Feminist Ryan Gosling's creator on how it went from a jokey study aid to a book deal
On one of her personal websites, Danielle Henderson, creator of the Feminist Ryan Gosling Tumblr, lists as some of the challenges she's overcome: “an abusive family structure … a bear chase … working in a convent … and the entirety of the Mets’ 1987 season." Another might be that Ryan Gosling doesn't really do much for her, physically.
“For some reason,” she said over the phone earlier this week, “he seems to me like a composite of every little brother I've ever met.” She thinks Gosling is charismatic and funny and socially conscientious. Still: “I don’t find him hot.”
And yet Henderson has seen past her ambivalence to make Feminist Ryan Gosling into something of a sensation; it celebrated its translation to book form last night at Housing Works Bookstore.
The site, if you haven't seen it, offers feminist statements over pictures of Gosling looking hot and bothered. But the goal, at least initially, was just to make a silly study guide. Henderson, a graduate student in Gender and Women's Studies at the University of Wisconsin, having recently learned about the Fuck Yeah! Ryan Gosling meme, thought it would be funny to pair feminist theory with the puppy-dog-looking celebrity.
“It was literally supposed to be seen by like, five people,” Henderson said.
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.
The first posts are obviously geared towards cramming for tests: "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” superimposed over a black-and-white shot of the actor with his eyes closed, one finger apparently wiping away a tear.
Later images loosen up the conceit, weighing in on current events—“Hey girl. Did he actually think that naming the bill after two civil rights pioneers would prevent us from exposing it for being a racially discriminatory aggression against the reproductive options for women of color?”—and more obviously playing up the humorous contrast between the scholarly ideas and the smoldering image: “Hey girl. The post-feminist fetishization of motherhood is deeply rooted in classism but I still think we’d make cute babies.”
Henderson's book launch was co-sponsored by Tumblr (responsible for furnishing the alcohol) and Word Bookstore (selling copies of the book, 80 percent of which is new material). Maris Kreizman, of the Slaughterhouse 90210 Tumblr, which pairs quotes from works of literature with screen shots from television shows and movies, also made a guest appearance. She had prepared a special “Slaughterhouse Ryan Gosling” slideshow: a shot from Lars and the Real Girl was paired with a quote from Sheli Heti's How Should a Person Be?; a shot from Drive was paired with lines from Frankenstein
“I like the Frankenstein comparison because he is evil and yet very godlike,” Kreizman said. Stills of The Notebook and Gosling during his Mickey Mouse Club days drew audible "awwww"s.
Despite the appreciative response, the event was filled with women (and a few men) who were not particularly interested in Ryan Gosling’s face.
“He’s kind of like cats on the Internet, you know?" said Nozlee Samadzadeh, an editor at the website Food52. "Even if you don’t like Ryan Gosling, you like Ryan Gosling.” But apart from the woman whose name tag read “Mrs. Gosling” (though wouldn't feminist Ryan Gosling want his wife to keep her own last name?), partygoers did not seem to be particularly turned on by him either.
“I can tell he’s attractive, but I don't burn for him,” said Sarah Brown, host of the monthly reading series Cringe. “I would find it attractive if anyone said the things that feminist Ryan Gosling says,” said rising NYU senior Alison Maney.
Though feelings for the real-life Gosling were lukewarm, conversations about sexual politics were more heated; people seemed eager to talk about feminism, and how the cultural conversation might be influenced by Henderson’s book.
Over the phone Henderson had mentioned that her goal with the Tumblr and the book was to get people to laugh: “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.”
During her brief comments at Housing Works, Henderson hit the same notes. “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. I think third-wave feminism is doing a great job of promoting a lot of different ideas and a lot of different voices, but not all of them are super funny and not all of them are in school.”
This interaction, between punchlines and thesis statements, resonated with Rachel Fershleiser, of Tumblr, as well: “My feeling,” she said, “is that there were a lot of […] lonely grad students and wannabe writers and quiet feminists who never had an opportunity to take that stuff and make it part of their fun life, and so when something silly came along, but instead of just being, Oh I like cats too, it was, Oh, I hate Phyllis Schlafly too, that like, that was such a powerful thing for them.”
Bonnie Martinez, who moved to New York from San Antonio Texas less than two weeks ago, wasn't shy about the fact that Henderson's work had encouraged her to look up unfamiliar names she found on the blog. “I’ve learned more about feminism that way than any other way,” she said.
Henderson, between thanking seemingly everyone in the room for coming, described the compromise between didacticism and fun: “Feminist Ryan Gosling for me,” she said, “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.”