Brett Kavanaugh and the Myth of the Cool Girl

In a scene in the movie “Gone Girl,” the protagonist (and antagonist) Amy explains the archetype of the Cool Girl: “Men always saying that as the defining compliment, don’t they? ‘She’s a cool girl’ … Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in the chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. ‘Go ahead, sh*t 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.”

I found myself thinking of this description on Oct. 6, when the Senate voted 50-48 to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Almost all of the female Republican senators sided with Kavanaugh, leaving Senator Lisa Murkowski as the only woman to break away from party lines.

Thus, senators Joni Ernst, Cindy Hyde-Smith, Deb Fischer, Shelley Moore Capito and Susan Collins officially became the Cool Girls of the Senate — they proved that they were willing to put aside any reservations they may (or may not) have about sexual misconduct and prove their worth to their party, the Boys’ Club. Alexis Grenell writes in a New York Times op-ed that the senators, who are also all white, “benefit from patriarchy by trading on their whiteness to monopolize resources for mutual gain. In return they’re placed on a pedestal to be ‘cherished and revered.’”

Brett Kavanaugh and the Cool Girls, unfortunately, exist in the world outside of the Senate and this particular incident in our country’s history. And oftentimes, they exist together.

Despite Amherst’s efforts to create a positive culture around consent and sexual respect, it is a reality that these incidents still happen too frequently here. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women are sexually assaulted in college, and 90 percent of victims do not report the assault. As past op-ed articles in The Amherst Student indicate, these incidents also often happen in male-controlled and dominated spaces; the erasure of the Socials have alleviated some of the gendered power dynamics in the past few years, but anybody who knows Amherst knows that mixers, parties and even formals privilege men, and male athletes disproportionately.

Thus, it would serve women well to be in the good graces of these men. And there is no problem with that — some of my best friends are male athletes, and I attend mixers with teams often. The problem occurs when women continue to entertain individuals that have been deemed assaulters, or at the least, creepy, by other women. In our very small campus, it is no secret that women constantly warn each other about the men who they have heard are dangerous, those they believe are toxic or have touched us or our friends without permission.

So, who are the people still hanging out with them?

They are the Cool Girls, the women who claim that they do not care because these men “are nice to me” or “have never done anything to me.” They are women who remain neutral, silent and therefore, complicit. They trade in their willful ignorance in the hopes to achieve and maintain a certain social status. Even more harrowingly so, I have personally witnessed women slut-shame, joke and laugh at instances of sexual assault, as if doing those things somehow protects themselves from the egregious acts that have been done onto other women’s bodies. Because a Cool Girl is “one of the boys,” and the other women are over-reacting.

This mindset is reprehensible – by giving perpetrators time and attention, women are further fueling the power that perpetrators use to victimize other women. Making light of a traumatic experience is cruel. Betraying other women is pathetic.

But most importantly, it is misguided to believe that if you align yourself with sh*tty men, it will exempt you from assault or make you superior to other women, because it is not true. The Cool Girl is a myth. We live in a world where women’s bodies are still objectified and sexualized, Cool Girls included. Men who have no respect for one woman have no respect for women, period.

Athlete culture and social life is just one example that I use given my proximity and familiarity with it during my time at Amherst. My point is not to criticize those who participate in athlete social life — non-athlete men and the women that support them are certainly not exempt from misogynistic and self-serving behavior. The more pertinent message here is that we, women, must also examine ways in which we perpetuate patriarchy, sexism and misogyny, in hopes that we get a crumb. And more importantly, that the crumb is not worth it.

Furthermore, I want to make a disclaimer that the first and foremost responsibility of sexual assault goes to the perpetrator — men are utterly responsible for their behavior. The simple fact is that no woman can or ever should take that blame. It is critical that male allies use their privilege to do the heavy-lifting. But in this age of Kavanaugh, we can all ask ourselves about the roles that we play in perpetuating a toxic culture and putting each other in harm’s way.