While reading Slate's review of Laura Kipnis’ “Men: Notes From an Ongoing Investigation,” I was struck with a pang of self-recognition. Amanda Marcotte wrote that the book, which covers everything from the economy to politics, but largely focuses on sex, has too many “‘chill girl’ moments.” She defines these as points in the book in which Kipnis “props herself up by suggesting she’s unperturbed by the typical things that send hands clutching pearl-ward.”
Ah, the “chill girl." I know her well. I was her through much of my 20s.
Now, the "chill girl" is not to be confused with the “Cool Girl,” a concept popularized by Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl." What Marcotte zeroes in on is something more specific than the one-of-the-guys behavior of embracing sports and beer. The “chill girl” of which she speaks is chill about one thing in particular: sex. It’s a narrower class than the Cool Girl. It’s a sub-category that was most developed in Ariel Levy’s “Female Chauvinist Pigs,” a book I hated more than I’d ever hated a book, because it understood me and my ilk all too well.
As Levy put it, a female chauvinist pig is a woman who deals "with her femaleness" by "either acting like a cartoon man -- who drools over strippers, says things like 'check out that ass,' and brags about having the 'biggest cock in the building' -- or acting like a cartoon woman, who has big cartoon breasts, wears little cartoon outfits and can only express her sexuality by spinning around a pole."
In my case, I went to strip clubs, got lap dances, sat at the tip bar with the men and gamely evaluated performers' bodies with male companions. Often, after enough drinks, I would begin to chat up male customers, ask them why they were there, how often they came, whether they had girlfriends or wives. I fancied myself as finding out some deep, dark truth about men and male sexuality -- convinced, as I was, that I had to love it in order to love them. I was sitting there tucking dollars into G-strings, practically screaming, "I AM SO OK WITH ALL OF THIS! UNLIKE MOST WOMEN!" I suppose it fell into the category of "thou doth protest too much" -- or rather, "thou doth protest too little." As for the women dancing: I was scared of them, I loved them, I worshiped them, I wanted to be them, I wanted to conquer them.
That was just the most sensational part of it. I faked orgasms. So many. Most. I pretended to be OK with friends-with-benefits situations when I was very much not. I inured myself to the most hardcore porn I could find, as though trying to ensure that I could never, ever be shocked by anything I found in a boyfriend's browser history. For crying out loud, I devoted my career to writing about sex, which ensured a certain degree of mastery over male partners. (Maybe shrinks are always crazy and sex writers are always scared of sex.) Ironically, I tried to take charge of sex by accepting, embracing and being everything I thought men wanted.
During this "chill girl" period, I was all about challenging men -- intellectually and physically -- except when it came to sex. That's because men had the unilateral power to reject me, to find me undesirable. It seemed to me that in all other areas of life, I had means for recourse -- but withholding sex didn't seem like an option. I wanted to have sex! I wanted men! There was no denying that, so I gave in. My central error was in overestimating men's undesirable characteristics -- or, put another way, underestimating men.
I really only started to give up the pursuit when I got married -- to a guy who would rather not go to strip clubs and whose erotic material of choice is amateur Tumblr porn that makes the hardcore stuff I'd studied look like war movies in comparison. Suddenly, with a man on lock, I could let go of chill girl-dom, which tells you most of what you need to know about the motivations behind it.
All of that said, there is something to be said for trying to be a chill girl. You can learn more about people when you're open and sympathetic. I've also found that it's a great position from which to change minds about things like, well, feminism. It's just, you want to be sure that you're being a chill girl to the right kind of man -- not all men or the worst of men. And you want to understand, and actually believe in your bones, that more important than being a chill girl is being a real woman.