When Gillian Flynn published Gone Girl in 2012, she gave us a name for a certain type of girl. She gave us a label for a well-known faux personality, a put-on-for-show vibe that perfectly describes the image so many girls strive to achieve. The easy, laid-back, always down, pizza eating, sports watching, joke making, three-some loving, naturally beautiful persona that was considered the ideal mate. She gave us a name for what we all knew existed:
The Cool Girl.
“The Cool Girl” phenomenon, as you may well know, is the facade some girls perpetuate in order to be liked, specifically by men. In 2012, when I first read Gone Girl and was introduced to Amy Elliott Dunne, a self-proclaimed cool girl, I felt both deeply understood and embarrassed. See, I was the Cool Girl. In 2012 I was a senior in high school (the height of my pursuit of the Cool Girl persona) and I was utterly exhausted by the entire thing. Laid back and down for whatever, I often neglected how I felt so as to not cause a scene. I worked out but said I didn’t, strategically did my makeup to look like I wasn’t wearing makeup, and did all the other “I’m a guy’s girl” cliches that only serve to isolate a girl rather than make her unique. You know the type. Amy Elliot Dunne describes the Cool Girl far more eloquently than I ever could in this excerpt from the novel:
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.
Now, I’m going to state the obvious here: the Cool Girl persona is toxic and isn’t real. It is a front that you either eventually outgrow or (spoiler alert) drives you so insane you fake your own kidnapping and murder someone and frame your husband but then go back to him and fuck him up psychologically for the rest of his life but it’s fine cause he deserves it (I think? It’s been a while since I saw the movie).
Seventeen-year-old me liked the idea of the Cool Girl because it was a neat little box I could put myself in. It was a persona I could copy, a personality I could mold, and it made me well-liked, maybe even revered to some extent. Everyone wanted to be the Cool Girl because she was so, well, cool. That is, until we created something better than the Cool Girl. Enter: Girl Boss.
It is important to note that Girl Boss is rooted in a far more evolved, well-intentioned base than that of Cool Girl. On that we can certainly agree. Where Cool Girl acquiesces to a man’s wishes, Girl Boss masterfully balances work, family, and romance. Where the Cool Girl is thin, Girl Boss is fit. Cool Girl is easy going, Girl Boss is outspoken. Girl Boss is empowered women who support each other, lean in, and set goals. She can do her taxes, change her oil, and make her own money. It seems, actually, that Girl Boss is the collective reaction to and rejection of the Cool Girl. As if finally we had enough of pretending to be something we’re not. But here’s the thing- the pressure I felt in high school to be Cool Girl is starting to look and feel a lot like the pressure I feel today to be Girl Boss. That begs the question:
Is Girl Boss really any better?
Just as I was tired of the laid-back, always chill vibes I had to keep up to be a Cool Girl, I am equally as tired of the Rise and Grind rhetoric, the #BeYourOwnBoss Instagram campaigns, and in general the ‘everyone should be an entrepreneur’ mindset that has since become the preferred persona to which women may aspire to.
Not every girl can be a boss, at least not immediately or without training and practice, and I find it to be an exhausting, even harmful proposition that to be a Girl Boss is to be a 20-something CEO or bust. What about apprenticing, or saving money to start said business, or, I don’t know, taking time to figure it all out? What about the girls that, god forbid, don’t want to start a business. Are they exempt from being a Girl Boss?
Just because the internet has facilitated an easier ability to start something, albeit a podcast, online store, GoFundMe, or a small business, it doesn’t always mean we should. Ideas take time. They take incubating, and hindsight, and years of understanding the market or honing your craft. I dare say just because you have a podcast doesn’t mean you have anything to say.
The problem isn’t that the Girl Boss image says to girls that anyone can start a business. The problem is that it says to girls that everyone should start a business, and that it is easy to do so. It’s another expectation, another unrealistic standard, and it is exhausting.
I’ll give you a very candid example. I started writing for Post Grad Problems two months ago. I really like it, and I am excited every day when I sit down to write a column. I haven’t told many people at all that I write, but the few that I did tell all have the same response.
“Why don’t you start your own site?”
I kid you not. My father, 2 female friends, 1 male friend, and my Aunt have all asked why I don’t just start my own website about the trials and tribulations of 20-something young professional life. “It’s so easy!” they’ll say, “Why work for someone when you could start your own thing!”
While it is kind for them to say, time and time again I assure them I will not be starting my own website. I am so happy writing for Grandex, and being a freelance writer is fantastic. They have an established brand, one they have cultivated tenderly for years. They have experienced professionals and editors and I still have a lot to learn about writing. But the expectation these days, is not that I should learn from the company I work for, but that I should be a true Girl Boss and march on over to GoDaddy, buy myself www.CallMeVictoria.com and start a god damn business.
The expectation to be a successful entrepreneur at 23 aside, the Girl Boss image is a glossy, sexy lie that makes keeping an extraordinary amount of balls in the air seem as easy as 1-2-3. It sells an image that life as a Girl Boss is effortless and beautiful and that the “Grind” is really a glorious existence of well curated power suits and buzz words like value-add and self-starter.
The grind, in reality, is a suit that hasn’t been dry cleaned in 6 months, 10 extra pounds because the gym has taken a back seat to sleep, 10 cups of medium warm coffee per day, and a LOT of spreadsheets.
Girl Boss, while it is rooted in infinitely better expectations of women, is still to some extent an unattainable personality in an unrealistic reality that, if not achieved, connotes failure. If the Cool Girl, in all her glory, was nothing more than a personality made up of chill things and suppressed emotions, the Girl Boss is a compilation of hash tags, Rise and Grind slogans, and filtered photos of #MotivationMonday workout classes and lattes. I’ve just had enough with all of it.
I guess that is simply 1,500 words all to say this: on Sunday I ate a pint of ice-cream for breakfast, I just dropped out of an online class because I failed the first homework assignment, my room is a literal disaster zone, and I haven’t had lemon water in 2 years, unless it was in one of 5 vodka sodas I drank on Sunday night. Oh, and I really don’t think I’m qualified to start a business just yet.
I’m not a Cool Girl or a Girl Boss and I won’t pretend to be anything other than a girl just trying to figure it out. Unless, of course, there’s a Mess Girl stereotype, then there’s absolutely no pretending necessary..