It looks like those yummy Ryan Gosling memes created by Danielle Henderson could have the power to do more than make feminists swoon.
Recent preliminary research from graduate students at the University of Saskatchewan examined the impact of the Feminist Ryan Gosling memes on men—with interesting results. The researchers found that men who were exposed to the memes were more likely to endorse radical feminist ideas—by as much as 10 percent—than those who were shown only images of Gosling without text. For example, men who saw the memes were more likely to agree with statements such as “men use abortion laws and reproductive technology to control women’s lives.”
Sarah Sangster, one of the study leads, explained to the Ms. Blog:
Although it is true that we can’t conclude that the memes increase endorsement of feminist beliefs more than would a feminist statement alone, we can say that when men are exposed to these memes they endorse feminist beliefs more than they would otherwise. That is, when they look at the meme, they aren’t just looking at the picture, they are processing the message and integrating it into their belief system. And, most likely, they would not be exposed to the feminist quotes at all otherwise.
This seems like good news for feminists who want to reach a broader audience; we can now say with some confidence that pop cultural associations make feminist ideas more palatable. So when stars like Beyoncé, Aziz Ansari and Taylor Swift embrace the f-word, they could really be doing a lot to bring feminist ideas to younger women and men who might not otherwise be exposed.
As Sangster says,
Gosling could be seen as what pulls [men] into the message. Like when a celebrity is in a car ad, the celebrity makes you pay attention to the ad, but it is ultimately the awesome fuel mileage and warranty that convinces [you] to buy the car. But [you] wouldn’t have paid attention to the ad without the celebrity.
Some reporters have questioned the positive implications of the study. Katie Rife over at A.V. Club argues that the study seems to show “feminism is much less threatening when a man explains it.” But researcher Sangster says there’s little to no theory to back up that assertion.
There would probably be an argument that being exposed to feminist theory via a pop culture star is less intimidating and more accessible than some university course reading lists (Foucault, hooks, etc.), but once again, I would hesitate to speculate. … Further, there was no control group checking if a Jennifer Lawrence (or other pop culture female star) meme would do the same thing. There was no comparison to a female spokesperson. We simply wanted to see if the meme that is out there works, not what it works better than or worse than [another celebrity spokesperson].
Others have suggested that the impact of the memes on the men could be fleeting. Jesse Singal at New York Magazine points out that with studies like these, the results may show respondents’ views “nudged” in a certain direction temporarily, but if asked again a week or so later paticipants’ views would be the same as they were pre-study.
So what does it all mean? As Sangster told Canadian newspaper The National Post, “What our research says is that we shouldn’t quickly dismiss pop culture phenomena, and realize that there is potential to use it as a persuasive device.”
Meme via Feminist Ryan Gosling, created by Danielle Henderson
Stephanie Hallett is research editor at Ms. Find her on Twitter @stephhallett.