Hey Girl: Against Ryan Gosling memes

Let’s talk about Ryan Gosling. Or, rather, let’s talk about the people who create “Hey Girl” Ryan Gosling memes that seem to appear all over Facebook, Twitter, and other corners of the internet. The first of these, Fuck Yeah! Ryan Gosling was started in December 2008 by writer Douglas Reinhardt, as a “joke with friends.” It spawned spinoffs, ranging from Real Food Ryan Gosling and Silicone Valley Ryan Gosling and Feminist Ryan Gosling (a Tumblr dedicated to Ryan Gosling “commenting” on feminist theory).

When I see these, I maybe try to place which movie the photo of Gosling comes from. But, admittedly, I haven’t seen that many Ryan Gosling movies. Mostly, I roll my eyes and move on because “Hey girl” irritates my feminist side.

I don’t like being called girl, particularly by men. I am a woman. Or–with a potential small shudder because I’m also not fond of this term from men, though from other female-identified folk it’s fine–a lady. I try, consciously, not to refer to men as boys. My preference, no doubt, stems from a lot of work done by the feminist movement to shift our language. In brief, “woman” was associated with confidence and power, while the term “girl” was, simply, not. 

I realize this too, is problematic. Girls (and boys, for that matter) do not have power because Americans, culturally, are not in the habit of giving children much choice in anything. For the most part, we don’t engage them in a culture of consent. Many children (are privileged enough to) have no big life decisions until they finish school.

Girls, in particular, are taught from a young age to be victims. We are taught how to avoid rape. We are taught that boys play rough. We’re taught that we should just go with the flow, and that we should work hard to compromise with others. We are taught that when a boy picks on us (from unwanted touching to teasing to things much more threatening) that it’s “because he likes us.” We, or at least I, learned to accept messages like this last one – in high school, I can remember one boy in particular who pinch me, or touch my waist or my arm. I took this as a sign he liked me, even though inside it made me squirm. I didn’t know how to address the problem because adults in my life had said, in various ways, that this type of harassment was not actually a problem at all.

When girls are so easily dismissed – when harassment is so easily dismissed – is it any wonder that girls learn other modes of dealing with conflict?

Girls are taught to lack confidence in themselves (while for boys, exhibiting confidence is encouraged). We’re taught, in various ways, that our role is to please men (at least if we don’t grow up in progressive households). We’re taught that our bodies are not our own. Our bodies are sexualized, our space is invaded. We’re encouraged to make ourselves smaller (thinner, hands to ourselves, refrain from speaking up). We’re told in various ways that we’re not as competent as men – from jokes about how women drive to the glass ceiling in the workplace.

Many of the Ryan Gosling meme’s play on these very insecurities—and problems—that we’ve had indoctrinated into to us. “Hey Girl, I actually think it’s kind of adorable you fuck up all your crafts,” reads one. Another reads “Hey girl, It’s okay if we cheat on our diets, but I’ll never cheat on you.”

I get it, I get it. These are the things at least some women wish a man would say to them. Rather than expressing this need (like, “I’m feeling really insecure that I start so many craft projects and then mess them up,” or “I’m feeling insecure about the way you look at/talk about/spend time with other women…”) someone creates a meme. This, of course, doesn’t deal with the problem. It doesn’t address the insecurities. It doesn’t create a dialogue.

I’m interested in creating a dialogue.

I’m interested in this dialogue actually taking place between people in a way where both or all parties can have their voices heard.

I’m interested in not idealizing Ryan Gosling.

“Hey Girl,” reads one meme on Feminist Ryan Gosling, “Ann Kaplan asks ‘is the gaze male?’ but I can’t take my eyes off of you.”

This, on a blog by a person, Danielle Henderson, who identifies as feminist. Aside from the heteronormativity this blog overwhelmingly depicts, and aside from the continued use of the world “girl” (we’ve already gone over why I find this problematic, and yes I see and understand the idea that “feminist” Ryan Gosling still doesn’t “get it”–feminist theory in this case– even though he’s trying really really hard) in the memes that appear on this blog even if the “joke” is that the world girl is pejorative, This, of course, is proof of how much Gosling (well, his meme) doesn’t get it. I’m troubled by the fact this sentiment—in all the various ways its depicted in these memes—continues to encourage women to seek the gaze (approval) of a man — especially since this can so easily be taken out of context by people who haven’t engaged with feminism in the past, people who see this and think “Yeah, that’s right on.”

Do I want these memes to disappear overnight and for people to engage in authentic conversations with one another? Yes, that would be nice. But, I also realize that’s probably not going to happen. And I don’t think the memes themselves are the problem. It’s the consumption of these memes in place of actual conversations. What I would like is for these dialogues to begin. I’d like for us to stop idealizing “sensitive” Ryan Gosling. I’d like for men I know (this has happened twice) to stop generating Ryan Gosling memes and posting them on the internet instead of actually just talking to me. I’d like for women I know to stop creating memes of the things they wish others would say to them. I’d like for us to continue to work toward asking each other–meaning the people we actually interact with–questions, including hard ones we might not like the answers to, voicing insecurities, and providing reassurance and support for each other. I’d like for us to start (re)building communities.

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