So anyone who’s not been under a rock seems to have read the ‘cool girl’ excerpt from Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. I read that book, liked the passage, went on to share it, found that everyone and his sister had beaten me to it. If you’ve been living under a rock, here it is for you. Here.
And then more recently was this rant by Kalki Koechlin. It was too long, and in some sort of verse, so that made it hard to read entirely. But the people who are sharing it on my Facebook and Twitter quoted the bit where she says she wants to wear frumpy clothes and dig her nose and lick her fingers (hopefully not in that order?).
I have multiple issues with these things, and I’m unsure of where to begin, so I’ll begin at the beginning.
I’ve never been ‘girly’, I suppose. It’s not like I was Keira Knightley in Bend It Like Beckham. I just never was good at all the things that ‘good girls’ were good at. Obviously lost interest in those things and rebelled… all that stuff. I often got this whole ‘You’re not like other girls’ schtick from a lot of people. So, obviously, I assumed I was a special little snowflake who had evolved beyond gender roles.
Guess what. Every other girl grew up thinking that. Every girl thinks she is ‘not like other girls’. That’s how we are all the same. Every girl I meet says she was a ‘tomboy growing up’, including many actresses who now have picture-perfect makeup and clothes. Every girl identified with Ginger from As Told By Ginger and Lulu from Little Lulu more than they did with Courtney and Gloria on those shows.
But that’s not to say everyone was on the same level of ‘tomboy’. Some of us didn’t know how to pick our clothes. Some of us grew up playing sports. Some of us love videogames. Some of us say nerdy things. Some of us tell dirty jokes in front of all the boys. Some of us came home with bleeding cuts because we beat up the boys. Some of us dress only in tshirt and jeans and can’t seem to keep down a saree. Some of us are not emotional.
The point is, there’s no universal ‘tomboy’. You flout one norm, any norm, they put you all in the same category. You put yourself in the same category. ‘Tomboy’ is a catchall term. Given the ideal image of ‘girl’ is so unrealistic, are you even surprised that most girls consider themselves some form of ‘tomboy’? So yeah, I’m a tomboy, even though i de-stress by doing my hair and nails, I get emotional and cry a lot, and I can carry off a saree like a boss…. just because I spend a lot of time on Reddit or something.
Now why am I whining? It’s fine, isn’t it, all of us delusionally happy that we’re better than ‘other girls’, bonding over our ‘being different’, saying a collective ‘sod you’ to gender norms…. why am I whining?
The issue is simply that we are delusional. It clouds our objectivity. It prevents us from acknowledging our own emotions. As someone who tried once to be a ‘cool girl’, I’d say one of the problems with thinking of yourself as one is that you stop complaining. If you live off the kudos of being ‘not like other girls’, you at some point stop yourself from doing things that make you like other girls. Because that’s ‘not cool’. Or something. Like, no one likes to be the ‘nagging girlfriend’. Or the ’emotional girl’. So when it comes to telling people you have feelings and needs and they can’t step on them, you are at a loss. I’m not saying these are the only ways to put your point across, but it’s so easy to shut girls down by just telling them “What? I thought you weren’t like other girls, being all naggy and emo’.
I’d like it better if we all just ‘did things’, and didn’t do ‘girl things while being a girl’ or ‘boy things while being a girl’.
On the other side of the spectrum is the Kalki type girls. Now Kalki and Anurag Kashyap get off on being the ‘cool couple’. Him, the hairy edgy guy who makes edgy movies, does cameos in viral-type videos, and her, the petite pretty firang who is so ‘cool’, she talks about smoking, makes viral videos for her husband’s birthday, takes stances against persecution of women…. you get it.
Of course, everyone tacitly understands that we wouldn’t tolerate Kalki if she said and did all these things while looking like Vidyullekha Raman (who I consider the Rebel Wilson of Kollywood, she plays the fat best friend in Needhane En Ponvasantham… Sorry, couldn’t think of an unconventional-looking mainstream Bollywood actress), heck Mr. Kashyap might not even have left his wife for Kalki had she looked like Vidyullekha Raman. Of course Anurag justifies Kalki being with someone as ugly as him by saying she was brought up in the ‘Sawth’ where all the heroes are ugly and hairy and she likes that.
But we all love Kalki and her unconventionalness and her ‘struggle’ to be taken seriously in Bollywood.
In short, Kalki’s your ideal Cool Girl.
So in that IBN7 piece, everyone identified with the bits where she ranted about not having to look pretty all the time, and wanting the license to be disgusting. Sigh. This is the problem with these CoolGirl types. You know what normal women do when we want to eat? We eat. Yeah, some girls prefer salad, and some others have small appetites. But for the most part, we just eat. You know what we do when we want to not wear makeup? We don’t wear makeup. We have bad hair days. We feel icky on our period. And you know what? It’s all not as big a deal as it is made out to be. We can actually let our hair down and no one gets disgusted!
As for getting disgusted, there has been more than one occasion where I’ve asked a male friend to ‘not sit like that’. I routinely yell at this guy I know for blowing his nose at the table. I’d give dirty looks to those who lick their plates in public. This guy I lunched with every day for a whole year and I regularly had an exchange where I’d say “You eat sooooo much”, and he’d respond with ‘You eat sooooo little’. I don’t like it when people burp and fart in public. And if someone were to dig their nose and lick their fingers in my presence, I’d probably rub sanitizer on everything they might have touched.
And yes, periods are messy, but I don’t talk about how much I bled. Of course, if it were a cause for alarm, I might bring it up with close friends of either gender, but why would you bring this up in polite company? I’d be equally disgusted if someone brought up other bodily fluids casually in conversation.
Yes, I understand this is the sort of thing that leads women to feel uncomfortable physically when their pregnancy is showing, people being too reluctant to talk about breast cancer, and the whole stress of being proper and all. But there’s a long slope from being polite with people you aren’t besties with, to being too shy to bring a doctor’s note from your gynaec for something important… and it’s not slippery for the most part.
If Kalki feels so constrained and stuff, it might possibly be because she’s in showbiz. Those rules don’t apply to the rest of us. And George Clooney wears makeup too, so I don’t see the double standard in being forced to wear makeup. I doubt male stars have it easy, either.
So where am I going with all this? Well, all of us wish we could be more disgusting, pay less attention to our appearance and not be judged for it. Everyone wants to be able to speak their mind all the time. That’s great and all, but given we don’t like it all the time when others do the same, the least we can do is be considerate of others. I’d not like someone showing up to my wedding in a Tshirt and shorts, so why would I do the same thing?
A few years ago I had this moment of revelation. I used some impolite words, and the guy I was speaking to made a face. ‘What, you don’t like it when girls swear?’, I asked. “I don’t like it when people swear”, he said. Whoa. That was new.
Yeah, not everything is persecution. Some stuff is just propriety, and those rules apply across genders. If we’re feeling like women get it unfairly for these things, maybe we should, as a society, have higher standards for all people not talking about bodily fluids or sexually-laced comments or being disgusting in polite company. And expect better standards of appearance from men as well. It wouldn’t be a new thing.
Goodness knows we could do with a little less burping and nose-blowing and ear-digging. For the sake of hygiene and humanity.