Since the beginning of time (or at least for the last few decades) there has been a highly sought after persona among some women: the ‘cool girl.’ The cool girl is ‘super chill,’ and ‘one of the guys.’ We all know at least one cool girl. She watches sports with the guys, listens to their favourite music and laughs at inappropriate jokes. She never gets mad at her boyfriend and totally doesn’t mind that he ditches her to hang with the boys or forgets their anniversary. You see, the cool girl is cool because she doesn’t raise a fuss. She’s chill and fun and doesn’t seem to care much about anything. The cool girl is like so totally awesome. And the cool girl makes me sad.
The idea of the cool girl has been thrust upon us in recent decades as an illustration of a desirable woman. She has been painted as an example of how we should act if we are to be liked. We apparently need to embrace the interests of our male friends and suppress our disappoint or anger when our partner lets us down. Great news everyone, if you want to be liked by men, you need only to mold yourself into a super hot woman who has solely male traits and interests!
This is the patriarchy at play. This is society telling us that we need to fold into ourselves to be more palatable, more desirable for men. It's no coincidence that the biggest ‘compliment’ a guy can say about a girl to his friends is that she is ‘chill.’ Aka - she isn’t too loud, she doesn’t voice her own thoughts too often, she doesn’t make unreasonable demands and she doesn’t call anyone out on their bullshit. She’s chill.
I myself have been guilty of maintaining the cool girl façade. I have suppressed feelings, silenced thoughts and swallowed words because I didn’t want to “seem too intense.” I did this because I was scared that if I actually shared what I was feeling, that guy might run away. I was scared that expressing myself might lead someone to stop liking me. I know, the logic escapes me now too.
These days I make a concerted effort to be myself. I speak up when a partner upsets me, I make them do romantic crap with me, I drag my guy friends to lectures, and I call them out when they make an offensive joke or degrade women. I am unapologetically me and I feel great. If that’s uncool, well, I guess I have a different definition of cool.
Ever since I shed my cool girl persona, I have noticed that the ‘cool girl’ extends to feminists as well. I have noticed far too many women acting as ‘cool feminists.’ I have heard women literally say, “I’m not a regular feminist, I’m a cool feminist.” And while I like to think this is an ode to the greatest movie of our generation (Mean Girls, duh) I know better. I know these women are letting the pressure of the cool girl persona seep into their activism.
The ‘cool’ feminist – which has also been called the ‘rational’ or ‘realistic’ feminist – is a woman who claims to espouse the fundamental values of the movement (most prominently the social, political and economic equality of all genders) but isn’t ‘radical’ or ‘extreme’ like most feminists. The cool feminist understands where guys who hate feminism are coming from. They openly advocate for pay equality or reproductive freedom, but they promise they don’t ‘think all men are rapists’ or ‘hate on white people for no reason.’ They’re reasonable and rational and they deliver the perfect bite sized portion of feminism that doesn’t leave a taste in your mouth!
While I like to espouse the philosophy that the more people that self-identity as feminist the better, I often think that the movement would be better off without ‘cool’ feminists. In their simple act of identifying as a cool feminist, they actually undo some of the hard work done by us shitty regular feminists. Declaring one’s ‘coolness’ - feeling the need to make one’s feminism more palatable by adopting the bro-dude criteria - reinforces the notion that masculine qualities are superior and we must follow these guidelines to achieve any sort of success in society.
Unlike a regular feminist, a cool feminist is driven by the need to be liked. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has written a lot on being likeable as a woman. She posits that society has engrained into women the idea that being liked is the most important thing, and we must reject this instinctive desire to be liked. We need to do what we want, what we believe in and what feels right. We need to start speaking and acting for ourselves, not for everyone else.
The idea of trying to be a cool feminist is almost an oxymoron. Since the birth of feminism, its members have always been disliked. There has never been a time in history when society at large has revered feminists. We have had our successes, but they have always been borne out of resistance and our rewards have been given begrudgingly. Being a feminist means challenging the status quo, and no one likes a shit disturber. If someone is serious about being a feminist, they have to give up their need to be liked.
If you want to be liked, go start a band. That’s cool. If you want to be a feminist, go start a revolution. That’s so wonderfully, perfectly uncool.