I’m going to try to ignore the media backlash/exultation as much as possible, and focus on the content of the speech itself. This is the transcript I referred to, and these are the excerpts that made the strongest impression on me.
We want to try to mobilize as many men and boys as possible to be advocates for change.
I wish people would stop using pseudo-militaristic verbs to describe activism. “Mobilize” can be used to describe people rallying around a common cause, yes, but more often it’s used to describe troops preparing for battle and countries readying themselves for war. The feminist cause is not a war; nor is it a battle or even a struggle. Ok, maybe it’s a struggle. But it’s not a militaristic one.
…the more I spoke about feminism, the more I realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating.
Based on my weekly consumption of numerous articles from Slate, Buzzfeed, and other dubious sources, I have to say that Emma Watson is correct in this assertion.
…feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes.
…at 14, I started to be sexualized by certain elements of the media.
Make that basically every part of the media.
I decided that I was a feminist, and this seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word.
She only realized this recently? I highly doubt it. I would assume that an education from Brown University, paired with more or less constant media exposure from the age of nine, would have lead her to this conclusion much earlier than six months ago when she was appointed a UN ambassador. I’ve known since middle school that it was unpopular to call yourself a feminist. Then again, the atmosphere on a movie set is doubtless much different than that of a rural school in Illinois.
Why has the word become such an uncomfortable one?
That’s an extremely good question, and the primary one that I hope Watson answers throughout the course of this speech.
…if you still hate the word, it is not the word that is important. It’s the idea and the ambition behind it, because not all women have received the same rights I have.
Actually, I think the word is pretty damn important. Otherwise you end up with a lot of cowardly folks who claim to support equality between the sexes, but who aren’t “comfortable” calling themselves feminists. It’s akin to saying that you approve of homosexuality in theory, but you aren’t willing to let same-sex partners get married. Being half of a supporter of a given social cause is almost worse than opposing it outright, because soon that’s the route everyone starts to take — and progress is stymied before the conversation has even begun.
In 1997, Hillary Clinton made a famous speech in Beijing about women’s rights. Sadly, many of the things that she wanted to change are still true today. But what stood out for me the most was that less than thirty percent of the audience were male. How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?
Watson is drawing unsubstantiated conclusions here. The presence of a 30% male audience at Hillary Clinton’s 1997 speech is not evidence that men were not “invited” or did not “feel welcome to participate.” That might be true for some men, but many other men don’t listen to feminist speeches, read feminist texts, or take feminist problems seriously because they are either apathetic or, worse, actively opposed to feminist ideals. There’s a big difference between passive indifference (which Emma Watson seems to assume is the problem) and passive-aggressive opposition, whether silent or perceptible. I’m not saying that Watson isn’t partially correct — there are many men who don’t bother with feminism because they aren’t, well, female — but it’s a rosier view of the world than I have. Giving people more credit than they deserve is not an honest way to launch an allegedly world-changing campaign.
Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue, too.
I vacillate between thinking that this is a calm, clever way to include men in the feminist agenda, and being upset by the fact that this is far too little, much too late. Watson’s invitation is an intentional conceit, a literary device, and it remains to be seen whether it will be effective. I do think that every generation needs a fresh reminder that gender inequality is still an issue, and maybe this method will be successful. By “method,” I mean asking a famous, respected young actress to peacefully address the issue while being backed and legitimized by an INGO.
I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either.We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes, but I can see that they are, and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.
That first sentence pleases me immensely — gender expectations have a negative impact on everyone, and people often fail to realize that. However, the second sentence worries me because of the implied causation. The way it’s structured, it sounds like men must first be freed from masculine expectations in order for things to change for women. I get frustrated whenever I hear versions of this argument; that people have a finite amount of attention/capacity for caring, and that it’s necessary to focus on one thing first before committing resources elsewhere. A common example is when people argue that the U.S. shouldn’t give financial assistance to third-world countries, because there are still poor children in the United States. It’s possible to work towards solving several issues simultaneously. And besides, when you start prioritizing causes, the implication is that someone, or some issue, is less important than another’s.
If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled.
Incorrect. Men and women don’t interact as part of a yin-yang relationship. Neither men nor women should perform gender stereotypes, and it’s not a matter of waiting for men to cease being controlling before women can “finally” be free.
Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong. It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, instead of two sets of opposing ideals.
This is my favorite part of the speech. Gender as a spectrum? Yes.
I want men to take up this mantle so that their daughters, sisters, and mothers can be free from prejudice, but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too, reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned, and in doing so, be a more true and complete version of themselves.
Again, the idea is there, but I take issue with the phrasing. Some men don’t have daughters; some men don’t have sisters; some women don’t want children. I wish women could be discussed without being reduced to common social roles.
You might be thinking, “Who is this Harry Potter girl, and what is she doing speaking at the UN?” And, it’s a really good question. I’ve been asking myself the same thing.
All I know is that I care about this problem, and I want to make it better. And, having seen what I’ve seen, and given the chance, I feel it is my responsibility to say something.
Emma Watson anticipated that she would be on the receiving end of some serious criticism after delivering this speech, and she was right. After all, she’s not a professor or a politician; she hasn’t saved lives or made an important scientific discovery. She’s an actress, and one known for a series of children’s films at that. But she shouldn’t question her right to deliver a speech like this at the United Nations. She has just as much of a right to assert her beliefs as does anyone else. Is she the most credible person to deliver this speech? Perhaps not. But she’s extremely well-liked, and the UN’s decision to appoint her an an ambassador was shrewd indeed. I object to Watson’s need to apologize for her opinion.
15.5 million girls will be married in the next 16 years as children. And at current rates, it won’t be until 2086 before all rural African girls can have a secondary education.
Ah yes, the stereotypical examples. I wish she hadn’t included these, especially so close to the conclusion of her speech, almost as though these statistics were an afterthought.
If you believe in equality, you might be one of those inadvertent feminists that I spoke of earlier, and for this, I applaud you. We are struggling for a uniting word, but the good news is, we have a uniting movement. It is called HeForShe. I invite you to step forward, to be seen and to ask yourself, “If not me, who? If not now, when?”
The last paragraph is interesting, because although the campaign is called HeForShe, Watson avoids limiting her clarion call to men alone. Instead, she’s addressing all “inadvertent feminists,” who could theoretically be male or female. Nonetheless, I take issue with the name of the campaign, largely because it seems fundamentally disempowering to take the responsibility for equality out of the hands of those who are seeking justice.
When I was at university, there was a student group that quickly and surprisingly grew to prominence. It was called Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault, or MARS for short. I immediately felt conflicted. While I was glad to know that male students at the university recognized that men disproportionately committed acts of sexual assault against women (and other men), I wasn’t sure what the impetus was for forming the group. Were the “good” men in MARS going to oppose the “bad” men who attacked women, thus setting themselves up in the classically sexist “protector” role? Or were they just generally opposed to all sexual assault, and wanted to make their opposition clear by forming a public group, participating in public discussions, and publicly patting themselves on the back for not being bigots? Since men don’t listen to women, were they going to intervene on women’s behalf and talk to their frat brothers and convince them that women really do deserve respect, but we know that since you currently don’t respect women, we, as men, will do the convincing?
No matter which way I look at it, I find something twisted. And that’s sort of how I feel about the HeForShe campaign. The name alone places all responsibility on male catalysts — as though the time has finally arrived for women to sit back and wait for men to improve themselves and then, as an afterthought, women will benefit.
I’m glad Emma Watson gave a speech, because these days it’s unpopular for celebrities to identify as feminists. But I wish, wish, wish that she had done more with the opportunity she was given. She never did bother to explain why the word “feminist” makes some people uncomfortable, besides pointing out that some people assume it’s synonymous with hatred of men.
As for the flurry of articles I’ve encountered tearing Watson down because she’s white, wealthy, and extraordinarily privileged, I just want to say that none of these things bar Watson from having an opinion. Her opinion may be limited and painstakingly palatable, but (and I sigh), it’s still better than nothing. At least it isn’t the same nonsense that gets spewed out by Sheryl Sandberg and the corporate 1% feminists.
Still, that doesn’t mean that it’s in any way sufficient.