Image: Ryan Gosling at the 74th Golden Globe Awards. Image Source.
This isn’t really a piece about Ryan Gosling. In fact, here’s a disclaimer about Catalogue’s stance on Ryan Gosling: We don’t know anything about him, and do not assume to. Insofar as we can make any assumption about incredibly famous total strangers who don’t feel like strangers because they are so famous, he seems like a nice guy. Let it also be known that, post the multiple Golden Globes wins, we do think La La Land was overrated. Who needs another movie about a white guy opening, or working in, a bar?
It just so happens that Ryan Gosling was the latest man, in a long list of handsome and handsome-ish men, to publically thank their female partners for being an enabling support system while they got to go to work. In his hyper-lauded speech a couple of days ago at the 74th Golden Globes, everyone’s 2009 Internet boyfriend took to the stage to accept an award for, I assume, his ability to broodily place his hands in his pockets, during La La Land. Gosling directed all of his thanks to his “lady” and “sweetheart” Eva Mendes (not mentioned by her actual name once) when explaining how he managed to stand on so many people’s shoulders. Sorry, I’m paraphrasing, here’s the quote “You don’t get to be up here without standing on the shoulders of a mountain of people.”
And the rest:
“I just would like to try to thank one person properly and say that while I was singing and dancing and playing piano and having one of the best experiences I’ve ever had on a film, my lady was raising our daughter and pregnant with our second and trying to help her brother fight his battle with cancer. If she hadn’t have taken all of that on so that I could have this experience, there would surely be someone else up here other than me today. Sweetheart, thank you.”
And again, Hey, Girl this isn’t a Ryan Gosling takedown: we can have nice things, especially Ryan Gosling, but we can also fight the patriarchy. His comments, we can at least presume, are genuine. And I repeat: this isn’t a piece that pretends to know who he is and what he feels, or that being a Mother isn’t a beautiful thing – which it is. What does need explaining is the sudden sinking sensation I get whenever any successful man cites the free labour – which doesn’t mean it wasn’t willing, but it does mean it’s never paid – of his wife to help him achieve his goals. I want to understand the context within which women are habitually the shoulders upon which men stand to reach what they want.
Broadly speaking: the patriarchy, and capitalism at large, relies on women’s free labour. While women do have ‘agency’ in opting into motherhood, there’s a wider context that makes it less about decision-making than some crooked, sexist version of fate. Domesticity is interwoven with a false, deified femininity: women are “angels”, “superheroes” and “supermoms”. People wonder how Mothers “do it all” because the difficulty of the work is carefully veiled. Motherhood is a birthright and therefore, somehow innate. In the genes. The gritty, unforgiving tasks of mothering come easily the moment a baby is yanked forth. Of course if you’ve done it yourself, or know someone who has, you’re fully aware that isn’t the case. Babies are stunning things, but also utterly brutal, being a mum even more so. All of which is to say, it’s only something women “can do”.
Men, on the other hand, are free to have jobs while women housekeep, cook and nurture; all roles that are unwaged because they’re romantically, and ominously classified as “labours of love”. If they were ever to be waged, capitalist infrastructure would fall apart. It suits ‘good business’ to have power splintered, to discount how hard motherhood is by romanticizing it, or just the expectation that it’s something a woman should do. Again, this isn’t to say women don’t want to give their full energy to motherhood. Rather, it’s considering why this selflessness, this ‘care’ is always required of women at no cost – financial or emotional – but not men.
Sure, I’ll be accused of ‘picking holes’ in what was a perfectly lovely tribute to his wife, and that’s because I am. Or at least, I’m picking a hole in the virulent celebration of his lovely tribute. The intricate structures that keep women feeling as though their most successful place is in the home, or that they should be satisfied being the “great woman” that only lurks “behind the great man” and not on her own, are the same intricate structures that set the bar so low for men. Even at its most basic level, let’s consider that Ryan Gosling gets global admiration just for publicly appreciating his wife. Even when it comes to the nuanced reasons why ‘assigned’ gender roles are so problematic, there’s also just the consistent, deeply annoying fact that all men have to do in order to be congratulated is to not be completely shit. Yes, I think it is that crass.
I’d rather no speeches and a little more equality. Speaking a little more directly to Gosling and his Hollywood context, he’s accepting an award from an industry in which, in 1,206 films 60 – 90% of dialogue is delivered by men, and in an additional 307 films that figure was stuck at 90%. Worse still, only 7% of directors are women. A grotesque statistic. We don’t need any more proclamations from a good-looking dude that he used a woman’s role in the home to get what he wanted. We’re pretty clear on how that has worked for the past few hundred years.