I have a thing or two to say about Cool Girls.
I'm a little late on the Cool Girl Rant train, I understand. Gillian Flynn's novel Gone Girl has been published for over two years now, the movie version was in theaters three months ago, and endless resultant thinkpieces have already arrived on the internet.
For anyone who's been living under a rock since then, the most famous part of Gone Girl was what has been dubbed the Cool Girl Rant:
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.
The reason I'm revisiting the Cool Girl Rant tonight is that I just finished writing a response piece to an atrocious article on UrbanDater that argued with a stark ferocity based solely in opinion and anecdote that women cannot possibly enjoy anal sex, and that the reason for anal sex's popularity is solely that some women choose to give in to the perverse desires of their male counterparts. Naturally, the Cool Girl Rant came to mind, only this time its attack on women's sincerity and authenticity wasn't in the form of a fictional novel but rather in an article on a dating advice website. So, you're in my house now, and the gloves are coming off.
UrbanDater has since posted a rebuttal by one of its writers, mostly apologizing for the shamey sex-negative attitude of the piece and for its wholly unsubstantiated claims. I just sent my own rebuttal off to my editor at DatingAdvice, mostly defending anal sex as a woman who sometimes participates in it. (I'll link it when it goes up.)
But I feel a need to address something else, something for which my blog seems the most fitting place, and that is this: the right of women to engage in acts that may typically be seen as patriarchal male-appeasing fantasies without betraying their gender.
The Cool Girl Rant, in addition to calling into question the sincerity of women who enjoy threesomes and anal, also takes a stab at women who profess to love things like sports or comic books. This isn't a new concept; men have been crying "fake geek girl" for years now in order to denigrate women whom they feel are donning the interests of a previously male-dominated subculture in order to attract attention. There is a particular cruelty in that accusation, not only in that women who genuinely enjoy comics and graphic novels are called out for being posers in a way that men are never questioned in their hobbies, but also in that even if for a moment we assume that accusation to be true, that perhaps there is a woman out there who is affecting a hobby for the sake of gaining "attention," that woman is still tailoring her actions to be pleasing to the very men who end up attacking her.
It isn't at all okay to shame anyone for their interests (as long as those interests don't harm anyone else -- PSA nerd guys, having more women at Comic Con isn't oppressing you), and it is the polite thing to do to give any person the benefit of the doubt that they are being truthful when they say they are into something, whether it's Batman or blowjobs.
But here's the thing: when it comes to sex, hopefully we are also into pleasing our partners, and if we are, that often means that we take pleasure in certain acts solely because they satisfy the people we're fucking, and that enjoyment is no less valid than the enjoyment of our own physical satisfaction. Oral sex, for example, is almost entirely about taking pleasure in our partner's pleasure. Sure, our mouths are also erogenous zones, but mostly we engage in it because we enjoy pleasing. We are turned on by turning on others, we take pride in our ability to satisfy, we want to make another person happy. Pleasure does not exist in a vaccuum of our own orgasm.
Nor is pleasure limited to merely the bedroom. Perhaps the same drive that causes you to enjoy making your partner come also applies to the enjoyment you find in cooking them breakfast the next day, or in picking up their favorite wine on the way to their house, or in dressing nicely to meet them for a date. Perhaps it even extends toward cultivating an interest in your partner's favorite bands, or even their favorite comics.
Our erotic selves are not so distant from our everyday selves, and it is no worse to harbor the desire to be pleasing to your partner outside the bedroom than it is inside it.
I realize that this is a gendered argument for many reasons. Women are often brought up conditioned to please men, to defer to their ideas, to cater to their desires, to make sure that everyone around them is comfortable, in a way that men frankly are not. It's not an even fight here. But I refuse to allow the pleasure that women may take in pleasing their partners to become collateral damage in the fight for equality. I would far rather encourage men to start conditioning themselves to please women in turn than deny women any true enjoyment they might take in being pleasing themselves.
This is especially personal to me as a self-identified female submissive. I get off on being pleasing. Ninety-five percent of the time I masturbate, I am fantasizing about my partner's orgasm, often in collusion with my service or my suffering (or both). Sometimes the extent of the suffering I fantasize about far surpasses the suffering I suspect a given partner might independently elect to inflict upon me, and then I worry that I'm not actually succeeding in being pleasing but rather creating more work for my partner, which is one of many reasons it can be complicated to be kinky.
One blogger already pointed out that the Cool Girl Rant seems to be attacking women who identify as submissives. I don't agree with everything that he writes (specifically, first, he has a fairly misandrist attitude toward male Dominants that strikes me as ironic since those are the partners usually chosen by the female submissives he's defending; and second, he makes the novice mistake of advocating "punishments" that a submissive enjoys, which in an actual D/s relationship would only positively reinforce undesired behavior and make a mockery of actual service -- small detail to an outsider perhaps, but to me it's important), but he does make some crucial points:
The key thing to understand about a submissive woman is that what she wants the most is for her Dominant to be pleased. His pleasure defines her pleasure. [...] It’s easy to see that pleasing him could be very pleasing to her. That being the cool girl for her Sir is exactly the thing she likes most. That letting him make all the decisions gives her a freedom which is an amazing escape, and can leave her with an incredible euphoric high. That woman could very easily be exactly the woman that her Dom desires. Not pretending. Actually being.
On my first reading, I thought this was a feminist rant. “…they are pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be.” How awful! How last century! But wait. They are pretending? Says who? Isn’t feminism about empowerment? And isn’t empowerment about letting people be whomever they want to be? If you accuse someone of pretending because you would have to be pretending to be that way, that’s not feminism.
In fact, Gone Girl does take a blatant cheap shot at female sexual submission. Or at least that's how Mary Gaitskill, author of the femsub classic Secretary, interprets it in her review of the book:
Here’s how [protagonist Amy] sums up the young woman Nick turns out to be fucking: “Taking his cock in her mouth, all the way to the root so he feels extra big as she gags. Taking it in her ass, deep. Taking cum shots to the face and tits, then licking it off, yum. Taking, definitely taking. Her type would.” It’s normal, I guess, for a woman to hate her rival. But the hatred and scorn here don’t seem to be about the competition for Nick’s attention; they seem to be about Amy’s disdain for the young woman’s (imagined) receptivity or submissiveness—her lack of control.
So, yeah. At this point it becomes personal. At this point, the Cool Girl Rant is scorning some of the very things I myself fantasize about under the guise of concern-trolling.
I get the sense too that there is some policing going on here by other women. The Cool Girl Rant shames women for their enjoyment of certain aspects of their sexuality by declaring it to be fake; so too has the UrbanDater author in her condemnation of anal sex. Amanda Marcotte describes how in a patriarchal society, women are tasked with policing female sexuality in order to preserve their men as resources:
Women are also roped into judging each other’s sexual behavior because we’re led to believe it’s our only realistic source of control. Being lower status than men, and especially when you’re dependent on a man, means you often have a lot of desire to keep male promiscuity to a minimum, but men are expected not to listen to women or care much what women think about these issues. Thus, women start putting demands on each other, because we can’t appeal to men. Which is why you see a culture where the “other woman” is blamed more than the cheating man for infidelity. Or you see women like Susan Walsh arguing that other women have a responsibility not to have sex when we want with who we want, because that means that fewer men will have to pony up wedding rings in order to get laid.
I can think of few things more insidiously evil than women who concern-troll other women's sexuality in order to keep sex as a scarce commodity, to try to keep men sex-starved, shamed, and pliable so that they can use sex as bait for the things they want, and as a former pro-domme (and as a female human being to be honest) I have certainly seen my fair share of the awful effects this has had on men who start to believe their sexualities are places of shame and wrongness.
I can't condone this. If there are women out there who are afriaid that the sex-positive natures of more sexually liberal women are raising overall bedroom performance standards past their own comfort levels and keeping them from being able to shame men into believing they're all porn-fed perverts with unrealistic expectations, well, I'm sorry, but I'm not gonna put my light under a basket for you. If you're mad that I let my partner put his dick in my ass because you're afraid yours will leave you for someone like me, that's not my circus/monkeys.
Furthermore, our likes and passions are influenced every day by the people around us whom we admire and love. That girl going to Comic Con might have started reading Spiderman in high school because a boy she liked said it was cool, and maybe she genuinely enjoyed it when she read it, maybe her enjoyment of Spiderman far outlasted her high school infatuation. The girl who grew up liking football might have done so because she saw how much her dad liked watching it. Hell, a crush I had on a boy five years ago led me down a path within the New York rock scene that eventually resulted in me forming my own band and releasing two EPs. Is anyone going to accuse me of being a fake rock girl? Well, actually, some have, and sure, I like the Stones but I can't name every member without googling. But I wrote my own damn songs, hired my own damn musicians, and put on my own damn shows and I got a lot of enjoyment from that, and I still do even now that I've sworn off dating rocker dudes. We evolve. We blossom because other people inspire us. There's nothing more or less authentic about liking a band you stumbled upon on Pitchfork than there is about liking a band that a guy you crushed on happened to turn you on to.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying anal sex, threesomes, football, comics, tattoos, veganism, hot dogs, chili dogs, actual dogs (shit, is there anything Gone Girl doesn't condemn as being artificial male fantasy?) just because you like them or because you like them because you hope to attract a partner who likes them, which usually, hint hint, means there is part of you that actually likes them too. If you're putting out a signal to appear a certain way to potential mates, there's generally an actual passion behind that. Otherwise why make the effort? (I don't ever remotely pretend to like sports, for example, because I pretty much can't stand guys who like sports.)
Let's please remember that the Cool Girl Rant is a monologue delivered by a character who is a sociopath who frames her husband for her faked death -- hardly a modern-day role model.
There are a lot of things in this world that are bad. There are many things in this world that we should not be doing, such as hurting people, lying, stealing, killing, oppressing. But pleasing our partners should not be on that list of things. Pleasing our partners is something the world could stand a little more of, to be honest.