Society has a frustrating double standard when it comes to emotions in women. We are not supposed to display our emotions yet we are nevertheless expected to draw upon them when emotional labour is required.
This idealisation of indifference, directly antithetical to emotional expression, is apparent in the rise of the chill girl stereotype. Alana Masey talks about the chill girl as someone who is ‘emotionally vacant’. No preferences, no strong passions, no neurosis of any kind. The chill girl engages in casual sex and casual drug use. Not only is she not offended by the objectification of women, she is indifferent to it.
She is the human female equivalent to the concierge desk at Westfield: she validates inconsiderate behaviour for men like they validate parking tickets, with brazen indifference and automaton fluidity.
The chill girl stereotype is one that I and many others have fallen for, even though it seems like the blandest of personalities. Because bland is in. Because, many do not want to be perceived as a woman with strong opinions, who stands up for herself and is an ardent feminist- because women like that are ‘hysterical.’
Hysteria was a condition that women in the nineteenth century were diagnosed with. Defined as emotional excess, hysteria was considered to exhibit as anxiety and sexually forward behaviour. It was essentially a way to subjugate strong women who were assertive, to invalidate their emotions by creating a specifically female illness.
Hysteria is rightly considered a sexist diagnosis today. Yet, socially enforced stereotypes now act as an insidious form of social control. Centuries later, women are still being told, albeit through the subtleties of media and social interactions, that ‘chill’ is acceptable and emotional is not.
Undoubtedly, stereotypes have been pervasive when it comes to women. The manic pixie dream girl stereotype, as observed in 500 Days of Summer, is the culmination of the female muse seen through the eyes of an artist: carved from a dream, adorably quirky and there to serve as a point of salvation and transformation for a man.
While this stereotype is frustratingly narrow and also offensive, it operates as more as a concept; there is an element of unreality to it. The stereotype of the chill girl on the other hand, is far more problematic because the standard and the implications of it are very real.
It does not exist purely in the media nor is it specific regarding its requirements. It does not tell you what to be, it specifically tells you what not to be, which is intense, neurotic or an entity that possesses emotions and preferences.
The operation of this stereotype is ubiquitous in social situations. It is there when someone who labels themselves as a feminist proclaims that feminists who strongly espouse the cause are ‘too intense.’ It is present when women succumb to pressure to not label a relationship, to blur boundaries because they are playing commitment hooky in the land of chill.
It is present when assault victims do not speak out about sexual assault because they do not want to rock the boat with their emotions and their trauma. It is apparent when women are denigrated for strongly asserting their needs and are asked to simply go with the flow.
It is at play when women with mental health issues are deemed too ‘neurotic.’ Men struggle to ask for help when it comes to mental health issues because they are not expected to display emotions.
Some women struggle to ask for help because they are trying to avoid the image of the hysterical and neurotic female. Some women stay silent because they are trying to achieve the emotional vacancy that the chill girl stereotype espouses.
I have seen myself and women around me fall prey to the false allure of the chill girl. The stereotype suggests that caring and being vulnerable are weaknesses and that the definition of freedom is to be aloof, detached and indifferent.
Conversely, when emotional labour is required, women are expected to momentarily abandon the chill girl stereotype and attend to whatever crisis requires their emotions and their empathy.
Women engage in all kinds of unpaid labour, from orchestrating activism to labour around the house in the form of cooking and cleaning.
However, what I am specifically referencing here is care labour: labour that encompasses everything from resolving points of conflict between people to providing emotional support, comfort and validation. It is labour that is intrinsically expected of women and feminine people for free. It is specifically expected from women because according to restrictive gender norms, they hold the emotional monopoly.
This is problematic because care labour is often unpaid, unacknowledged and can be very mentally draining. Furthermore, it reinforces the idea that emotions and intensity are to be drawn upon only in socially sanctioned situations, ergo when it is required for the benefit of society.
Secondly, it bars men from assuming emotional responsibility, ensuring that they never have to deal with situations of care because it is acceptable for them to delegate these tasks to women. In addition to this, it also assumes that women will provide effective care labour simply because they are women.
The fact is that some people are simply more empathetic than others and therefore better equipped to deal with the labour of care. Gender norms assert their power by putting people in socially sanctioned boxes. Whatever gender you are or identify with, having a socially espoused standard that you do not conform to can strip you of your individuality and be downright harrowing.
The chill girl stereotype is simply one example of the way in which gender norms are enforced. The chill girl stereotype is not just some flimsy ideal, it is a reality that some women are trying to live up to in order to be deemed acceptable, in order to appear strong and deflect from their needs. It is an image some women are trying to conform to whilst simultaneously providing emotional labour.
In order to have a more equally distributed labour of care, it is important to recognise that society has a double standard for emotions and intensity in women. It is important to combat this poisonous stereotype by reminding women that strength and assertiveness are virtues, even if they are not convenient to those that actively enforce this stereotype.
It is also equally important to teach men to value emotions and empathy in themselves and others. It is important to remind them that they should also bear the responsibility of providing emotional labour and that their gender does not necessarily make them incapable of doing so.
This article is dedicated to any woman who is trying to be a chill girl. It is better to be yourself, even though you may be labelled ‘emotional’, ‘uptight’, ‘hysterical’ or ‘neurotic’. Because that disingenuous girl, with zombie mush brain and a cold fish for a heart that you are trying to embody isn’t real. In fact, she’s been moulded into existence by a society that exploits the very qualities that it is trying to suppress.
Image: Stephen Di Donato
Since Neha Mulay’s recent graduation, when she not being consumed by existential angst, she is observing, reflecting and writing. She has been published in Demos Journal and Woroni. She has performed poetry at several events and hopes to publish her poetry one day. Through her writing she aims to capture the complexity of human experience with an emphasis on women and migrant experiences as well as mental health issues. While she writes because of an innate need to do so, Neha hopes to publish her writing to help alleviate the sense of isolation present in modern life.