Feminist Ryan Gosling, Feminist Theory (as Imagined) from Your Favorite Sensitive Movie Dude, by Danielle Henderson, a book that pairs "feminist statements" with photos of Ryan Gosling, is out on Tuesday. This is a book that was created from a Tumblr, because that's often how things get done nowadays, and, also like things often get done nowadays, it appears to have arisen nearly spontaneously and fortuitously. Per the book description, "What started as a silly way for blogger Danielle Henderson and her classmates to keep track of the feminist theorists they were studying in class quickly turned into an overnight sensation." As Capital's Miranda Popkey wrote earlier this week, "Henderson put up five images on a Friday in October; by Saturday afternoon the Tumblr was on Jezebel; the next week it was picked up by The Huffington Post. By November, she had a book deal." This is practically the essence of viral, so it's not too surprising that there's a piece by Anna David in the New York Post today about "Why the women’s lib crowd is going all gooey over the Hollywood heartthrob."
While "women's lib crowd" seems a rather retro turn of phrase, it's hard to hate much about any of this. Few celebrities are so universally loved as Ryan Gosling. Yeah, a few people exist who don't seem to understand his charms, but by and large, he's adored. He's good-looking but it also has something to do with his ability to show up and save the day: Breaking up fights or preventing car accidents. Even if we don't know how he really feels about his role in Henderson's book, he seems, from what we do know about him (activism, Obama T-shirts, not shying from dating strong women who are sometimes older than he is), like he'd fall on the side of good and not evil. Henderson told The Village Voice's Candace Wheeler, "I hope he wouldn't hate what I'm doing or feel like none of these are things he would actually agree with." We also hope that's true but it really doesn't matter: It's all supposed to be lighthearted and funny. This isn't about Ryan Gosling so much as it is about changing the way we talk about feminism. Popkey writes that Henderson told her, “Feminist Ryan Gosling for me is a good way to kind to bridge the gap between feminist rage and my general, you know, living with the bullshit of being a woman in America rage.”
There's a lot of talk lately about what "wave" of feminism we're in, and how we should be talking about it, from books by Caitlin Moran to Jezebel's Lindy West (with Dan Savage, Christopher Frizzelle, and Bethany Jean Clement), and any number of articles and blog posts in between. In How To Be a Woman, Moran writes, "What is feminism? Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy, and smug they might be. Are you a feminist? Hahaha. Of course you are." In How To Be a Person, West adds, "If you are not a feminist (or something blamelessly ignorant, like a baby or a ferret or a college freshman), then you are a bad person. Those are the only options. You either believe that women are people, or you don't." Or, in the words of Feminist Gosling: "Hey girl. My eyes are up here."
There is something great about imbuing these discussions with a sense of humor while also managing to be enlightening and even instructional about feminism, though there are those who argue that this form of "feminism light" dismisses what's important about feminist theory, and that the Gosling flashcards go back to that traditional and not especially progressive idea of a woman just wanting a man to melt her heart.
At the same time, a lot of people still consider feminism a dirty word, which is why Moran and West are writing what they do. Take the words of new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who said recently, “I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist. I certainly believe in equal rights, I believe women are just as capable, if not more so, in a lot of different dimensions. But I don’t have that sort of the militant drive and the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that. And I think it’s too bad, but I think ’feminism’ has become in many ways a more negative word." Then contrast that rather disappointing statement to what Henderson told Popkey: “Feminism and the women’s rights movement, especially in America, is so serious right now…. [T]here are many different ways to approach feminism, and they're not all negative. You might not resonate with all of them, and that's okay.” And, “More than Ryan Gosling,” she said, “what I’m really, really excited about is the chance to get feminism talked about in a different way."
It seems like maybe it's working. It only took Ryan Gosling to get a story about feminism in The New York Post.