I have no opinion on Entourage in principle. I’ve never seen it; I didn’t want to. Certainly I am not the target audience of the movie. What’s more, I can’t tell you if it’s a rendering of the word “bro” into meaninglessness, the way “hipster” has basically come to mean “someone I don’t like who likes things I find silly.”
I did see Gone Girl, though I haven’t read the book, and I cringed at the way Amy (Rosamund Pike) laid out how women get men to like them by being exactly the woman men expected, desired, and all other such things. It was awful and painful and not entirely wrong.
So what’s the harm with these images? What’s the harm in movies about bros and cool girls and whatever other expectation people have? And, frankly, why should we care? Who cares what labels people slap on figures on a screen?
My son will be twenty-three months old on Friday. When we found out we were going to be having a boy, my biggest concern was that I didn’t know how to raise a boy. I could raise a girl. I could teach her how to be herself through whatever life throws at her. I could teach her that it’s okay to like whatever she wants to like, be it sports or knitting or physics or all three. But a boy? I don’t know how to teach him that, because society expects me to try to feminize him—and teaches us that feminizing is bad.
Because that’s the problem with the Cool Girl, isn’t it? Or one of several, anyway. She has to give up everything that matters to her and subsume it in what’s interesting to her male significant other, because he has no need to share her interests. The way to a man’s heart is through being exactly like him. On the other hand, most straight women can tell you stories of liking something their significant other likes only to discover that he resents her for knowing more about it than he does. So she has to like it—but not enough to really know anything about it that he doesn’t.
Okay, so the Bro is a mocked stereotype in society, I grant you. On the other hand, there’s a gentle headshaking involved. “Boys will be boys” and all that. Yeah, they’re reprehensible, but they can get away with it. A lot of the most popular movies of my life are about Bros or proto-Bros. They’re everywhere in culture, and we forgive them their excesses. I’d argue that Ferris Bueller is a proto-Bro, when you get right down to it.
It’s almost as though the movies expect boys to go through a bro stage. All of them. And then, they grow up and go and do other things. Whereas women are supposed to start as Cool Girls and then disappear until they’re grandmothers. I guess there’s room for a Cool Mom in there, but usually, what the movies seem to want are moms who let their teenage sons get away with all sorts of shenanigans.
The real problem, when you get right down to it, is that the film parallel of the Cool Girl is the Bro. The Bro is the adolescent dream of the average boy, or at least that’s true from the Hollywood perspective. Whereas the Cool Girl is the adolescent dream of what girls should be like. She isn’t who girls aspire to be. She’s who the boys want girls to be. (Again, we’re speaking in broad interpretations, here, and I do get that Not All Men.) Both roles are about the male view, and that’s the real problem with them.
How can I tell that the Cool Girl is about the male gaze, not the female one? Because the Cool Girl exists in relation to men’s interests. She isn’t better at stereotypical “girly” things. We never see her from her own perspective. Does she go to games? She goes to games with her boyfriend. She plays video games with her boyfriend. She eats chili dogs with her boyfriend. We the female audience can usually tell exactly how much time and effort she’s put into her appearance, but the movie can’t. At very least, it doesn’t care.
I am not saying that there should be no movies with Cool Girls or Bros. If nothing else, because they both exist, and there’s no reason to hide that. On the other hand, we do need to take a look at why these tropes are so prevalent and what that says about us as a society. Yeah, the Cool Girl is a fantasy, and there’s nothing wrong with fantasies. And certainly women have been known to fantasize about idealized men. However, women’s fantasies are considerably less likely to make it on the screen, and when they do, the assumption is that the movie is just for women. And Cool Girls still don’t want to see it.