By Alicia Williams
Emma Watson, a woman we all know from her role as Hermione Granger in “Harry Potter,” has publicly taken up the mantle of feminism. Two weeks ago, in her newly-minted role as Goodwill Ambassador for Women, Watson gave a speech at the UN about the HeforShe campaign, billed as “a solidarity movement to end gender discrimination.” The campaign asks men and boys to join in to help create a more equal and just society. “It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals,” said Watson during her speech. The campaign purportedly isn’t just about women having equal rights; it is about everyone feeling equal, feeling like they can be who they want to be, without judgment. Watson talks about how both men and women should feel free to be sensitive and strong.
According to the International Business Times, 200,000 men have already pledged to the campaign to help stop gender discrimination. The campaign emphasizes that up until now, the struggle for gender equality has been largely led by women. Through HeforShe, men are being targeted to actively participate in the movement. Watson mentions that Feminism has developed a negative connotation, a word that even women don’t want to be associated with. But this should not be the case. Feminism is the advocacy for women’s rights to political, social, and economic equality with men. Feminists are often stereotyped as pushy and over-the-top, a characteristic that many men have said they find unattractive. Many women may feel afraid to claim the label of “feminist” because they don’t want to alienate men. Simply desiring equal rights is a strongly feminist value, and one that many men also embrace.
In her speech, Watson extends an invitation to men to feel welcome to join the cause. For me, it’s inspiring to know that there is greater effort being put towards bringing men into the movement. The tired old stereotype about feminists being “man-haters” is so inaccurate, it’s ridiculous. Women just want to be treated fairly. We want to be paid the same for the same work, be portrayed positively in the media, and be respected by the opposite sex. That doesn’t seem like so much to ask. I personally want men to feel comfortable being sensitive, and women to feel comfortable being strong. I want the world to stop dividing issues along the gender binary, and to see and appreciate individuals for their accomplishments and for who they are, just like Watson says in her speech.
The speech Watson gave received a lot of praise, as well as criticism. An article written by Mia McKenzie talks about how Watson makes some great points, but her speech had some serious flaws. McKenzie states that Watson’s invitation to men to join the cause is unnecessary, as men have been asked from the very beginning to stand by women in the fight for women’s rights. Why would this campaign be any different? McKenzie also posits that Watson’s speech is problematic in that it implies that gender inequality hurts men to the same extent as women:
“Saying that men don’t have the benefit of equality creates a false narrative that we’re all hurt in the same ways and at the same degrees by the evils of gender inequality, and that no one’s really benefiting, and that’s simply not true.”
McKenzie believes that men do not feel inequality as much as women, and that centering men in the struggle for women’s inequality is detrimental to the movement. In her opinion, Watson is still too naïve about feminism to be the face of women rights.
To me, it doesn’t matter what anyone else says about Emma Watson’s naïveté, her speech still touched me in so many ways. I have felt inferior to men on multiple occasions. Growing up, some considered me a tomboy. I dressed in boys’ clothing, acted how I thought a boy should act, and majority of my closest friends were boys. One of the reasons behind this was because I thought that it was uncool to be a girl. As I got older, I realized that wasn’t the case, and started to embrace the values of feminism. Around this time, I started to develop physically, and boys were quick to notice. They stopped appreciating my personality and focused more on my looks. So in order to be accepted in middle school, that’s what I focused on, and I hated myself for it. As I look back, I realize I had no reason to feel “less than.” But I did, just like all the girls who were forced to maintain an unhealthy weight to be “beautiful,” because boys told them that’s what is beautiful. In high school, girls’ sports were considered a joke because we weren’t as good as the boys. Many even felt we shouldn’t play at all. All through my life, boys have been telling me that girls aren’t as good as boys, and I should accept that. Men have been saying all my life that women don’t deserve equal pay because we can’t do as much, and that it’s okay that we’re portrayed in such provocative ways, because it’s for entertainment. Women have been told their entire lives, in both overt and covert ways, that they aren’t good enough, whether the messaging comes from the media or the people in their lives. This needs to stop.
Emma Watson stated in her speech, “Gender equality is not only a women’s issue, it is a human rights issue that requires my participation. I commit to take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls.” I plan to do the same. I have always been an advocate for women’s rights, but I have been afraid to say that I am a feminist and stand up for what is right. Listening to this speech has inspired me to stop being afraid. If you believe in gender equality, don’t be afraid to show it. The HeforShe campaign is one way to get involved. As Emma Watson said, if we were to do nothing about this issue, it would take 75 years for women to be paid the same as men. At this rate, it won’t be until the year 2086 that many girls in Africa will be afforded the opportunity to pursue secondary education. With this campaign, everyone is encouraged to help make a difference.