Some people make flashcards to memorize facts; Danielle Henderson created a world-renowned blog instead. As a graduate student of women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin, Henderson created Feminist Ryan Gosling (feministryangosling.tumblr.com) as a silly way to keep track of the heavy feminist theory she was learning in class. The site, which parodies the popular Fuck Yeah! Ryan Gosling fan blog by pairing steamy pictures of the actor with feminist-text-turned-sweet-talk, became an overnight success and has recently been turned into a book, Feminist Ryan Gosling: Feminist Theory (as Imagined) from Your Favorite Sensitive Movie Dude. The Eye sat down with Henderson to ask about dealing with academia without going insane, the awkwardness of explaining to strangers why she has so many pictures of Ryan Gosling saved on her computer, and, of course, feminism.
So, how did Feminist Ryan Gosling come to be?
When I started graduate school last year, I felt like I didn’t belong and was considering dropping out. I couldn’t see a clear connection between what I was learning and the lived experience of being a feminist, and it was frustrating. Around the same time, I realized that a lot of my classmates were feeling the same way; at lunch one day, one of them showed me the “Hey Girl” meme, which was so funny. Then, I went to see the movie Drive with my husband. I had Ryan Gosling on the brain, and thought that the “Hey Girl” meme would be a funny way to talk about our homework. I created a few pictures and put them on the blog, thinking only my friends would see it. The next day, it was on Jezebel, and it just took off from there.
How do you hope feminist ideals come through in your book? Is that what it was written to convey?
I wanted to write the Feminist Ryan Gosling book to provide an access point for people who feel like they don’t quite fit into the really rigid or dense aspects of feminist thought. I always say that I’m having fun with feminism but not making fun of feminism; I believe in the theories I’m riffing on, but I think it’s important to approach them in a way that makes sense in your own life. My feminist ideals are a component of who I am; I wanted the book to convey my sense of humor, and the other elements of my personality that enhance my feminism.
Do people assume you’re some sort of Gosling superfan? Does it ever get awkward when you try to explain the blog or book to someone new?
A little bit—I mean, I like him. He’s a great actor, and I appreciate how charming and wonderful he seems, but I didn’t start this project from the perspective of a superfan. My computer recently crashed and I actually had to say this to a stranger at the Apple store: “If you see a lot of pictures of Ryan Gosling on there, it’s not because I’m a weirdo, but because I wrote a book about him.” And then he laughed in my face.
Social networking sites like Tumblr, where you host FRG, are becoming hotbeds for feminist debate, especially among young people. Do you think this is productive in moving feminism forward?
I think it is great to have the space, since it seems to be how a lot of people are finding out about feminism now. But it can also be dangerous and distracting; it’s more difficult to formulate your own feminist ideals when you’re being inundated with so many opinions. I think about my part in that a lot, and hope that I’m erring on the side of good.
Why do you think it’s harder to create feminist ideas when you’re exposed to too many opinions?
Feminism has adopted a really academic attitude lately, and academia is as much about building on literature as it is about being critical. That critical element is important, of course, but I feel like it can be really dangerous for people just discovering feminism. Before you even have a chance to figure out your own ideas, you have 10 people on the Internet telling you why you shouldn’t feel that way, or that you should approach feminism in a different way, etc.
How did you first get actively involved in feminism? When did you first consciously identify as a feminist?
I came to feminism in my teens, which was in the ’90s. Feminism was everywhere when I was growing up—the Riot grrrl movement was strong, and you actually heard people saying the word “feminism” all the time, like on the news and in movies. Once I keyed in on what feminism meant, it made so much sense! It was the first tool I had to explain my intersectionality—as a woman and person of color, I’ve experienced a lot of racism and sexism but had no way to fight back before I discovered feminism. No one in my family identifies as a feminist, but I would call them feminists for sure based on their principles. I don’t think there was one specific moment when I thought, “Hey, I’m a feminist,” but I definitely grew up feeling like it was ridiculous that so many people tried to tell me to steer my life in certain ways just because I was a girl.
You started FRG as a way to make learning heavy academic theory fun. Any parting words, besides creating a wildly popular blog, on how to not drown in academia?
I wish someone had told me early on how important it is to make time for your nonacademic interests. It’s so easy to get incredibly invested in school and treat nonacademic work as a frivolity. But you need to go to the movies. You should absolutely give yourself a nine-to-five-type schedule if you can, or spend time watching terrible TV shows and laying around in your pajamas all day. Also, where possible, make friends outside of your field or who are out of school completely—you need people in your life to tell you when to turn it off.