So you’ve realized you have a bad case of Cool Girl and you know it’s a problem. Good for you; admitting you have a problem is the first step, right? Now to figure out how to go about doing the work of dismantling the patriarchy in your mind (so you can go on to work to dismantle it in the world outside).
Step 1: Stop reading men. Also stop reading white feminists.
The first part should be fairly obvious — set aside your Game of Thrones, your Dresden Files, your Jonathan Franzen and your Dave Eggers. Don’t worry, you can come back to it later when your detox is done (but you probably won’t want to). But you also really need to set aside ‘Lean In’ and all its ilk — it reflects such a narrow band of feminism and femininity that it’s just another iteration of Cool Girl with a feminist label.
People like Meghan Murphy and Sheryl Sandburg want you to be cool enough to say you’re a feminist without doing any of the pesky work of dismantling white supremacy or interrogating cissexism or asking men to change their behavior. How Cool Girl is that?! Just say no to white feminism.
Step 2: Seek out marginalized voices.
Especially the voices of women of color. As a white non-binary person, I’m keenly aware that the voices of people like me are still altogether too entrenched in kyriarchy to be an effective counter agent for Cool Girl-itis. We are inherently closer to the standards of acceptable feminity that society lays out and you need to put as much distance between yourself and those standards as possible. Anyway, read women. Lots of women. Listen to them too — I put together a playlist for myself at one point that I named “Electro Ladies” in reference to Janelle Monáe’s Electric Lady. Seek out marginalized voices wherever you can.
Saying “ooh shock it, break it, baby”
Electro, sofista, funky, -cated
We the kind of girls who ain’t afraid to get down
Electric ladies go on and scream out loud
In this Pitchfork interview, she says: “The Electric Lady was inspired by paintings. Every night I would perform, I would paint on a canvas while I would sing… this image of a female body, a silhouette, every single night.”
Step 3: befriend other non-dudes
I looked up one day and realized I could count the number of women I counted as friends on one hand, while dude friends abounded. I consciously set about changing that, and I tried a bunch of different things in the process, but ultimately (for me — obviously ymmv) it came about organically. It was mostly a matter of intent and focus — if a woman acquaintance talked to me or invited me to a thing, I prioritized that. I pruned who I was following on twitter, removing all but a few men. I made a policy of following back any non-men followers. I made a private twitter list that I named “nerd sistren” and read it more closely than my main twitter feed. In particular, you want to look for women who have done at least some of the work of exorcising the Cool Girl themselves. As you gain more women friends, also do the work of pushing back against female competition — you cannot be a good ally if you’re competing against those you’re trying to form allyship with. As Kitty Stryker says in How I Learned to Trust Other Women:
Becoming friends… has been so incredibly healthy for me, as I unlearn some of my fear and jealousy to replace it with femme solidarity and support.
Step 4: Be vulnerable
Cool is pretty much the opposite of vulnerability. If you’re going to be successful in your Cool Girl detox, you need to learn how to be vulnerable. Find something like this that speaks to you about vulnerability. Read it every day. Then also make a point of talking to someone about how you’re feeling every day. (This is going to feel so artificial and forced at first, but it gets easier, I swear.) Don’t just pick a random person, though — you are looking for people who know how to reciprocate, who will be vulnerable with you and appreciate your vulnerability. Being vulnerable with someone in a healthy and reciprocal manner means being able to be exchange emotional labor with them too.
Basically, you need to practice sounding like a whiny, broken person without getting angry at yourself for it. You have to be this way and accept it and allow it and stop hating it. That’s the first step. You have to let the ugly, needy shit in and let it exist without spreading your fear and loathing all over it. You have to make room for cryface and learn to see it as beautiful.
Also, if you can manage it, find a therapist (I know this is not often possible, and if I could change one thing about the world, it would be this — going to a therapist would ideally be as much a part of your healthcare routine as brushing your teeth or going to the gym). Make sure you find one that makes you feel validated, that you can be vulnerable with, that you can trust. (Sadly this is not all therapists — trust your gut.) Janelle Monáe, again, from that same Pitchfork interview:
“I didn’t like the idea of therapy at first,” she continues. “In the black community, nobody goes to therapy. You go to your pastor or you go to the Bible. There’s a stigma.” Monáe, who grew up in a devout Christian family, still says grace before meals. “But I think God blesses us with brains to find medicine, to find cures, and I don’t believe in not using that. Therapists are there to listen.” She also talks about grappling with a split from a boyfriend in between albums, offering a rare revelation about her love life (she’s been known to tell interviewers that she dates cyborgs). “I really wanted to grow into this person who could handle everything,” she says, “and I didn’t know that that’s just kind of impossible.”
And that’s it. At first it’s going to be hard and uncomfortable. You’ll probably go through a phase of being angry at yourself and other women for participating in a game of Cooler Than Thou. Eventually, though, you’ll find your life and your friendships enriched, and you’ll be a lot more at ease with yourself. It’s a lot of work pretending at a role like Cool Girl, and while it’s also a lot of work to unlearn that role, once you do, it frees up a lot of time and energy for other things.
I’ll leave you with this playlist that represents a small sample of my Electro Ladies playlist.