The “Cool Christian Girl” in Proverbs 31
A hallmark of an excellent book or movie is if weeks later I’m still thinking about it. Gone Girl, author Gillian Flynn’s much-discussed third novel, was written in 2012 – yet I’m STILL captivated by it. Especially more so now that I’ve seen David Fincher’s stunning film adaptation (that Flynn wrote the screenplay for.)
It wasn’t just the compelling characters she created that enthralled me. Like many women (and men) I was fascinated by her breakdown of gender tropes, among them the “cool girl” stereotype. Here’s an excerpt of her explanation of “the cool girl” from the novel (it has some coarse/graphic language):
“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because 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.
Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, coworkers, strangers – giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them. I’d want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much – no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain. (How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like: “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because “I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”)”
There is so much that has already been said about the gender politics Flynn lays out above (and throughout her novel.) But as I was perusing Facebook the other day I saw an acquaintance of mine praising his, “Godly wife” and I wondered if there wasn’t another version of “the cool girl:”
The “Good Christian Girl.”
Not to be confused with “the cool girl” of course, who is secular, and too worldly, and not feminine or submissive enough. While thinking about this I went back and re-read Proverbs 31, which is basically the Biblical equivalent to Amy Dunne’s monologue above:
10 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. 11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. 13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. 15 She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls. 16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. 17 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. 18 She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. 19 In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. 20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. 21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. 22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. 23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. 25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. 26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. 27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:29 “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” 30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. 31 Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
What is the good Christian girl? She is beautiful, but not proud. She doesn’t “let herself go,” but maintains attractiveness for her husband, since his straying could be seen as partly her fault. At the same time she is modest, adhering to whatever standard of decency is current. She is smart, but not smarter than her husband. Above all she is submissive, feminine, and knows her place – in the home, with her children. She takes on the role of “wife” as naturally as one puts on a comfy sweater, and never, ever dares challenge her husband’s authority. (She’s also a lovely baker.)
I’ve been in Bible studies and women’s groups and retreats where groups of women pored over Proverbs 31, trying to find ways they were failing to be this type of woman. While studying scripture like this is not wrong, singling out certain verses and ignoring their context to the whole of scripture certainly is. And what is so often left out in the discussion of “the good Christian girl” is the other women in the Bible who didn’t adhere to Proverbs 31. Women like Rahab and Deborah and Lydia and Mary Magdalene.
Anyone who read or saw Gone Girl understands by now the danger in pretending to be or marry the cool girl. But not many Christians understand the damage that comes with projecting the image of the good Christian girl on every woman they meet.
Because, just like every “cool” girl doesn’t naturally love hot dogs and football and burping and rough sex, nor is every “good” Christian girl naturally suited to the roles that Christian men have determined she should fit. Not every Christian woman wants to be a wife (or at least not a wife to a man.) Not every Christian woman wants to be a mother, or, if she does, she might still struggle with the role. And certainly not every Christian woman was created to be submissive, silent, and deferential in the presence of men. Hello, my name is Emily, and I am none of these things, yet I am a Christian, and a woman.
The great thing that Amy exposed in Gone Girl was that these stereotypes are only that – they’re not real people. Sure, some women love football and chili dogs and comics and all those things listed above, but they also have other interests and characteristics that exist and might not be pleasing to their partner. Women are complex. As are men. We as people might understand that, be we sometimes take it for granted, wanting the easier stereotype idealized partner instead.
What’s great about real women, as opposed to flat stereotypes, is their complexity. A real woman can both love being a mother and having a job. A real woman can adore being a wife and cooking and keeping house – for her husband or her wife. And a real Christian woman can be cool girl and Christian girl rolled into one, with whatever else thrown in, because she doesn’t exist just to please a man. A Christian woman exists to please no man – she exists to please God, who, as we can see from a complete look at scripture, cares much more about internal character than outward beauty or subservient submission.
As someone who has never fit into the mold of good Christian woman (I even suck at baking) I know how awful it is to feel like you’re failing to be something that everyone wants you to be. Especially when you think that part of that “everyone” includes God. However, the Bible shows that God doesn’t work with molds – he works with individuals. Which means that I can be free to be whatever type of woman I want to be, while still maintaining my identity as a Christian, a wife, and a woman.
“Cool girls” and “Good Christian Girls” might not actually exist, but I’m glad that women willing to speak up against these tropes do. Just maybe they can find better ways to rebel against them than Amy Dunne did.