Mandell weighs the effects of actress Emma Watson's UN speech

Actress, model, scholar, and UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson delivered an impassioned speech at the United Nations on the cause of feminism. Photo via CNN.com

Actress, model, scholar, and UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson delivered an impassioned speech at the United Nations on the cause of feminism. Photo via CNN.com

On Saturday, Sept. 20, Emma Watson, the UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador, delivered a speech at the UN, rallying men to fight for the feminist cause. Watson described her early encounters with sexism, being called bossy at age eight, being sexualized by the media at fourteen, and seeing her friends drop out of sports because they were called unfeminine.  These experiences compelled her to become a feminist, but she quickly learned that the word “feminism” has a publicity problem.

Feminism “has too often become synonymous for man hating,” she said, but she also believes that this misconception can stopped.  Feminism is an important issue for men too, who are often pressured to cohere to hyper-masculine standards. Men should take up the issue not just for their wives, mothers and daughters’ sakes, 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,” she reasoned. The consequences of hyper-masculinity in a society can be dire, she stated, “I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness, unable to ask for help for fear it would make them less of a man. In fact, in the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20 to 49, eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease.”

That is why HeForShe—the campaign Watson is helping launch—was created. It is a formal invitation to men to join the feminist movement. On the website, men can pledge that “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.” So far over 150 thousand men have signed the pledge.  

Watson’s speech has received mixed responses. Many believe that her speech was needed.  Sarah Lawrence student, queer activist, and feminist, Sam Rosen says,“obviously, feminism is not just about women.  It is about the gender binaries in general and how having this patriarchal society is damaging to everybody... that being said feminism does have this man hating reputation, that is obnoxious... so it was necessary to be said to the public, especially by someone as approachable by Hermione Granger.”  

Some believe, though, that Watson’s speech was exclusionary particularly to the queer community.  Rosen says “it definitely leaves them out of the conversation and that tends to be the case in most areas of social change. When we walk about genders, we’re not really talking about all genders. We’re talking about men verses woman or men and women, but we’re not really including the gray area that very clearly exists... so it’s frustrating that that is not acknowledged, baby steps, but it should have been taken more into account.”

Others think that Watson’s attempt to reach out to men by showing them that feminism serves their own interests shifts the focus too far from those who are being the most oppressed.  Adrianna McCourt, first year at Sarah Lawrence, believes that it “does take away attention from the people who are actually being oppressed, because while it is important that hyper-masculinity is stopped, the issue is a lot bigger and more dangerous for women, because it leads to murders, and rape. I support her and I appreciate her speech a lot though, and I just hope that now that we’ve gotten people to care about it, that future speeches will just focus on the people who need it the most.  And I don’t think that’s just straight, white women.”  Many others, though, disagree.  They say that since feminism is about equalizing the genders, any problems men face are also feminist issues.  

Regardless of nay-sayers opinions, Watson’s speech was able to attract lots of attention to the cause of women’s rights, and reach an international audience with her message. Feminism is one of those causes that should never be too far from the spotlight.

by Lena Mandell '18
lmandell@gm.slc.edu

 

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