Introduction to “The Cool Girl”:
The “Cool Girl” archetype was initially identified by Gillian Flynn in her 2012 novel Gone Girl.In the novel, protagonist Amy fakes her own disappearance and leaves a trail of clues ultimately intended to implicate her husband in the crime. Amy diatribes about the impossibility of the Cool Girl after she reveals her plot to the reader over halfway through the book:
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.
In short, the Cool Girl in Gone Girl is a woman who acts like a man and looks like a supermodel.She does not have the emotional depth or insecurities that complicate women to men, deeming her an ideal female construction for the prevailing “bro-culture” of the modern age. After Gone Girl’s David Fincher film adaptation in 2014, the Cool Girl received mass media attention as a revelation of a contemporary female archetype that had gone nameless. Amy’s frustration with the pressure to be a “Cool Girl” resonated with many viewers, and the film’s brilliant rendition of the written monologue sparked widespread debate about the Cool Girl’s presence in modern day film, literature, and more.
Essential to the Cool Girl’s success is her authenticity. In the article “Jennifer Lawrence And The History Of Cool Girls”, journalist Anne Helen Petersen refers to the allure of Cool Girls and what prevent us from—at least initially—hating them: “She’s never polished; she’s always fucking up.”Peterson’s article points out that the Cool Girl is not an entirely new archetype. Indeed, according to Peterson, each era of cinema has had its own “Cool Girls” who woo male audiences and push the boundaries of femininity. Often, these celebrities have faded from the spotlight when they cross the line of acceptable “Cool Girl” behavior and do something which deems them undesirable.But there is something about the modern-day Cool Girl which makes her decidedly different from her predecessors. For one, an increasingly informal society has changed male culture, creating a new form of male behavior referred to as “bro culture.”The 2012 article, “A Quick and Dirty Tour of Misogynistic Bro Culture,” reflects that “popular culture, especially cultural products aimed at young men, teaches men to be womanizers.”Specifically, the article cites that the pervasiveness of pornography caused by the internet largely contributes to bro-culture, and allows men easy access to porn at an early age. As a result, many men grow up accustomed to the idea of women as sex objects or the subject of fantasy.Other impacts of technology, such as sports networks like ESPN and TV shows like Entourage, which facilitate male gatherings and make “bros” an on-screen staple, legitimize the bro behavior. For the Cool Girl, bro-culture presents a new set of criteria which she must meet to be deemed “Cool”. Cool Girls of the modern day must eat like the boys, watch sports like the boys, and be game for the gross and harassing behavior that bros are likely to inflict on her from time to time.
This paper aims to dissect on-screen representations of the Cool Girl and examine how the persona has, due to wild popularity, transitioned from fictional characters to real-world celebrities. Moreover, I intend to explore how the Cool Girl fantasy has sparked a real-world expectation among young men who grew up watching the Cool Girl on-screen. These analyses will ultimately conclude with a projection of the Cool Girl’s future. Ultimately, I want to show that, while the Cool Girl may be marketable, her effortless Cool and Hot persona relies on a sense of authenticity and effortlessness that leashes her to the will of the patriarchy.
The Cool Girl’s Romantic Comedy Rebirth:
Though, as Peterson points out in her article,the Cool Girl archetype is nothing new, the modern day Cool Girl is in many ways a byproduct of late 90s and early 2000s romantic comedies. Romantic comedies serve as a natural fit for Cool Girl characters, since these women are the ideal objects of male desire and it is easy for men to trip over themselves in attempts to woo the ethereal Cool Girl. Three movies which present modern Cool Girls are:
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003)
The Cool Girl Manifested in Celebrity:
Except from an Interview With Mila KunisCool Girls have a unique duality on and off screen. Due to their likeable status on-screen, some Cool Girl actresses and performers have assumed the role in their off-screen personas as well. Many of these women are extremely well-liked, and seen as the authentic “relatable girl” celebrities that Hollywood has long been lacking. While Cool Girls may appear to be universally likable, response to celebrities who emulate the archetype suggest that being a Cool Girl is more of a balancing act than a recipe for success.
On the other hand, Cool Girls, namely Jennifer Lawrence, have received immense scrutiny for their “Coolness”, with some fans calling it contrived. Some blogs tear these actresses apart.
The Cult of the Cool Girl
While the celebrity and fictional Cool Girls are not necessarily harmful in and of themselves, they seem to cultivate a male obsession that promotes unrealistic standards and misogyny. Take, for example, the popular blog Total Frat Move.
Total Frat Move, or TFM, appeals to young college men in fraternities, providing weekly fraternity stories and “TFM Babes of the Day” through both their website and Instagram. TFM has largely embraced the Cool Girl as a female standard. In short, women who act the part of the Cool Girl are accepted and praised by the blog, while those who are too needy or unwilling to throw back a beer are admonished.
Other male-media sites send similar messages. The extremely popular website and media company Barstool Sports, for instance, has a selection of eight, nearly all-white, thin and conventionally attractive girls permitted to write for the website. These women are the Cool Girls—between their looks and willingness to write articles on sports, they are the idealized women of the modern-day bro. Their section, titled “Barstool Chicks”, includes bits such as the “Call Her Daddy” podcast, which corroborates their sexualization by male readers and staff members. One Barstool Chicks article, titled “Sean ‘McBae’ Continues To Win On And Off The Field” talks about the “smokeshow” girlfriend of an NFL coach, linking revealing photos from her Instagram and saying that the coach has everything, including “an absolute rocket to go home to every night.”In these instances, the Cool Girl is complicit in the objectification of other women, and contributes happily to a misogynistic male culture.
- David Fincher, Gone Girl, (2014):https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PaoQNDIf6pY
- The first source to examine is the infamous Cool Girl monologue in the 2014 Gone Girl film adaptation, directed by David Fincher. In the clip, we understand Amy’s plot to fake her disappearance, drive away, and begin a new life for herself through a series of cut shots. She begins the monologue as she is driving, then as she is transforming herself from the perfect, skinny, well-manicured “Cool Girl” to what she perceives as the total opposite. She dyes her hair a mousy brown, wears shapeless clothing, buys drug store hair products, and eats junk food for herself, not to please those around her. All the while, Amy’s voice plays in the background, as the script deviates slightly from Flynn’s original writing to heighten Amy’s scorned woman narrative and delve deeper into her archetype’s role in her failed marriage.
- Anne Helen Petersen, “Jennifer Lawrence And The History Of Cool Girls,” BuzzFeed, accessed November 11, 2018, https://www.buzzfeed.com/annehelenpetersen/jennifer-lawrence-and-the-history-of-cool girls.
- In this article, journalist Anne Helen Peterson responds to the Cool Girl archetype presented in Gone Girl. She begins the piece with an examination of who many consider the ultimate real-life Cool Girl, Jennifer Lawrence. Peterson writes: “Lawrence performs Cool Girlness with such skill, such seamlessness, that it doesn’t seem like a performance at all. I’m not suggesting that Lawrence is intentionally inauthentic, scheming, or manipulative: Rather, like all the Cool Girls you know, she’s subconsciously figured out what makes people like her, and she’s using it.” Peterson claims that the Cool Girl is a manifestation of all personality traits deemed ideal by the patriarchy, and thus that many Cool Girls use the persona as a means of self-promotion rather than genuine authenticity. It is in itself, an archetype characterized by manufactured authenticity. Peterson goes on to note a few Cool Girls who will be mentioned in this paper, specifically Mila Kunis, Olivia Munn, and Olivia Wilde, before diving into a historical analysis of past Cool Girls. She cites Clara Bow, Carole Lombard, and Jane Fonda as three of Lawrence’s predecessors.
- Kat Stoeffel, “Chrissy Tiegan is the Queen of the Cool Girls,” The Cut, accessed November 11, 2018, https://www.thecut.com/2014/08/chrissy-teigen-is-the-queen-of-the-cool-girls.html
- This article analyzes Chrissy Tiegan as an additional example of the Cool Girl archetype, claiming that Tiegan ticks all boxes that Flynn defined in her initial analysis.
- EW Staff, “Searching for the Ultimate TV/Movie ‘Cool Girl’” Entertainment Weekly, accessed November 11, 2018: https://ew.com/article/2014/10/03/cool-girl-gone-girl-trope/
- A list of characters who are thought to comply with the “Cool Girl” archetype and an analysis of how well they actually fit the description.
- Annie Lord, “Dear Jennifer Lawrence, please can you stop pretending to be normal now,” 2017: https://thetab.com/uk/2017/12/14/dear-jennifer-lawrence-please-can-you-stop-pretending-to-be-normal-now-55374
- Lord writes a scathing article attacking Jennifer Lawrence for her persona, and “revealing” that her feigned “masculine” and “bro-y” personality quirks are actually just masking her underlying “rude” personality. The article claims that Lawrence is manufactured and attacks her in numerous aspects, finding clips where she tries to play off what the author considers “mean” behavior as something “chill” and “relatable”. Lord’s article is self-defeating, as she rips Lawrence apart with such lacking empathy that you can not help but feel bad that Lawrence suffers so much criticism for attempting to achieve success in a male-dominated industry.
- Becca Rothfield, “Gone Girl’s Feminist Update of the Old-Fashioned Femme Fatale,” 2014: https://newrepublic.com/article/119743/gone-girl-has-offered-feminism-new-hero
- Rothfield posits that changing male ideals have resulted in a new type of sexism, one which rejects the ultra-femininity of previous eras and declares the “Cool Girl” as the ideal female. Rothfield roots the “Cool Girl” of Gone Girl in the longstanding Femme Fatale archetype of film noir. Amy intends to harm her husband as a means of punishing him for inflicting his ideals onto her personality, forcing her to live a sham existence in order to make him happy.
- Patrick Osborne, “’I’m the Bitch That Makes You a Man’: Conditional Love as Female Vengeance in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl,” Florida State University
- Osborne argues that Amy can be viewed as a “feminist anti-hero that rejects (yet also ambivalently overconforms to) the postfeminist simulation: ‘cool girl.’” Osborne argues that Amy’s rejection of her former Cool Girl persona is in part a way to bolster her belief that unconditional love is impossible. In her monologue, Osborne contends, Amy effectively disassembles the manufactured aspects of her personality that were intended to please her husband and prevent him from viewing her as opposing or imperfect in any way.
- Emily VanLeuvan, “Film Genre and David Fincher’s Gone Girl,” Bridgewater State University, 2016.
- VanLeuvan takes her analysis of Amy’s monologue a step further, analyzing the specifics of the scene and declaring the cinematic sequence as a visual demonstration of Amy’s liberation from the pressures women feel to please men.
- “Stephanie Orman, “’What a Perfect Monster!’ Gone Girl’sDestabilization of Feminine Archetypes in Popular Media,” Simmons College, 2016.
- Orman’s piece focuses less on Amy’s Cool Girl status, and more on her role as a post-feminist heroine for the reader, one who deploys every trick in the book to gain sympathy from the public and then rips away her narrative as a sympathetic female victim to explore her own agency and intention in her actions. The piece demonstrates an important way that women may feel resistant to the Cool Girl and may give some insight as to why the public has begun to sour on the archetype. No one expresses the public’s frustration more than the Cool Girl herself, and this linkage is key to understanding how and why we must break down this archetype as a patriarchal construction.
Anne Helen Petersen, “Jennifer Lawrence And The History Of Cool Girls,” BuzzFeed, accessed November 12, 2018, https://www.buzzfeed.com/annehelenpetersen/jennifer-lawrence-and-the-history-of-cool-girls.
“Welcome to Total Frat Move | By Grandex Media,” accessed January 15, 2019, https://totalfratmove.com/.
Kayce Smith1/14/2019 12:10 PM, “Sean ‘McBae’ Continues To Win On And Off The Field,” accessed January 15, 2019, https://www.barstoolsports.com/chicks/sean-mcbae-continues-to-win-on-and-off-the-field.