Danielle Henderson is the brain behind Feminist Ryan Gosling, the Tumblr-turned-book-deal and ‘Hey Girl’ meme-spinoff that claims the sensitive heartthrob as a feminist intellectual icon. Danielle gives voice to contemporary feminist concerns through Gosling’s sultry image. “Hey girl,” the puppy-dog-eyed star says, “The post-feminist fetishization of motherhood is deeply rooted in classicism, but I still think we’d make cute babies.” Or, in a midnight blue tux to match his eyes: “Hey girl. Julia Kristeva talks about love being the modern obscenity like she was spying on us last night.” Big time lady boner.
The book of the Tumblr is called Feminist Ryan Gosling: Feminist Theory (^As Imagined) from Your Favorite Sensitive Movie Dude and is published by Running Press. Pocket sized and full color, the book is eye candy plus education. The breadth of feminist theory and activism covered in the edition is such that it should be picked up as syllabi guide to modern feminism. Maybe that’ll happen. Danielle is an American Ph.D. candidate and I can just imagine the wait list on a Feminist Ryan Gosling elective course. Here, the academic Internet sensation tells us a little about herself, her feminism, and her fascination with Ryan.
Who are you? Tell me a little bit about the person behind Feminist Ryan Gosling.
I am a 35-year-old graduate student, instructor, and full-time nerd (a word which I use in the traditional sense to denote social ostracization and a healthy obsession with books). I can rebuild a carburetor but I lose my keys on a regular basis. I update my list of enemies every year. I only like music that makes me feel diabolical or triumphant, so I listen to a lot of heavy metal and classical. My husband and I got married on Halloween in the least goth way possible. I talk to kids and babies like they’re adults. I was a little spooked after September 11 (I used to work for the United Nations) so I purchased a car and drove to Alaska, where I had the strangest 4 years of my life. I spent most of my 20s a little bit adrift; I had tried college for a year out of high school, but I didn’t go back to school until I was 30 years old. I cannot abide people who take themselves too seriously. My grandmother is the funniest person I’ve ever known, and we talk every Sunday.
How did your Tumblr start?
When I started graduate school last year, it was a major transition. In the first two months, I was doing a lot of foundational work, and not really focusing on my own academic projects. It was a little frustrating; I found myself actively not engaging with school for the first time. I was going to quit, actually. Instead, I found a way to make it fun, to get through the foundational part in order to get to the good stuff. I started the Tumblr to alleviate some stress and make my fellow classmates laugh, but it probably saved my academic career.
Aside from Ryan Gosling, what are you feminist research interests?
Most of my feminist research interests are somehow focused on the intersectionality of race, class, and gender. I’m working on my thesis this year, looking at how new media complicates issues of race in motherhood. I’m concerned that feminists still use new media in traditional ways, that the narrative of feminism is still skewed to the upper middle class Caucasian when the lived experience is so much more varied. I don’t think new media is the great equalizer everyone pretends it is—socioeconomics and race still play a big role in access and representation, and the myth of meritocracy looms large. I’m also quite interested in racism and sexism as forms of folklore, something that’s passed down generationally and geographically (but that will be the focus of my Ph.D.).
I’m starting to think that the 2010s will be remembered as the era when feminism got funny. With Caitlin Moran, your tumblr, all these amazing comedic actress working today… Any thoughts?
It’s certainly not a new concept that women and feminists are funny, but there has been a sort of uprising as of late, or more of a spotlight on humor and feminism. In his book Solopsist, Henry Rollins mentions that if he were a woman these days, his gun would never cool, he’d have testicle blood on his hands. Which is intense and hilarious, because how do you think feminists have been getting by all this time? We’ve been laughing with each other, making fun of the things that threaten to tear us apart. Humor and feminism has always been linked in my mind; if I didn’t laugh regularly about the state of women’s rights today, I’d probably have to be institutionalized. Like, some real Miss Havisham shit where I’d just want to stop the world, crawl into a hole with some Doctor Who DVDs, and call it a day. Instead I laugh, I fight, I encourage others to do the same.
What do you think is the most pressing concern on the feminist agenda today?
Before we do anything else, we have to get to a place where women have some control over their bodies, control that is sanctioned by the government. It is absolutely unbelievable to me that we’re still fighting issues of abortion rights, access to health care and preventative care. Cultures who already have this on lockdown (primarily places with nationalized medical plans) are thriving, women are thriving, and we’re still medically in the stone ages, practically handing women divining rods and a bag full of wishes to prevent and care for their bodies.
What’s your favorite Ryan Gosling role?
I seem to have only seen his more independent roles. A long time ago, I went on a date with someone who suggested we watch The Notebook; I never called him again. I absolutely loved Lars and the Real Girl. That movie is so heartbreaking, so funny, so delightful and sad. He was brilliant in Half Nelson, and Drive was, of course, my impetus to start the website.
Have you ever heard from the man? Has he ever spoken out about his being claimed as a feminist voice?
I haven’t heard from him at all; I’m sure he has better things to do than talk to a teacher who puts words on his face for fun. Since I never expected the site to become popular, I didn’t think about people perceiving it as part of his actual personality. I’m not trying to thrust a feminist identity on him, you know? Still, it’s pretty funny that he’s, like, the thinking woman’s beefcake.
Reprinted with permission from Feminist Ryan Gosling © 2012 by Danielle Henderson, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.