Why memes matter for feminism

Memes are a staple of contemporary popular culture, but most people would be hard pressed to define what exactly they are.  Simply put, memes are widely recognizable yet variously replicated symbols of ideas.  In the twenty-first century, most people associate the meme with social media, in which a photo or picture is posted, circulated, annotated with a brief quote or slogan, then re-circulated and re-edited into new iterations of the original meme.

Within feminism, one of the most famous recent examples of such an internet meme is “Feminist Ryan Gosling,” a series of adorably sexy images of the “sensitive” male actor emblazoned with woman-friendly invitations such as “Hey girl, keep your laws off my body, but keep your hands on it.” As this example suggests, internet memes can be vehicles for irony and wry discontent with the status quo. They can also be more straightforward means for conveying information, supporting causes, and spreading awareness. “Feminist Ryan Gosling” achieves the latter goals by educating people about basic feminist ideas in a funny and memorable way.  While directed at an imaginary female audience, these feminist memes are not only for women. A recent study has shown that men are more likely to support feminist ideas after viewing the original “Feminist Ryan Gosling” memes. Danielle Henderson, a graduate student in gender studies, created the memes in order to make the finer points of feminist theory more accessible and understandable to a broader audience.

Read the rest of what Eileen Hunt Botting has to say over at Yale Unbound.