Emma Watson’s UN speech was wonderful. Here we have a young female celebrity who is absolutely not afraid to attach her name to feminism, someone who clearly understands its meaning and importance (unlike the likes of Lana Del Rey and Shailene Woodley, who have denounced feminism as “man hating”). Emma concisely explained the real meaning of feminism, that is, “the social, political and economic equality of the sexes”, and explained how men, too, can benefit from dismantling the harmful stereotypes that are perpetuated in the patriarchy. After all, the patriarchy is what leads to the notion that men have to be “powerful” and “commanding”, even “aggressive” while women are “submissive” “weak” and “emotional”. Both genders could benefit from feeling free to display any of the aforementioned qualities. Sensitivity is not weakness, men should be free to show that, and women should not be berated for it.
What really concerned me, however, was the response to this speech. On the one hand, some people took it upon themselves to say the speech was not valid because it focused on men, instead of women. While I understand that feminism shouldn’t and doesn’t have to cater to men, as it is primarily concerned with the improvement of women’s lives – if this speech is going to make even a tiny bit of difference, if it’s going to get men to quit that tempting knee-jerk reaction to lambast feminists as “man haters” and the misguided idea that feminism has no benefits for them, then it has to be a good thing.
My brother always rolls his eyes when I talk about feminism, but I linked him to Emma’s speech. Because he admires her, and a lot of young people have an attachment to her because of Harry Potter – we almost feel like we know her, there’s a familiarity and respect there. Emma is a perfect spokeswoman for this issue.
The main problem with directing this speech (and the He for She campaign) towards men is the response from 4chan and Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs). This morning, 4chan released a threatening message to Emma, saying, “Never forget, the biggest to come thus far” – many believing this has to do with the nude photo leaks that have been occurring for the past few weeks. Emma has gone out of her way to be welcoming and including to men in the feminist discussion, and what she’s gotten in response are threats. Even when the discussion is (at least partially) directed towards men, it’s not enough for some of them. Moreover, the response (if it is referring to nude leaks) is so intrinsically misogynistic, it only serves to prove that MRA is indeed a form of terrorism. Similar abuse was shown towards several high profile women in the gaming industry during #GamerGate, including vlogger Anita Sarkeesian, who has been the subject of rape and violence threats, breach of confidentiality and cyber abuse – simply because she created a series of videos about women’s representation in gaming. The fact is, there is an increasingly aggressive male online culture that will not allow women to speak about their own rights without risking retribution (in the form of sexist attacks, threats of rape and violence, and more).
Another response has been to put Emma down in comparison to women of colour being a supposed “better” example of spokeswoman. Intersectional feminism is a hugely important issue that needs to be discussed more in mainstream media. However, Emma herself talks about her “privilege” in her speech – a very self aware wording that lends even more certainty to the idea that she is a good spokeswoman for feminism. The best? Maybe not. Someone who has a lot of reach trying to do the best of her ability for a good cause? Yes. She says herself she doesn’t believe she’s the best person to be talking about the issue, but – “if not me, who?” She is not any less of a feminist because she is a white woman. When so many young stars nowadays are publicly aligning against feminism, it’s important to have such well known figures supporting it. Feminism is not a competition, it should be about supporting other women.