The character of the ‘cool’ girl is depicted so frequently that she has, for the most part, slipped under the radar without much attention. However, despite this ambiguity, the character of the ‘cool’ girl has been complicit in upholding patriarchal structures and circulating internalised misogyny without attracting too much attention as she does so.
This ‘cool’ girl trope has no specific physical appearance, but she has a few physical qualities that may help you identify her. She is likely the girl who says that she is ‘not like other girls,’ or that she ‘prefers to hang out with boys’ because girls are annoying. She will probably let you know that she enjoys drinking beer with ‘the boys’ and watching football rather than (insert stereotypical female pastime) with girls.
We should be clear that there is absolutely nothing wrong or unusual about someone who identifies as female drinking beer, enjoying watching football or having heterosexual male friends. These characteristics are completely unrelated to the ‘cool’ girl. What makes the ‘cool’ girl trope problematic is that she takes part in these stereotypically male hobbies in order to perform for the male gaze, not because she actually enjoys them.
Perhaps the best example of the ‘cool’ girl is demonstrated most accurately by the character of Mary Jensen in the 1998 film There’s Something About Mary. Mary (played by Cameron Diaz) is the epitome of the ‘cool’ girl, her character being a vehicle for the male gaze: she is passionate about sports, regularly eats fast food while maintaining a size 6 figure and is never disagreeable or strongly opinionated in the presence of men. And for these reasons she finds herself helplessly surrounded by male suitors at every corner she turns. The character of Mary Jensen is but one example of the depiction of the ‘cool’ girl that we have seen in film and TV and is perhaps the most noteworthy because of how transparent this ‘cool’ girl was. It is not coincidence that the character of Mary Jensen is cast alongside male protagonist ‘Ted’ (Ben Stiller), who neatly fits into the role of the ‘dorky’ high school ‘nice guy’ who feels wronged that he never gets his shot with the high school sweetheart. In other words, Mary Jensen is testimony to the ‘cool’ girl as created by men, for the entertainment of other men.
Mary Jensen is one example of the ‘cool’ girl in the form of a digestible, harmless romcom. In 2012, author Gillian Flynn presented us with a different take, in the form of Amy Dunne, who’s marriage to her husband Nick falls apart when she realises their relationship was never real, and that she was playing the part of ‘cool’ girl Amy throughout their relationship. The novel was remade into a film in 2014, with Rosamund Pike playing the role of Amy, who delivers a chilling monologue of the ‘cool’ girl as she leaves not only her husband, but the pretend role of ‘cool’ girl Amy behind. In this monologue, she addresses the typical traits of the ‘cool’ girl: she pretends to enjoy beer and sports, she eats fast food but simultaneously maintains a size 2, her sex life is purely for the enjoyment of her partner, rather than her own pleasure. However, Amy goes a step further than the identifiable traits of the ‘cool’ girl that we see in a character like Mary Jensen, arriving at the conclusion that when it comes to the ‘cool’ girl, ‘she likes what he likes.’ ‘She’ is one of many ‘cool’ girls reflecting the image that their partner wants to see.
This is the tragic fate of the ‘cool’ girl. She upholds an unrealistic standard of women who enjoy everything that men like, with the sole purpose of making her more desirable, more attractive, and more valuable than her ‘uncool’ sisters. The character of Mary Jensen is the product of patriarchal desires that make a ‘cool’ girl neatly fit into the desirable box of performing for the male gaze. Amy Dunne admits to maintaining this performance as a result of her internalised misogyny, where she wanted a man like her husband Nick to want her equally as much.