She’s not like other girls. She’s special. She’s different. Throughout our lives, us women are constantly working towards being the exception. Many of us have no choice but to work tirelessly to step out of the “inferior” frame of femininity and become someone worthy of praise from the people in control (cough, white men) to succeed. Gillian Flynn put it best in her renowned novel Gone Girl: we are all trying, whether we are aware of it or not, to be the “cool girl.” The “cool girl” is a woman who isn’t necessarily being the woman she wants to be, but is “pretending to be the woman a man wants [her] to be.” The “cool girl” is evident in attempts to romantically win over a man by maximizing our interests in his hobbies and minimizing our own passions. She is noticeable in us trying to dull down our feminine-sounding voice in job interviews, to appeal to the masculine standards that exist in corporate arenas. She is visible when we rearrange our personalities to appease those with more social power. And can you blame us? We are living in a world that was initially designed for men to succeed. But these efforts to break out of our feminine shell are costly and can come at the expense of our own authenticity.
When I was in middle school, I was constantly trying to stand out as a woman to be a desirable exception in all areas of my life. I tried listening to music genres typically attributed to male taste, like rap and rock. I rejected tight fitting skirts when I had a class presentation and opted for looser pants instead. I edited feminist jargon out of my vocabulary. I tried to diverge from stereotypically “feminine” activities and personality characteristics. But these were not the things I was truly passionate about. I was interested in pop music, make-up, ballet, traditionally “feminine” attire, and speaking out about feminist activists and movements. I had become a watered down, manufactured version of myself, because I thought the aspects of me that were stereotypically feminine would hold me back from succeeding professionally, academically, and personally.
It’s easy for some to fall into this trap and its easier for others to avoid it. And this inadvertent code-switching looks different for women of all races, sexualities, classes, and more. But either way, what’s truly important to make progress in the larger, macro feminist agenda is to mitigate these urges to edit ourselves. We must be true to ourselves, whether our interests are regarded as closer or further away from gender or not. The “cool girl” is a construct that we all have the power to destroy. From the bottom up, and with a lot of time, we can begin cultivating a world that accepts all women, not just the “cool” ones.