“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl…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.”
Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
In Gone Girl, novelist Gillian Flynn disparagingly calls out the myth of the Cool Girl – those hot, perpetually chill girls who love video games, dirty jokes and beers. Girls who can somehow eat like a football player while looking like a WAG. Girls who never take offense or get upset when the men in their life when they cross a line.
And while Flynn discusses the myth of the Cool Girl in a romantic context, a variation of her also exists in the startup space – a space so often characterised by youth, masculinity, hubris and the glee of not being fettered by a pesky HR department.
The Cool Startup Girl.
You know her.
Maybe you’ve even tried to be her.
The Cool Startup Girl is, first and foremost, unflappable. She should not be bothered by casual sexism, off-color jokes, or the fact that the male-female ratio in her workplace is woeful at best.
She should be fine with being saddled with those ‘soft’ tasks that don’t fit her job description – like making sure the fridge is stocked or ordering lunch or remembering birthdays. She should always be down for after-work beers (no matter what day of the week it is), and the requisite trash talk that accompanies those beers.
She should be fun, pretty, unfailingly good at her job, and totally fine with being paid less than her male counterparts.
(Oh, and she should definitely not have kids.)
For women in tech, the myth of the Cool Startup Girl is something that holds us back. We’re led to believe that we should strive to be the Cool Startup Girl, in order to fit in. Be chill, don’t rock the boat, don’t challenge ingrained misogyny or toxicity, and you’ll be granted entry to the tribe.
But the reality is, by trying to be the Cool Startup Girl, we’re doing ourselves a disservice. We are letting problematic behavior go unchecked. We are choosing to run ourselves ragged rather than make the men we work with a little uncomfortable. And we’re signing off on the belief that in order to make it in a male-dominated industry, it’s women who need to change, not the system.
But the worst part, in my opinion, of the Cool Startup Girl myth, is that it is based on surviving in the tech industry as a woman, rather than thriving.
So forget being cool. Instead, be tough enough to call out sexism. Smart enough to know that sometimes ‘no’ is a full sentence. Assertive enough to ask for the compensation you deserve. Be funny, and bright and innovative and empathetic and kind.
We all know that it can be tough out there for a girl in tech. But ultimately, trying to be the Cool Startup Girl won’t make things any easier – not for you, and not for the women who’ll come after you.
Written by: Kimberley Schollick
Kimberley Schollick is a Melbourne-based writer and digital marketer who firmly believes in the transformative power of a good story. Despite having qualifications in fashion and textiles, she just can’t seem to stay away from the tech startup scene, regardless of how intense it can get. Obsessed with dogs, live music, politics and Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Twitter: @kimschollick