Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Fun Side of Feminism

Who says feminists don’t have a sense of humor? Gender studies graduate student Danielle Henderson, appreciative of but overwhelmed by the density of much of the feminist theory she was studying, took a break and went to the movies, and then started posting photos of Ryan Gosling on a blog, just for the fun and distraction of it. Soon she started melding her notes on feminist theory with those photos, and suddenly her original five or so blog readers turned into thousands. So she published a small (clearly stated on the cover as “unauthorized”) tongue-in-cheek book, “Feminist Ryan Gosling: Feminist Theory as Imagined from Your Favorite Sensitive Movie Dude” (Running Press, 2012). She admits that “There’s no way to tell if Ryan Gosling is actually a feminist….He hasn’t actually said anything in this book. But he is charming, talented, and intelligent; he has said some things in the media that can be construed as feminist. He loves his mom and takes ballet….It’s not too far-fetched, right?” The book has a different color photo of Gosling on each page, in each of which he has a different expression, tending toward the intense and/or sensitive. Each photo is accompanied by a short ostensible quotation, always beginning with “Hey girl.” The author likes the juxtaposition of the “Hey girl” meme with feminist-related text, calling it hilarious. “I’m not making fun of feminism; I’m having fun with feminism,” she says. Although the premise for the book is flimsy and whimsical, it is best to go with the flow, leaf through the pages, enjoy them, laugh, and maybe at the same time absorb or be reminded of some important feminist points as well. Following are a few quotations to get you started (unfortunately I can’t reproduce the photos of Gosling to accompany the quotes!). “Hey girl. All I want for my birthday is a subscription to Ms. Magazine.” “Hey girl. Is there a merit badge for transcending normative cultural beliefs about femininity?” “Hey girl. I believe Foucault’s theory of marriage is a governmentally developed tool that interferes with the appropriation of land rights and normalizes heterosexuality, but I still want to spend the rest of my life with you.” “Hey girl. Betty Friedan called it ‘the problem with no name,’ but I call it the patriarchy.” “Hey girl. We’d be more successful in reclaiming public space for women if we were willing to address the patriarchal fixtures that made it unsafe in the first place.” “Hey girl. Just listening to you talk about Patricia Hill Collins’ matrix of domination as an ideological tool that reveals the hegemonic social structure makes me thank my lucky stars for you.” Some of the quotations contain literary allusions: “Hey girl. You built a room of your own and a room in my heart.” Other quotes are as much popular culture as feminist theory. For example: “Hey girl. Being a guest on The Rachel Maddow Show might be a pipe dream, but it’s my happy place.” OK, so maybe this is dorky feminist humor, but I got a kick out of it.

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