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?