When the Oscar nominations came out, much indignation revolved around the omission of Ryan Gosling from the Best Actor nominees. Reading the reactions, I was struck by the remarkable chord this performer strikes with so many young women I know.
You can't be a gender studies professor and not be tuned into popular culture. Since I started work in this field, I've watched as certain celebrities take on iconic status among feminists; when I was just beginning my teaching career, Camille Paglia had turned Madonna into a particular kind of exemplar. When I was at last year's National Women's Studies Association conference, everybody and her sister seemed to be writing a paper about Lady Gaga.
But it's much rarer when a cis-gendered heterosexual man begins to attract the same kind of attention in feminist circles. Ryan Gosling is starting to do just that, largely thanks to his articulate and impassioned advocacy for sexual justice in Hollywood. When his remarkable new film, Blue Valentine received an early NC-17 rating from the MPAA (while Black Swan got an R), Gosling noted that the difference between the two films was the depiction of women's pleasure. (It was a cunnilingus scene in Blue Valentine that earned the NC-17). Gosling remarked:
You have to question a cinematic culture which preaches artistic expression, and yet would support a decision that is clearly a product of a patriarchy-dominant society, which tries to control how women are depicted on screen. The MPAA is okay supporting scenes that portray women in scenarios of sexual torture and violence for entertainment purposes, but they are trying to force us to look away from a scene that shows a woman in a sexual scenario, which is both complicit and complex. It's misogynistic in nature to try and control a woman's sexual presentation of self. I consider this an issue that is bigger than this film.
That quote blew up in the feminist blogosphere last fall even before the film was released. Ms. Magazine raved: I think we can all agree that Ryan Gosling is ridiculously good looking… (he) brings emotional depth and sensitivity to all his roles…we are dreamy-eyed over you, Ryan Gosling, because you are exactly what a feminist looks like. Ms. wasn't alone; Jezebel and Jessica Valenti raved as well. And I read the same reaction in the Facebook feeds and journals of my students and former students, many of whom had already sung the praises of the remarkable Mr. Gosling.