First he won a generation of teens over to Nicholas Sparks. Then he starred in hits like “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and “Drive.” Now, my invisible boyfriend, Ryan Gosling, can add another accomplishment to his résumé: He has officially become the Internet’s best, least likely vector of feminist ideology.
According to a new study out by psychology researchers at Canada’s University of Saskatchewan, viewing the “Feminist Ryan Gosling” meme — an Internet favorite, circa 2011! — causes men to experience an actual surge in feminist feeling.
They weren’t more likely to describe themselves as feminists, explicitly. But the study found that men who got the “Hey Girl” treatment were significantly more likely to agree with certain feminist beliefs — ideas like “the workplace is organized around men’s oppression of women,” or “using ‘man’ to mean both men and women is sexist language.”
“When they look at the meme, they aren’t just looking at the picture,” explained Sarah Sangster, one of the study’s co-authors. “They are processing the message and integrating it into their belief system.”
So against all odds, it would seem, a ridiculous image macro dreamt up as a joke by a bored grad student, has maybe actually influenced the cultural dialogue on gender equality.
Before we give Gosling too much credit, of course, let’s lay out some caveats here. The study, which was first reported by Canada’s CBC News on Monday, looked at a pretty small sample group: 99 college students, most of them women. It also tested the impact of the Feminist Ryan Gosling meme, in its entirety — in other words, it didn’t distinguish whether men were just reacting to the feminist text that appears with each meme, or the full feminist/Gosling package.
That was kind of the point, though, Sangster said. Arguably, a lot of people would change their attitudes toward gender equality (or race or class or rocket science, what have you), given enough instruction on the topic. The problem, however, is that nobody encounters this type of theory outside of gender studies’ classes or the Jezebel comments section. Dense feminist readings aren’t getting those retweets and upvotes and blog-to-book deals.
A feminist one-liner, on the other hand, paired with a picture of a cool, famous guy? That is feminism fit for the social media age.
This would all, perhaps, seem to bolster the case of Internet skeptics, who claim the Web’s just a weight pushing serious social discourse further down into inanity. My mother’s generation had Gloria Steinem and Ms. Magazine; we have photos of a white male actor simpering.
But Sangster urges against any such negativity. If anything, she argues, this is proof that even the Internet’s silliest inventions can have real impact — perhaps, over time, effecting concrete social change.
We can only hope not all image macros display this kind of potency.