In the bestselling Gillian Flynn mystery novel, Gone Girl, anti-heroine Amy Dunne expresses a deep resentment for a type of woman she labels the Cool Girl.
The Cool Girl, Dunne says, is “a brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, 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. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Men actually think this girl exists.” But this girl doesn’t exist — at least not according to Amy Dunne. She is a “pretender,” a thin, beautiful thorn in the side of women everywhere, feigning interest in the pastimes of men.
When Gone Girl was published in 2012, Gillian Flynn’s Cool Girl passage went mainstream; today there are entire Tumblr pages devoted to mocking insufferably laid-back stunning women who allegedly pretend to enjoy everything the boys around them do. In fact, until very recently when she wrote an essay decrying the Hollywood gender wage gap, Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence was deemed a Cool Girl on account of her red carpet antics — eating McDonalds in a designer gown and flipping off the press, Oscar in hand. (My theory is that many Cool Girls are actually just conventionally attractive lesbians; another reason for eating like a pig and burping in front of cute boys? You genuinely don’t care what they think about you.)
Flynn likely wrote the Cool Girl passage — with its aversion to man worshipping and unrealistic beauty standards — from a feminist perspective. But its message has always struck me as inherently anti-feminist, not to mention prudish — especially the notion that a “chill” girl is somehow incapable of standing up for herself; that theatrics and rage are required to be a feminist. This is why pop star Ariana Grande’s recent appearance on a now viral L.A. radio segment was — no pun intended — so cool. Grande, a pop star known as much for her impossible beauty as her breathy vocals, recently appeared on L.A.’s hip hop radio station, Power 106, and proceeded to very calmly and effectively tell off a group of radio DJs for their sexist comments without losing her cool or starting a revolution.
In other words, Grande — a supposedly Cool Girl — turned Cool Girl theory on its head. When one of the DJs gave her a ludicrous ultimatum — “If you could use makeup or your phone one last time, which would you pick?” — Grande looked immediately annoyed and countered: “Is this what you think girls have trouble choosing between?” When the DJs inquired about her favourite emojis and suggested that men should not use the decidedly effeminate “unicorn emoji” Grande challenged them. “You need a little brushing up on equality around here. Who says the unicorn emoji isn’t for men?” When asked what she wants to change about the world (the first non-asinine question posed to her) Grande responded: “Double standards, misogyny, racism, sexism. We’ve got work to do. We’ll start with you.”
All of this was said amid laughter and playful chiding — but the message was crystal clear: Grande was cool and these guys were definitely not.
Grande’s response might seem commonplace in 2015, when everyone is familiar with the image of Beyoncé dancing triumphantly before a gigantic “Feminist” sign or Emma Watson speaking about women’s rights at the UN, but it’s rare to see a pop star take on a group of jerky guys in casual conversation — free from an official feminist mandate or cause. (When I was a teenager in the mid-2000s it was unheard of for sex symbols Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears — cool girls in their own right — to openly challenge the jerky radio DJs who tried to flirt by insulting them on air).
What made Grande’s comebacks so powerful and popular was not necessarily that she ripped the DJs a new one for their bigotry, but that she made their sexist questions and outdated gender mores look supremely lame. Sometimes the eye roll is more powerful than the tirade. And the eye roll, unlike the tirade, is accessible to everyone.
Ariana Grande proved with calm and class that you don’t have to dance in front of a sparkling monument to feminism, or address an international political body to stand up for yourself. There are more understated ways of doing so that are just as effective and powerful, and, most importantly, within reach of the majority of women and girls in the world — cool or not.