Mindy Lahiri is not a cool girl.
That is: Lahiri, the character Mindy Kaling plays on The Mindy Project, is not a Cool Girl, as brilliantly described by Gillian Flynn in Gone Girl. A Cool Girl is nothing more than “the figment of the imagination of a million masturbatory men” and is “basically the girl who likes every fucking thing [a guy] likes and doesn’t ever complain.”
Cool Girls aren’t a new phenomenon, but they are getting some very funny and thoughtful treatment as of late. Comedian Amy Schumer’s take on the Cool Girl archetype—“A Chick Who Can Hang”—pushes the idea to its natural, ludicrous conclusion (no spoilers, just take three minutes of your life and watch it here.) Plus, the trailer for David Fincher’s Gone Girl was released last week, reigniting a conversation about one of the book’s most resonant ideas. In her piece on the trailer over at Vulture, Amanda Dobbins wrote that she thinks about that Cool Girl passage “at least twice a week; I could send you a list of all the Cool Girls in my personal and professional lives.” So could I! Couldn’t we all? Every time throughout the novel that Flynn riffs on this idea throughout the book, I want to run over the paragraphs with all the highlighters. It does that reach-out-and-grab-you thing that great writing can do: you feel as if Flynn set up shop in your head and your heart, that she sees the world just as you see it and can distill your mess of emotions and ideas into windowpane-prose.
On The Mindy Project, Mindy Lahiri is just about the exact opposite of a Cool Girl. And that’s one of the most endearing things about her.
Here’s how Flynn kicks off her anti-Cool Girl credo: “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”—a break, here, as everything beforehand applies to Mindy Lahiri, and everything that follows does not—“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.”
Things Mindy Lahiri adores: fashion, celebrity gossip, realtalking to impressionable young women about sex and birth control. She eats a ton of Chinese takeout and bear claws, despises going to the gym, but does not have the magic metabolism of a Cool (or Gilmore) Girl. In last week’s “Think Like a Peter,” Lahiri’s friend, the biggest bro in her office, attempts to mold Mindy in his own image—a.k.a., make her a Cool Girl—but when Mindy tries to drink whiskey, she immediately spits it out all over the face of the guy she was hitting on.
Back to Flynn: “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.”
Mindy Lahiri gets angry often, in part because there are people in her life who do things that are legitimately upsetting and/or infuriating, and in part because her penchant for drama is part of her charm. She tells her friends, boyfriends and exes what she wants and how she feels. She’s unwilling to, and uninterested in, playing the part of the girl who doesn’t care. Lahiri doesn’t waste time or energy pretending to be low maintenance (because nothing in this world worth having is low maintenance! Seriously, think about it. Even freaking goldfish need their water changed.)
The only Cool Girl affectation Mindy Lahiri seems to possess is her love of firearms, a trait that wasn’t designed for Lahiri so much as it was lifted directly from Mindy Kaling’s actual personality, and is funny in large part because it is such a seemingly out of character choice.
Cool Girls, as Flynn writes, are a myth, and the reason the myth persists is because everyone plays along. We’re all complicit. I wish this was something we could just blame on dudes or the patriarchy or whatever, but alas: anytime a girl says she’s “not like most girls” she contributes to the idea that there is some Platonic ideal of a woman who consists entirely of Esquire-esque fantasies about what a woman ought to be like.
There are plenty of obvious reasons why Mindy Kaling is so widely beloved right now: she’s that smart/talented/funny trifecta, she’s successful and proud of it, she is amazing at Instagram. But underneath all of that, there’s this: Women are tired of the Cool Girl, and Mindy, through her character, represents an appealing alternative. She’s the “Screw It, This Is Me, And Guys Can Take It Or Leave It Girl”.”
Girls who are sick of playing at “being one of the guys” are invigorated by such an unapologetically girly-girl. Women who are exhausted by the effort required to appear effortlessly cool want to embrace someone who doesn’t pretend to not put in any effort. Mindy Lahiri tries so hard at everything: her relationships, her work, her appearance. With all the talk lately of women reportedly suffering from “imposter syndrome” and a “confidence gap,” there’s something refreshing and straight-up delightful about Mindy Lahiri’s super-self-assured way of moving through life. Even when she’s being self-effacing, she is typically lamenting the way the world is failing to live up to her Nora-Ephron-inspired expectations, not the other way around.
We should all be so cool.