From Feminist Taylor Swift to Ryan Gosling’s “Hey Girl”: Are All Parodies Created Equal?
Sully Moreno | On 08, Jul 2013
As a proud owner of the “Feminist Ryan Gosling” coffee table book, I was pretty happy when its corresponding Tumblr account rose from its slumber to comment on Wendy Davis’ filibuster. For the most part I have fully embraced e-Books, and while a Kindle edition of the book is available, it just seemed like the sort of item I would want to display in my house. I’m always happy when a guest picks it up and reads it, because it’s a humorous feminism that they can enjoy, and hopefully remember.
Feminist parody has become popular lately. After Feminist Ryan Gosling, the presidential election last year inspired the PaulRyanGosling Twitter account, which exposed just how harmful to women the former vice-presidential candidate would have been prefaced by the original meme’s “Hey girl.” More recently, the Feminist Taylor Swift Twitter account modifies so they’re less about heartbreak and more about feminism. Who doesn’t want to hear “Long live / The glass ceilings we crashed through / I had the time of my life / Fighting stereotypes of women in the workplace / with you” on the radio?
The goal of these parodies is to make feminism accessible through humor. Confronting the world with its various privileges can be met with defensive attitudes, but preface it with “Hey girl” and it does take some of the edge off for the audience. However, if you ever thought that as a white male, Ryan Gosling felt like an odd spokesman for feminism, you are not alone. In fact, even Danielle Henderson, the creator of the meme, admits choosing him partly due to the abundant images she could find on the Internet, and partly to make a point. In the FAQ for the Feminist Ryan Gosling Tumblr, she addresses criticism for her choice of spokesperson for feminism:
“As a black woman who has lived every moment of my black life as a black person in a country that never lets me forget that I’m black (and who has an academic focus on intersectionality, representations of race, and examining the feminist relationship to racism), this is not lost on me. It’s actually quite intentional. That. Is. ALSO. Part. Of. The. Joke.”
So while Feminist Ryan Gosling serves to make feminism accessible, it also serves as a critique to the fact that to be universally accessible implies many things: to be male, to be white, to be heterosexual, to be attractive. The Feminist Ryan Gosling teaches intersectionality, but it lacks messengers that exemplify intersectionality. We can take this as a critique of a society that still normalizes whiteness (and heterosexuality and maleness) and others people of color (and people of other gender identities and sexualities), and we can also take this as a critique of the feminist movement for failing to truly embrace intersectionality.
Henderson is aware of how Ryan Gosling can be seen as a problematic beacon of feminism, but how about Feminist Taylor Swift? The woman behind the keyboard is Clara Beyer, college student and feminist Taylor Swift fan. At Feminspire we have previously explored the ways in which Swift’s lyrics can be problematic, and Beyer’s qualms with Swift’s songs are similar: pitting women against each other, shaming women for their sexual experience, and placing women’s worth on their virginity. All of these are very valid concerns, and it’s great that Beyer realizes that we must think critically even about the media we enjoy. But intersectionality does not appear to be at the top of her priority list when she re-imagines Swift’s lyrics or when she grants interviews.
Ryan Gosling and Taylor Swift are not the only celebrities to get a feminist makeover from social media. They are rounded out by Feminist Kanye. Like Swift, Kanye West’s credentials as a real-life feminist are dubious. Swift has publicly stated that she does not consider herself a feminist, and West’s idea of clever lyrics clearly don’t always include being respectful of women. So it would seem that creating a Feminist Kanye account would hold the same winning formula as a Feminist Taylor Swift account: a hilarious contradiction. But while Feminist Kanye has a respectable following of over 9,000, that pales in comparison to Feminist Taylor Swift’s 112,000 followers. And while Feminist Taylor Swift caught the attention of the likes of the Huffington Post, Time and the Washington Post, the most coverage I have seen Feminist Kanye receive was a mere mention in a recompilation of recent feminist parody accounts and a Salon article saying the account follows in the footsteps of Feminist Taylor Swift.
All this points right back to one of the problems Henderson hopes to highlight through Feminist Ryan Gosling: it seems feminism is more palatable when it comes in a white package. I have to wonder how many of the people who pick up my coffee table book and enjoy a few minutes of humorous feminism even realize the author’s intentions? Feminist Kanye is a lot more direct at addressing issues of race within society and within feminism than either Feminist Ryan Gosling or Feminist Taylor Swift, tweeting “MIDDLE-CLASS SECOND-WAVE FEMINISM DOESN’T CARE ABOUT BLACK WOMEN #INTERSECTIONALITY” and “IT’S TIME FOR US TO STOP AND REDEFINE BLACK POWER / IN ORDER TO CENTER THE EXPERIENCES OF BLACK WOMEN.”
And whatever your feelings about West are, he seems aware and vocal about racial tension in America. If some bizarre and unexplainable sequence of events made West decide that his true life’s work is to advance the feminist cause, I’m 100% sure he would stand staunchly for intersectionality. But it seems that this in-your-face exploration of race by a black man does not sit well with society, and that alone is problematic. Why should we take issues of gender, race, and their intersectionality at face value only when they are communicated by a person who has not personally lived through them?
I applaud the creators of all three of these accounts because they have each brought valuable conversations to feminism. What disappoints me is the underwhelming response Feminist Kanye received, even though of the three accounts it highlighted intersectionality the most boldly.
Written by Sully Moreno