If pop feminism had a mascot, it might very well be Ryan Gosling. From the actor's outspoken comments about respecting women to the ubiquitous "Hey Girl" memes created in his honor, Gosling has graciously taken on the role of feminism's modern-day poster child. And who better to be the face of female empowerment than a good-looking, rich, white man?
Unfortunately, Gosling's vagina-worshipping brand of feminism doesn't always, you know, help women. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that his latest remarks actually set women back.
In case you missed the many headlines this week, the Gos sparked a media frenzy when he said the following in an interview with Britain's ES Magazine.
I think women are better than men. They are stronger, more evolved. You can tell especially when you have daughters and you see their early stages, they are just leaps and bounds beyond boys immediately.
On the surface, these comments seem harmless, if not commendable. And indeed, most media outlets ate them up as "One more reason to love Ryan Gosling," tee-hee-hee! To many fans, Gosling comes off like a highly evolved male who has simply come to realize what we females have always known: that we're awesome.
But Gosling didn't say "awesome." He said "better"—and given that he has come to be viewed as a feminist spokesperson, that's where the problem lies.
We live in an age in which "feminism" has become a dirty word, at least for people with vaginas. Female celebrities including Katy Perry, Shailene Woodley, Kelly Clarkson, and Kaley Cuoco have all said they're reluctant to call themselves feminists because doing so would mean they somehow hate men—which, for the record, they don't. As Clarkson told the Huffington Post in 2015, "I feel people have associated the word ‘feminist’ with ‘bitch’ and ‘man-hater’ and all these things … And I’m definitely not that girl." That's great, Kelly. I don't hate men, either, but I'm still a feminist.
Indeed, the notion that feminists believe women are superior to men is one of the biggest misconceptions about the movement. Feminism is not about taking power from men—it's about equality. Still, too many women say they #DontNeedFeminism because they don't understand what feminism is—that and because they don't want to be called horrible names on Twitter.
Gosling, meanwhile, can easily associate himself with feminism because, as fellow feminist heartthrob and actor Matt McGorry can surely attest, feminists with penises are showered with praise—while high-profile feminists with vaginas are too busy sorting through death threats.
But I take less issue with our culture's glorification of male feminists than with Gosling's actual message. When the Gos says women are "better," he hurts women by reinforcing our culture's fear that feminism seeks to overthrow men. For proof of this fear, look no further than the male community on Reddit called r/Mensrights—it's one of many devoted to the topic—that believes women are out to destroy men and used the Gosling quote to demonstrate how brainwashed and pussy-whipped men these days have become. Oh, and it has more than 100,000 members.
Not to mention, while I'm sure many ladies would disagree, I found Gosling's comments about women more patronizing than empowering. In the ES Magazine interview he also said, "I think [America] needs a woman's touch," in explaining why the country should have a female president. And in a previous interview with ABC's Good Morning America, he described living with his girlfriend, Eva Mendes, and two daughters like some sort of dreamscape:
It's heaven. It's like walking through a field of flowers everyday. I live with angels.
Don't get me wrong, I would much rather have a world full of Goslings than a world full of Michael Bays. And Gosling is by all accounts a very nice guy who loves his wife and daughters. But as a public figure and influencer, there's a way to express love and respect for women without describing them like magical unicorns. The sentiment that the White House needs a feminine touch implies that a female president would be drastically different than a male one—which is a problem, because that's the same argument men who don't want a female president give. Would he have said that Barack Obama can give the White House a "black" touch? I think not.
The truth is, by comparing women to angels and flowers and saying we're better, he's putting us up on a pedestal that feminists don't need or want. He's also reinforcing "benevolent sexism"—a form of sexism that holds women back by perpetuating the idea that men should be chivalrous and women should be worshipped because we're so pretty and fragile and nice—like dolls. As Scientific American put it: Benevolent sexism is "insidiously dangerous."
So what would be a better message for Gosling to deliver? How about that he and Mendes love each other, that they share the housework and child rearing, and that she's just as strong, intelligent, and capable as he is; that their relationship is a team effort.
As for all the media
worship coverage he's getting as a result of his comments, well, let's just say I find it off-putting that the moment a hot white dude says women are amazing, every media outlet drools over his sparkly blue eyes and declares him man of the year. Puh-lease.
We need equality, not pandering. To paint broad strokes and say all women are better is bullshit, because women are people and some people are assholes.
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.