Rarely does a blog reach critical acclaim overnight, but that’s exactly what happened when Danielle Henderson started Feminist Ryan Gossling, a satirical Tumblr blog featuring America’s favorite celebrity hunk touting feminist theory. Danielle Henderson is a familiar name in blogging circles – she’s been writing witty and smart commentary on life, race, and relationships on Knotty Yarn for twelve years. Yet it is the quirky Tumblr meme that catapulted Henderson into an overnight sensation, garnering attention from Jezebel, The Huffington Post, and former Bachelor Pad contestants alike. (Yes, really).
This week, Danielle answers some of our burning questions about the success of her blog and her real feelings about Ryan Gosling.
How long have you been blogging? What prompted you to start?
I’ve been blogging for 12 years, 9 on my own personal site (Knotty Yarn). My personal site evolved when I moved to Alaska; it was a good way to keep in touch with friends and explain how bizarre it was compared to New York City (where I lived directly before moving to Alaska).
How did you come up with the idea for Feminist Ryan Gossling?
I just started graduate school in September. There is a TON of theory, and you’re just expected to know all of it right away. My undergraduate experience didn’t prepare me for this type of study, and I was having a hard time with it. I talked to my classmates in the Gender and Women’s Studies program where I am a student and a TA, and realized that we were ALL having a hard time managing the theorists. During one of our regular lunch sessions we were talking about the movie Drive, which I had just seen, and Ryan Gosling. We joked about the “Hey Girl” meme. A couple of days later, we met for drinks; I went home, made five slides riffing on the “Hey Girl” meme but instead mentioning all of the theorists we were studying that week, posted them to Tumblr, and emailed my classmates to show them. I posted the blog on Friday night; it was on Jezebel by Saturday afternoon, and literally took off overnight.
Your personal blog is hosted by Squarespace, but Feminist Ryan Gossling is on Tumblr. What made you choose Tumblr for this venture? Do you think the interface of Tumblr added to the success?
Squarespace is the best publishing platform out there; I am committed to their product, they have unbelievably talented people working for them, and the customer service is unparalleled. I only posted Feminist Ryan Gosling on Tumblr because it was a riff on the original meme, which is also a Tumblr blog. I think part of the popularity of Feminist Ryan Gosling is due to the way Tumblr works; you can share images with a click, and it’s very easy for people to see what you’re looking at or reblogging. I watched for a couple of hours one night as the site spread like a spider web, simply through reblogs or someone saying “hey look at this site.” It’s also really easy for people to follow your blog on Tumblr, sort of like a built-in RSS reader. If you follow blogs, they show up in one place (your dashboard), so you know as soon as something updates. It’s a little Big Brother-y, but so is every aspect of the web these days.
FRG has gained a fast following. What do you think makes is so popular? What resonates with readers?
Feminists are apparently not supposed to have a sense of humor. I think people are really liking the fact that this site is intelligent while simultaneously silly, and obviously self-referential. A lot of my followers are women’s studies majors, or people who have taken women’s studies classes, and love seeing inside jokes presented in this way. For example, if you’re a women’s studies major, you’ve probably read “The Yellow Wallpaper” at least 18 times. Now matter how much you like that story, it gets a little ridiculous.
There’s a lot of “snark” (hate that word), and a lot of intellectual examination of pop culture going on with most popular feminist sites, but not a lot of fun. I think I’m having fun with feminism, but not making fun of feminism. People recognize and respond to that crucial difference.
You’ve also gotten a lot of media attention. Is that something you expected (or even hoped) would come from this? How are you processing all of that?
I only expected this site to be seen by my five classmates, so all attention or readership above that amount is surprising. We’re a fickle culture, and I know something new will come along next week, so it’s not hard for me to process. It’s definitely fun, and the media treatment has been fair so far. I’ve had some unexpected opportunities as a result of the site (potential writing gigs, developing projects with literary agents), and I’m very thankful for them. I’m also completely realistic about school being my primary focus right now, so I need Feminist Ryan Gosling to keep being an outlet and not turn into a drag.
What made you decide to delete the archives of Knotty Yarn? Did you keep them saved somewhere?
I don’t jive with the climate of blogging right now. When marketing moved in, I moved out. There’s been a shift in perception with the influx of money; smaller blogs get lost in the shuffle, and it’s a chorus of similar voices. What I loved about blogging was finding those marginal voices, connecting with people over this weird nerdy habit, pushing myself to be a better writer because so many others were already great. I don’t see a lot of that now – I don’t see writers writing for writing’s sake. That’s been replaced by twenty people talking about their awesome experience with Brand X paper towels because a company gave them a few bucks to do so. I tend towards the personal, the political and the analytical. Writing on my blog started to feel like screaming into a void, so I stopped.
I have all of the archives saved on my external hard drive, but I can’t imagine I will make them public ever again.
What do you see for the future of FRG?
I think I’ll keep doing it as long as it remains funny for my friends. The day I feel like posting is a chore is the day I’ll stop doing it.
You’ve mentioned that you aren’t even a superfan of Ryan Gosling. Are you a secret fangirl of anyone else?
It’s not even a secret how much I love Dylan Moran. He’s an Irish comedian who you probably know from the TV show “Black Books” and Simon Pegg movies, but he’s also an incredibly intelligent monologist. He’s cranky and adorable and I have had a crush on him for years. But I have to say – Ryan Gosling is fairly charming, and definitely starting to grow on me.