Last week, I watched the trailer for the movie adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestseller, Gone Girl. It stars Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, the husband suspected of kidnapping/killing his wife, Amy. I didn’t picture Affleck as Nick as I was reading the book last year. I imagined someone better-looking than him, someone almost disturbingly handsome and nauseatingly charming. You know who would have been perfect? A forty years younger, The Way We Were Robert Redford.
I don’t have high expectations for this adaptation nor have I expected much from any movie adaptation of a book I enjoyed. The only thing this movie has going for it is the fact that it was directed by David Fincher who has a successful track record adapting books into entertaining movies (The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). I don’t know if even Fincher can make this book into a movie that stands on its own, that can be interesting to those who haven’t read the book. I’m not that excited to see it and I read the book!
Movie adaptations of books almost never capture the most interesting or memorable aspects of books that appeal to the reader in me. The most unforgettable part of Gone Girl was this passage about “Cool Girls”:
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. I’d want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much – no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain. (How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like: “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because “I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”)
Every time I read this I nod my head in recognition. And I laugh. And I feel sick. And I feel angry. And then I nod my head again.
Someone should make a movie about the Cool Girl phenomenon. That’s a movie I’d be excited to see.
Everyone knows the girl Flynn is describing. Either you’re a woman who has wanted to be her, tried to be her and wisely gave up, is currently attempting to be the Cool Girl or you’re a man who has dreamt of your own version of the Cool Girl. Or, you know the personality type because you watch contemporary movies made in Hollywood. At the very least you know the mentality behind its existence — “I want to make it easy for men to want me, desire me, accept me”.
I know this Cool Girl because I’ve tried to become a version of her. I sometimes still have the desire to be a Cool Girl. But it repulses me. It’s gross. Flynn is right — you’re not even trying to be the woman you want to be. If you’re going to be a pretender, pretend to be a creation of your own frigging imagination, an ideal that gives you pleasure. I remember spending my precious time listening to this guy talk about his stupid car for what seemed like hours. (It was probably a few minutes but seemed like HOURS.) I feel a mixture of anger and nausea at the memory of me pretending to be interested. I thought it made me seem cool at the time, but I really, really, really didn’t give a crap about cars. Anyone’s car. I still don’t.
Flynn mentions this in the book and it’s worth thinking about: Do you notice there’s no Cool Guy equivalent men aspire to be? Hmmm…
How did this hideous idea of the Cool Girl take hold? Whose creation is she? Why have girls attempted to become her?
Writer Leslie Jamison may have an answer. In her fascinating article “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain”, Jamison argues that being female has become synonymous with pain, suffering, and woundedness in art and in life. The pain/suffering/hurting in women’s lives has been greatly fetishized and glamourized and the Cool Girl pose is a rebellion and a denial of the existence of pain, suffering, woundedness, hurting, victimhood; the denial of any feelings at all.
These days we have a TV show called Girls, about young women who hurt but constantly disclaim their hurting. They fight about rent and boys and betrayal, stolen yogurt and the ways self-pity structures their lives. “You’re a big, ugly wound!” one yells. The other yells back: “No, you’re the wound!” And so they volley, back and forth: You’re the wound; no, you’re the wound. They know women like to claim monopolies on woundedness, and they call each other out on it.
These girls aren’t wounded so much as post-wounded, and I see their sisters everywhere. They’re over it. I am not a melodramatic person. God help the woman who is. What I’ll call “post-wounded” isn’t a shift in deep feeling (we understand these women still hurt) but a shift away from wounded affect: These women are aware that “woundedness” is overdone and overrated. They are wary of melodrama, so they stay numb or clever instead. Post-wounded women make jokes about being wounded or get impatient with women who hurt too much. The post-wounded woman conducts herself as if preempting certain accusations: Don’t cry too loud; don’t play victim. Don’t ask for pain meds you don’t need; don’t give those doctors another reason to doubt. Post-wounded women fuck men who don’t love them and then they feel mildly sad about it, or just blasé about it; they refuse to hurt about it or to admit they hurt about it—or else they are endlessly self-aware about it, if they do allow themselves this hurting.
The post-wounded posture is claustrophobic: jadedness, aching gone implicit, sarcasm quick on the heels of anything that might look like self-pity. I see it in female writers and their female narrators, troves of stories about vaguely dissatisfied women who no longer fully own their feelings. Pain is everywhere and nowhere. Post-wounded women know that postures of pain play into limited and outmoded conceptions of womanhood. Their hurt has a new native language spoken in several dialects: sarcastic, jaded, opaque; cool and clever. They guard against those moments when melodrama or self-pity might split their careful seams of intellect, expose the shame of self-absorption without self-awareness.
I know these dialects because I have spoken them; I know these post-wounded narrators because I have written them. I wonder now: What shame are they sculpted from?
What shame are they sculpted from? We can only take guesses about Cool Girls because you can’t measure “coolness”. Any attempt to examine coolness closely would cause it to disappear. We do know that being a Cool Girl is all about “no longer fully own(ing) (your) feelings”. That’s what bothers me the most about it. I hate the concept of coolness itself because it’s an attempt not to be vulnerable and women are vulunerable. Coolness is like a protective barrier from that vulnerability. Nothing in and nothing out. The coolness pose is almost a denial of being human.
I gave up trying to be cool because I don’t know how not to feel and it’s a lot more fun being uncool. Doing whatever you want and not caring how it looks is FUN.
I made a conscious decision years ago to stop attempting to be cool, look cool, say cool things, use the word “cool” to describe someone, and I wish everyone, especially women, would do the same. The concept and appeal of “coolness” should be replaced by a desire for “rawness”. Coolness shuts you down. Rawness opens you up. Like Jamison says at the end of her article: “I want our hearts to be open”. Sometimes you have to risk being uncool to remain open.
This post is dedicated to all the uncool girls everywhere: to the prudes, the not-easy-going, the teetotalers, the homebodies, the ones who dress for comfort, the wallflowers, the sticklers for correct grammar and punctuation, the Swan dress wearers, the awkward, the snorters, the feelers, the angry singer-songwriters, the salad-eaters, the spazzes, the geeks, the not hot, the not understanding, the easily hurt, the complainers, the ones who bother to get bothered, the ones who care too much, the four-eyed girls who do whatever they want.
You’re cool with me.