Courtesy of MemeCrunch.com
Danielle Henderson did not enjoy reading feminist theory, yet her career is now based upon it. Henderson is a graduate student in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin and author of the popular blog Feminist Ryan Gosling. She spoke to students and faculty Tuesday afternoon about how actor Ryan Gosling (“Gangster Squad”) helped her become a feminist scholar.
“My blog, Feminist Ryan Gosling, inadvertently saved my academic life,” Henderson said.
Henderson’s journey in academia was meandering and full of eclectic experiences. After she dropped out of college in Boston, a cross-country move took her from university classrooms to a coffee shop in California where she worked as a barista. Later, Henderson was hired to work at the United Nations in New York. But shortly after 9/11, she moved to an Alaskan fishing village. Her time and adventures there, including a bear attack and stabbing, inspired her first book, “Tales from Fish Camp.” After returning to college, Henderson majored in gender studies and eventually came to Madison for graduate study.
Initially, the process was painful. Henderson found feminist theory is textually dense. “I did not love and revere Foucault,” she said. “I was miserable.”
Henderson’s husband suggested she take a movie break, so they went to see “Drive.” Enter Ryan Gosling.
“The minute I saw Ryan Gosling trembling over that guy with the nail and the hammer, I was like, ‘That is me in every book of theory I’ve ever picked up,’” Henderson said.
While taking a women’s studies course in 2011, Henderson created the Tumblr blog she is now known for, Feminist Ryan Gosling. “It was something that I was using, in a way, to understand the work I was doing and to remember all the theorists that we were using in our introductory course,” she said.
Photos of Gosling, accompanied by fictitious quotations had already circulated the Internet in form of the popular meme Fuck Yeah! Ryan Gosling. Inspired by Gosling’s sex appeal, Henderson found humor in using him to deliver provocative feminist concepts to what she assumed would be a small university audience.
One post included a photo of Gosling in a partially unbuttoned shirt. As he stares into your eyes with a longing expression, he says:
“Hey girl. Anne Fausto-Sterling has a theory that five categorical sexes would help break constrictive gender norms, but the only sex I need is you.”
In another photo, Gosling — this time wearing a sweater — says, “Hey girl. Sometimes I think about Foucault’s theory of marriage as a governmentally-developed tool that interferes with the appropriation of land rights, normalizes heterosexuality and subjugates a woman’s sexuality and it makes me want to cry with you.”
The blog was a hit. “It literally took off overnight,” Henderson said. “I posted on Friday, and by Saturday it was featured on Jezebel and CBS News.
Gosling has not stated he is a feminist. However, in November 2010, he protested the NC-17 rating given to the film “Blue Valentine,“ which he stars in, by the Motion Picture Association of America. Controversy surrounded the film’s depiction of cunnilingus. Gosling’s statement, which said, “It’s misogynistic in nature to try and control a woman’s sexual presentation of self,” gave Henderson a jumping off place to further explore the romance of Gosling’s progressiveness.
“Eventually, as it started to pick up more steam and get more attention, I had to really think about ‘What is this revealing?’”
The frustration Henderson initially felt over feminist theory’s accessibility is central to the blog’s audience. As posts attracted readers from the general public, Henderson observed the importance of making feminist theory relevant to daily experience and more readable.
“I don’t mark intelligence by your ability to confuse people,” Henderson said. “The more intelligent people I’ve met in my life have the ability to talk to wide groups of people.”
She hopes using Ryan Gosling as a messenger will make it easier for readers to find ways to connect to feminism. “I think the message might be psychologically easier to receive because Ryan Gosling is beautiful,” Henderson joked.
Henderson published a book based upon her blog. “Feminist Ryan Gosling: Feminist theory (as imagined) from your favorite sensitive movie dude” was released by Running Press in August 2012.