurous so long as he deems fit. She is still supposed to have a homely and supportive demeanor like Rachel (whom he leaves Bonnie for and cheats on with too).
Even in the world of superheroes like Avengers, Black Widow played by Scarlet Johansson is a skilled, talented, and truly irreplaceable part of the team. But, in the later storylines, she's often put on the sidelines for moral support and even sacrificed in the end for the larger good- a general sentiment expected out of women. This perpetuates the idea that a girl is attractive only so long as she doesn't surpass the guy in her coolness factor. By not allowing her to truly utilize her potential, the trope compromises such genuinely smart and strong women.
Another factor in this sequence of this trope, in Flynn’s words is that,‘The Cool Girl is above all- Hot’. This idea puts a colossal pressure on women to look pretty and sensual while enduring unhealthy lifestyle habits to sustain the image. For instance, in the movie Miss Congeniality- like most Sandra Bullock romcoms- Bullock is the butt of the workplace jokes. Her unladylike demeanor makes her prone to demeaning comments which have no relation to her work ethic at all. Her eating habits and lifestyle are constantly made fun of, until she goes through a textbook makeover and is revealed to be gorgeous behind all that nonchalance on her part. Her quirky, masculine and dorky characteristics are received as charming suddenly.
This trope is also used to put down other women; who are more uptight, classically feminine, or who care too much. Society has always pitted women against one another- most commonly seen as the classical conflict of the blond and the brunette, by deeming certain quintessential female qualities as somehow less worthy or unattractive. Hence, this idea of the cool girl continues to perpetuate misogyny in everyday life through veiled means.