By Isabelle Rodriguez
Recently I’ve had a real hankering for fiction books about women. As an English major I’m constantly bombarded with books about really boring dudes trying to “figure stuff out,” so I’ve been wanting a refreshment … or else I was going to lose my mind this summer.
Surprisingly, I found myself drawn to stories like Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott, and The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins. I can tell you a majority of the books I read this summer centered around someone dying (or in the case of Gone Girl, faking their own murder) and the main character being involved in some way.
At one point I had to put the books down and tell myself to lighten up and read some peppy YA, but then I began to wonder why I liked these stories so much. Was I just being morbid? (Maybe) Was I just attracted to the dramatic flare of it all? (To a certain degree)
It wasn’t until I read Gone Girl that I realized why I had become obsessed. It’s inthe scene where the main character, Amy Dunne, goes on a spiel about “Cool Girls.” You know, the chicks dudes love, the kind of girls who like whatever their guy likes and has no discernible personality beyond that.
When I read that paragraph I literally had to put the book down and physically move myself away to chill for a second. Because honestly, while Amy Dunne isn’t the best character, she hit that nail on the head.
I completely understood what she was talking about. I can think back on my life and recount all the times men wanted me to be that “Cool Girl” who did what they wanted me to do. The clearest memory was in high school when some senior from my theatre class, stopped little ole junior me in the parking lot to tell me he loved me.
Me. The girl he talked to a handful of times in class.
My response? “You have weird taste in girls.”
It was stupid, but it was meant to be funny. Any one of my friends could tell you that’s just me.
His response? “You’re supposed to say ‘I love you back’”
After I told him I wasn’t going to do that (because no one in their right sense would) he got upset and walked away from me. He then spent the rest of the school year belittling me.
The girl he loved.
At that time in high school, I didn’t understand why he was acting the way he was. Later on I found out he had a girlfriend when he told me that and I was even more confused. He had a girl. Why was he upset that I don’t like him?
Now I get it. I disappointed him because I dared to not be “cool girl.” I don’t want to be “cool girl.”
And that’s when I realized that neither did the female protagonists of the books I read. Of course they were exaggerated and twisted versions of this anti-“cool girl” (I did say I love drama), but these characters were allowed to have all these taboo traits for women: selfishness, greed, desire, a hunger for power. They weren’t who they were taught to be as women, but who they wanted to be. And for better or worse, I gotta’ give these dangerous women some props.
These character’s are willing to explore aspects of womanhood that female readers may be afraid to examine about themselves. Sure, in some of the stories the women are toxic people, but in some they learn to accept these aspects about themselves and embrace it. They have goals they will do anything to achieve, they are unapologetic about their feelings, and, importantly, they struggle and overcome the strict ideas of what a woman is.
These situations aren’t unfamiliar to myself, or women, in general. While I haven’t framed my husband for my murder like Amy Dunne, I have struggled with ideas and perceptions others have had of me. I like the clarity these dangerous women gave me.