Hey Girl: How Ryan Gosling Became the Real-Life Feminist Man of Our Memes

Experts say the La La Land star "has been the most culturally impactful male celebrity feminist so far"

By Rebecca Macatee Feb 24, 2017 3:00 PMTags

When a good meme meets a good man, magic can happen.

Of course, the timing has to be right, too—and with Feminist Ryan Gosling and the rise of the "Hey Girl" meme, it was perfection.

Better yet, the real Ryan Gosling didn't shun his Internet persona, and through his films, fatherhood and a few choice quotes, the Oscar-nominated La La Land star actually became the man of our memes.

The original "Hey Girl" tumblr launched in 2008, and in 2011, Danielle Henderson launched the famed Feminist Ryan Gosling tumblr. As Dr. Shelley Cobb, an Associate Professor of Film at University of Southampton, points out, the FRG phenomenon coincided pretty perfectly with the release of Drive, which "seemed to be a turning point in [Gosling's] career," she tells E! News. 

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Fans already knew Gosling as "the kind of classic rom-com hero" from The Notebook (2004) and also Crazy, Stupid Love (which came out in July 2011), says Cobb. Then with Drive (which hit theaters in September 2011), we got to see the Gos as a "matinee kind of film-noir-type hero…the slightly dangerous bad guy who really deep down is a good guy who loves you."

With Crazy, Stupid Love and Drive, Gosling "became more widely known" for portraying "these two archetypes of Hollywood male romantic roles," Cobb says. She points out that around this same time there was "a general rise in what some people are seeing is fourth-wave feminism and its presence online."

Henderson's Feminist Ryan Gosling tumblr combined the right concepts at just the right moment—and hey, girl, that's how memes (and messages!) go viral.

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It didn't hurt, either, that the Gos seemed A-OK with becoming the Internet's de facto face of male celebrity feminism. He told Evening Standard Magazine he thinks "women are better than men," calling them "stronger" and "more evolved." When he was asked in the same interview what percent woman he'd claim to be, he answered, "I'd say 49 percent, sometimes 47 percent, it depends on what day you catch me."

The Canadian-born star, who has two young daughters with Eva Mendes, told Australia's Sunday Style in 2015 that he "[has] a little girl now, and [feminism is] important to me." (Daughter Esmeralda was born in September 2014 and her sister, Amada Lee, was born just last April.) Gosling pointed out that he "didn't make those [memes]" and becoming a feminist icon of sorts was "not a conscious thing" on his part. Still, Gosling admitted, "There are certainly worse things you can be a part of."

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The Gos has been more than just a part of the rise in male celebrity feminists. Other famous gents, including John Legend, Daniel Radcliffe, Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, have embraced the feminist label; but as Dr. Hannah Hamad, a Senior Lecturer in Media Studies at University of East Anglia, tells E! News, Gosling "has been the most culturally impactful male celebrity feminist so far."


The Feminist Ryan Gosling tumblr quit posting new content in 2013 (following the release of an unauthorized FRG book), but the much-memed man himself is still largely associated with the women's equality movement. This has a lot to do with the fact that Gosling "absolutely has" embraced the feminist persona placed upon him thanks to social media, says Hamad. "And this can be seen in the turn towards fatherhood in his screen roles," she adds, "especially in films like Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines and The Nice Guys."

Being viewed as a feminist has "been hugely beneficial" to Gosling's career, notes Hamad. "He's never been more celebrated than right now in the aftermath of the release of La La Land [which is nominated for 14 Oscars, including Best Actor for Gosling]," she says, "and the fact that he continues to invite a bleed between his public profile and his personal life by invoking his status as a father and a [committed partner] in some very public arenas, like the recent Golden Globes ceremony, suggests an awareness on his part that these aspects of his masculinity are important to his fan base."

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Indeed, when Gosling accepted the 2017 Best Actor Golden Globe for his role in La La Land last month, he made a point to publicly think his daughters and, specifically, "my lady" for holding down the fort at home, thereby making it possible for him to be " singing and dancing and playing piano and having one of the best experiences I've ever had on a film."

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His speech, while obviously meant to be a testament to Mendes, got mixed reactions from the usually unequivocally pro-Gos social mediasphere.

"It polarized people in some interesting ways," says Hamad. "Some saw it as proof of his feminist credentials that he thanked his partner for stepping aside from her own career to take on the lion's share of their childcare to enable his career to shine. While others saw it as a slap in the face for feminism in that it normalized the historical assumption that women will and should scale down their public sphere activities in favor of motherhood and domesticity while men occupy center stage in these arenas."

Cobb described herself as "very ambivalent" about Gosling's speech.

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"It looks feminist in one way, but it goes against feminist principles in other ways," she explains. "…I do think caretaking needs to be more widely recognized and something that's important to our society, and that shouldn't be done free, or for low pay, by women. But that constant valorization of, you know, the best way to be a woman is to be a woman who sacrifices herself for others and taking care of others, is hugely problematic."

What's notable, though, is that Gosling's feminist (or not, depending on who you tweet) speech got any flak at all. (Moreover, Gosling's speech also applauded his wife's strength in the face of her brother's cancer battle as well, and the actor ultimately dedicated his speech to his late brother-in-law.)

"We have such a lower bar, I think, for men's identification with feminism," says Cobb.

Hamad agrees, saying male celebrities "almost have only to declare their affinity with feminism in order for a receptive media and fan base to begin fawning over them." 

Hamad says that celebrities "often decline to account for the role played by their status as elite individuals in shaping their understanding of feminism." She also points points out that there are "lower profile" feminist activists, like scholars and policy makers, "who devote their whole lives to feminist ideals, often rather thanklessly compared to their celebrity counterparts who can make an instant impact on a cultural conversation merely by being photographed or making a relatively throwaway remark."

In other words, the famous, self-proclaimed feminists often get a bigger share of the credit for an occasional nugget of wisdom than the actual activists providing the real meat at the heart of this conversation.

Still, regardless of how you chop things up, Cobb says forward-thinking Hollywood men like Gosling "inevitably make an impact in the cultural understanding of what feminism is." Because whether they're supporting their female colleagues speaking out against the gender wage gap, taking part in the recent Women's March or just saying, "Of course, I'm a feminist," these guys are helping to get the masses fired up and passionate about equality.

And hey, everybody: That's something we should all be fired up about.

For complete Oscars coverage, tune in to E! News at 7 p.m. and Fashion Police at 8 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 27.