He breaks up street fights; he saves hapless women from speeding taxis; he’s the social-minded movie star with the Obama T-shirt and sad puppy-dog eyes who once said, “It’s misogynistic in nature to try and control a woman’s sexual presentation of self.” He’s Ryan Gosling, and, thanks in large part to one graduate student’s Tumblr, he’s basically a feminist icon.
Feminist Ryan Gosling, by University of Wisconsin women’s and gender studies major Danielle Henderson, started out as just a funny study tool for remembering what Henderson called a bunch of “dead, white” theorists. Playing on the “hey girl” meme from F--k Yeah Ryan Gosling, another Gosling-centric blog, Henderson paired images of the actor with feminist-friendly come-ons. “Hey girl, I don’t disagree with Brah’s assessment of transnational migration altering the power structure and changing the political economy of women by creating new diasporas expressed as concepts, discourses, and experiences—I just want you to move in so we can spend more time together,” Gosling says in one picture, with an earnest expression and a blue tux. Meant as an inside joke between Henderson and her friends, the blog went viral.
“I made like, five flashcards and sent them to my friends and we laughed,” Henderson told The Daily Beast. “I put them on a blog on a Friday, and the next day it was on Jezebel. To say that I was surprised is a complete understatement.”
A book deal followed, and Feminist Ryan Gosling: Feminist Theory From Your Favorite Sensitive Movie Dude hits shelves Tuesday. Now even the New York Post is hosting discourse about how “the women’s lib crowd is going all gooey over the Hollywood heartthrob.”
Well, everyone in the “women’s lib crowd” except for Henderson. Asked if she finds The Gos as attractive as her fans do, she cries, “I don’t! A lot of people can’t understand it. I grew up into Johnny Depps and Christian Slaters. I think [Gosling’s] great, he’s an incredibly talented actor—but he also simultaneously seems like every little brother I’ve ever met.”
Though Henderson’s blog may be responsible for the massive popularity of Gosling’s image as the world’s cuddliest feminist, the idea is not totally unfounded. In 2010, when the film Blue Valentine received an NC-17 rating because of a scene where Gosling’s character performs oral sex on co-star Michelle Williams, the actor spoke up: “You have to question a cinematic culture which preaches artistic expression, and yet would support a decision that is clearly a product of a patriarchy-dominant society, which tries to control how women are portrayed onscreen. The MPAA is OK supporting scenes that portray women in scenarios of sexual torture and violence for entertainment purposes, but they are trying to force us to look away from a scene that shows a woman in a sexual scenario, which is both complicit and complex. It’s misogynistic in nature to try and control a woman’s sexual presentation of self. I consider this an issue that is bigger than this film.” Translation: Hey girl, if a man receiving oral sex in a movie only gets an R rating, why should a woman receiving it get an NC-17?
“He already had dreamboat status before he started making feminist-minded statements, but when he did, it’s like you suddenly had an intellectual justification for worshipping him,” Amelia McDonell-Parry, editor of the women’s blog The Frisky, told The New York Post.
Further fueling the swooning, Gosling also proved his appetite for social justice by blogging about the war in Congo and becoming a Darfur activist. And as some have gleefully noted, he seems to have a thing for older women. (Sandra Bullock, whom he dated in 2002, is 16 years older, and his reported current flame, Eva Mendes, is seven years older—perhaps spawning the FRG picture that reads “Hey girl. I mean ... WOMAN.”) To top it off, he even goes around saying things like, “I’d like to be making babies but I’m not, so I’m making movies. When someone comes along I don’t think I’ll be able to do both and I’m fine with that. I’ll make movies until I make babies.” As Henderson says, “He’s pretty good at his own image”—though she does wonder what he thinks of how her meme has affected it.
“I haven’t heard from him,” she says, laughing. “But I really hope he doesn’t hate it.”
As for how long the meme will be around, both to incite burning female desire for the aforementioned Gosling babies and get people Googling names as varied as Judy Blume and Jacques Derrida (“Hey girl. It’s been a tough week; do you want to just stay in tonight, rub bellies, and talk about Derrida’s politics of sexual difference?”), Henderson already knows the answer: “It won’t be going for long,” she said. “I’m personally moving on, creatively and academically. These things have a shelf life—people become uninterested, they move on. It will happen.”
But for now, thanks to Henderson, Gosling’s face continues to be an effective vehicle for introducing feminist theory to the uninitiated. “I’ve received a lot of emails from people saying, ‘I’ve never been interested in feminism until now,’” says Henderson. “There have definitely been people who’ve come to feminism because of this. It’s not my goal, but strength in numbers!”