Guest Post by Nicole Sbitani. Nicole is an adult convert, a woman of color, and a professional diplomat. She blogs at nandm.sbitani.com and writes microfiction @nsbitani on Twitter. The content of this post does not represent the views of the U.S. Department of State or any other U.S. Government agency, department, or entity. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and in no way should be associated with the U.S. Government.
When I was in high school, I was introduced to the concept of the Cool Girl, now more commonly referred to especially by Gen Z as the pick me girl. Cool Girls or pick me girls suffer from internalized misogyny and seek to separate themselves from other girls, women, or gender minorities. The main (if sometimes subconscious) goal of the Cool Girl is to impress, attract, or fit in better with boys or men. As a result, Cool Girls engage in some stereotypically performative, masculine behaviors like burping and watching sports while carefully preserving aspects of femininity such as adhering to conventionally attractive beauty standards.
As an adult convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I also believe there is such an archetype as the Cool Mormon (a concept McKay Coppins mentions in his article in The Atlantic, titled “The Most American Religion”). Like the Cool Girl, the Cool Mormon is eager to please others and willing to change their own interests, personality, and behavior to earn others’ approval. For example, they may force themselves to laugh when others mock their sacred beliefs or to participate in social events involving excessive alcohol or drugs so as to avoid being called prude. At the other extreme, they may look down on others who do not live their lifestyle in order to appear more worthy to fellow members and create the impression that adhering to strict church-imposed standards is effortless – at least for them.
When these two concepts – the Cool Girl and the Cool Mormon – are combined, someone may feel pressure to conform to the intersectional image of a Cool Mormon Girl. I have felt that pressure myself and continuously aim to resist the tendency to contort myself into a Cool Mormon Girl ideal even when it makes me uncomfortable. Cool Mormon Girls are themselves full of contradictions, seeking in some contexts to distinguish themselves both from stereotypically sheltered, innocent Mormon girls and in other situations from stereotypically promiscuous, mainstream girls. The latter attitude is often exemplified in Sunday meetings and official church materials; see, for example, a 2008 New Era piece called “A Note to the Good Girls” written from a young man’s perspective that includes the lines: “I think it’s cool that you don’t dress like a lot of other girls. It is much more comfortable for us guys when a girl dresses modestly (and yes, girls who dress modestly are very attractive) and uses good language.”
If you are a woman and find yourself bragging that all of your friends are men because women and gender minorities “have too much drama going on,” then you might be a Cool Girl trying too hard to impress men. If you are a Mormon and find yourself bragging that you wouldn’t even know how to have fun at a party without alcohol because you’re “not like those Mountain West BYU grads,” then you might be a Cool Mormon trying too hard to impress non-members. If you are a Mormon woman and find yourself bragging that you’ve never even considered buying a bikini because you don’t want to “lower your standards to those of the world,” then you might be a Cool Mormon Girl trying too hard to impress Mormon men. Each of these expressions of identity do not exist in isolation but come at the expense of others.
A major wake-up call for me was having a higher-ranked, non-member coworker tell me, “You’re so great to have around. You’re not like other girls or Mormons who just can’t take a joke.” The truth was, that person had hurt me multiple times with their inappropriate humor, disrespect for women and my religion, and treatment of others. Instead of calling that person out on their behavior, I had decided I cared more about being the Cool Mormon Girl. Even as other women and people of my faith were marginalized by this person’s comments, I failed to speak up because I was too afraid of losing my own tenuous but higher status in the eyes of someone with more power and influence.
There are certainly individuals who themselves naturally fit closer to the profile of a Cool Mormon Girl. Perhaps their interests are simply more aligned with those stereotypically associated with a Cool Girl or their relationship with their religion situates them in a space commonly associated with Cool Mormons. What really sets Cool Mormon Girls apart, however, is not their own preferences but their conflicted relationship to their sense of self and the need to diminish others to appeal to a perceived audience. It is the choice to privilege the coveted external gaze at the expense of others that makes these archetypes worthy of rejection.
Mosiah 18:9 asks us to stand as “witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places”, not just when it is “cool” or when others praise us for it. Moreover, the scriptures are full of countless examples of God declaring all children equal in divine worth and exhorting us to unity. Attempts to distinguish ourselves as individuals by putting down any other group, as Cool Mormon Girls do, are a sign of spiritual and emotional immaturity. We don’t need to generalize or mock others to assert our own values and preferences. On a larger scale, when everyone chases the approval of those in power then the whole community loses. So let’s reject the Cool Mormon Girl within us and do better.