Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Can Women Be Cool?

The “manic pixie dream girl” role that originated with Catherine in Jules et Jim has since become a staple of American cinema. Not all manic pixie dream girls are as violent as Catherine, but they still possess the same qualities of spontaneity, freedom, and a bit of insanity. The term “manic pixie dream girl” was first coined by Nathan Rabin after Kirsten Dunst’s role in Elizabethtown (2005). My personal favorite is Maggie Gyllenhaal in Stranger Than Fiction (2006). Another important aspect of the manic pixie dream girl is that they in some way change the male lead. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the role of Ana Pascal, a free-spirited baker that is in trouble with the IRS. She is able to transform the stuffy and slightly OCD IRS auditor, Harold Crick. Crick, played by Will Ferrell, turns down Ana’s cookies, but in the end he cannot resist the allure of the manic pixie dream girl.

Although the manic pixie dream girl is an interesting role, I wouldn’t say that it makes for a cool character. After seeing two popular, but very un-cool roles for women in a row (the manic pixie dream girl and the femme fatale), I began to wonder if it was possible for women to ever be cool. I can think of thousands of women characters that aren’t cool, but the best example is probably Meg Griffin from Family Guy. Meg is totally lacking in any form of cool. She fails at pretty much everything she attempts and is left to wallow in her own misery. It extremely pitiful, but it somehow provides entertainment to others.

I started to think that maybe cool was gender dependent and that is was impossible for women to be cool according to the characteristics that we have discussed. Then I thought about Keira Knightley’s role in the Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy. Elizabeth Swann is the coolest female ever. She is competent, confident, and powerful. Elizabeth captures all of these classically cool characteristics without losing her femininity. She can be rescued and rescue someone else a few scenes later. She does not have to try to shatter gender preconceptions to be cool. Elizabeth Swann is the perfect definition of a cool female. So it is possible to be cool and feminine, but it seems to me that this type of role is quite rare. Many women that are portrayed as cool are forced to take on too many masculine characteristics, for example Laura Croft: Tomb Raider. Laura Croft is cool because she kicks ass, but she does not maintain femininity.


  1. It's hard to find cool women in cinema, isn't it? It's easy to see all of the things that are wrong with how women are portrayed in film. Do you think that that kind of attitude toward women is precisely what makes them uncool? Does the constant analysis and investment in the female role come to cross-purposes with their coolness?

    Great addition of links and pictures! Your post has a lot more to offer a reader with stimulating visual aid.

  2. I second W.E.B.'s comments. A second-waver would probably say that women are constantly talked about because we see women as a marked group.

    But it is hard to talk about this sort of thing when cool is saturated with so many men.

  3. I completely agree with you ideas about how women have to give up their feminine side to be seen as cool. I personally don't think that's true, but I do see a lot of that idea in society today. Very rarely do I hear a guy say that they think a woman is cool unless it us someone like Lara Croft, and I think that just goes to show that maybe society hasn't come as far towards gender equality as we think we have.