When It Comes To Emma Watson, “Revolutionary” Is Not The Word

UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson, has made major news this past week with headlines calling her speech at the launch of the HeForShe campaign, “Revolutionary” and “Game Changing.” The September 21st speech began by focusing on the negative connotations that are commonly tagged to the words ‘feminist’ and ‘feminism.’ Watson then aimed the speech on her concern for the lack of male representation in the discussion of gender equality. With the extension of a “formal invite” to feminism, Watson expressed sympathy for the gender stereotypes and inequalities males face, and highlighted this commonality between both genders to encourage male participation and promote collaboration for change. The speech inspired many and even led 100,000 men to sign up to the HeForShe Movement.

However, there are a few points to reflect on:

Revolutionary isn’t the word. Did we need Emma to make this speech? Absolutely. We need anyone speaking on this matter. However, the calls for action in her speech cannot be considered, “game changing.” These are aspects of change that feminists/ activists have been striving to transform for years.

One of my all time favorite speeches is Jason Katz’s, “Violence against Women – it’s a men’s issue,” which he delivered at an independent TEDxFiDiWomen event in 2012. Katz bluntly speaks on behalf of sexual violence as a gender-neutral issue all the while pointing out the cultural standards and gender stereotypes men in our society face that cause them to see it as strictly a women’s issue. The TedTalks speaker is just one of many who have been trying to bridge the gap and remind men and women that we’re together in bringing social change. So, while Watson makes the valid point, “ if not me, who, if not now, when,” we have to hold some concern for the parameters in which people are praising her, all the while turning a blind eye to other activists and efforts.

Formally inviting? I think many would agree that activists have been vigorously waving men over to the feminism table for some time now. By using the words, “formally inviting,” we are suggesting that this has been an invite – only party all along…. not quite.

The way in which Watson invites men also suggests that men should only care now because we’re highlighting issues that concern them.

I want men to take up this mantle. So their daughters, sisters, and mothers can be free from prejudice…”

Writer for blackgirldangerous.org, Mia Mckenzie wrote in an article entitled “Why I’m Not Really Here For Emma Watson’s Feminism” about the very wrong message this statement gives off:

“The underlying message here is that women deserve equity and equality because of our relationships to men. Continuing to re-enforce the idea that men should respect women and fight for women’s equality because mother/sister/daughter/whatever perpetuates the idea that women don’t already deserve those things based solely on our status as human beings. It encourages men to think of women always and only in relation to themselves…”

Feminism’s mission has been vouching for attention on the issue gender equality, a neutral concept, since its conception and to coax them into caring in this one-sided manner that speaks to how it may benefit them, seems pretty counterproductive to the movement as a whole.

What about other marginalized groups? Even though the mission of this specific campaign is aimed at bringing together our binary gender system, the attention that this speech is getting requires us to factor in other aspects of equality that are not cut so cleanly into male and female. What about the oppression of black males? Of people of color in general? Members of the LGBTQI community? Why are we, as a society, so awe-struck by this speech that calls for a coming together in the sake of equality when marginalized groups have been banning together for this same cause for decades. We can also ask, why is it important to consider the effects an oppressed group has on a less oppressed group? It’s not.This is when the humanistic aspect of feminism and the large-scale concept needs to be remembered.

We need equality all around.

To call this revolutionary or game changing is disheartening. If we are just now considering this a time in which males should get involved in the conversation, I am sad for humanity. We needed white people involved in equality at the start of the civil rights movement. We needed men involved in women’s rights and equality the very moment the law/ social standards began to divide. We needed heterosexuals to stand up for same-sex partnership – all without the question, “What do I get out of it?”

Bottom Line: We needed Emma Watson to make that speech. We need anyone and everyone to keep stressing  the importance of a  joint effort in achieving equality. However, how we do it is crucial. The mindset we need to start teaching is human compassion, not “okay this involves you, now you can pay attention.” Any marginalization is a human issue and violation of basic human rights whether it directly affects us or not. What kind of world is this if we only consider standing for things that benefit us individually?

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4 thoughts on “When It Comes To Emma Watson, “Revolutionary” Is Not The Word

  1. While language does matter, I think what is more important is that she did not simply ask “If not me, who? If not now, When?” She also asked the members of the UN to ask themselves the same question.
    I do not see her speech and the publicity it has received as diminishing any other activist’s speech or actions, but simply adding to the efforts of equality. She has reached a group of people (the UN) who not every member may voluntarily listen to or go to feminist or women-oriented events, which means she has just exposed more individuals to what feminism actually is.
    I also think, that while it shouldn’t be necessary, that her “formal invitation” was a smart move. As she addressed and as many of us are aware, the term “feminism” is unpopular and has become associated with man-hating. To many, this negative impression of feminism may have made it seem intimidating, or threatening, which would make Emma Watson’s invitation necessary in making “feminism” appear more inclusive and inviting.
    I do agree that the language in “I want men to take up this mantle. So their daughters, sisters, and mothers can be free from prejudice…” is problematic. However, as I’ve found in contemporary discourse, it is absolutely crucial to work within the dominant discourse in order to make change. I feel that, for where we are at today in feminism, it is still necessary to work slightly (not completely) within the dominant patriarchal discourse in order to make any improvement.
    For an analogy: If we right off the bat take the “bull by the horns” so to speak, then we are just going to get thrown and trampled on by that bull. Rather, it would be more beneficial to do some bull fighting, which uses strategies, tactics, and patience in order to win in the end.
    Collectivistic cultures are not as strong or dominating as they once were. It are the individualistic cultures that seem to dominate today, which means importance of anything is placed on the self and not the community at large. This makes it difficult to get many individuals to get involved with something unless it somehow benefits them in return. Therefore, giving rise to the need to show people how and why feminism can and does affect them on a personal level and why they should care.
    One thing that really stood out to me in her speech was when she called for a “spectrum of gender.” So, while she didn’t directly state it, I think that could be inclusive of the LGBTQI community as well. Yes, there is still so much ground we need to cover as feminists in order to be all-inclusive and geared toward improving ALL human rights, not just heterosexual caucasian women. However, I do think that the international attention Emma Watson was able to bring toward feminism, even on a shallow level, is overall, very beneficial. Now that there has been more attention brought over to feminism, opening another door so to speak, this is where more activists can participate and talk about all marginalized groups.
    Anything that anyone says can be interpreted in different ways, it just depends on what you want to take away from it that counts. So instead of pointing out so many flaws in her speech, I am choosing to focus on what was good from her speech as well as the campaign. Rather than attack her for not being inclusive of all marginalized people, I choose to see the attention she has received as an opportunity to open more doors and bring all marginalized groups to the spotlight as well.

  2. I agree with kiran. While Watson’s speech may not have been ideal or even next to ideal, it does open up a lot of doors. If we are not heard it won’t matter what we are saying.And talking about mothers or daughters only puts things in context, sort of bringing war home. . a hard realisation when it comes to someone you love, Not some abstract concept of female.
    Watson is not start nor end, nor the highest not lowest point in feminism, we have miles to go. . .

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