Reflecting on UN Actress’ Feminist Speech
On September 21, actress Emma Watson, famous for her role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series, delivered a speech at the UN Headquarters in New York City to raise awareness for UN Women’s new campaign, He for She. Appointed a UN Women Goodwill ambassador in July, Watson identified as a feminist in her speech and criticized the negativity that has been associated with the word “feminist,” and particularly its reputation for being “man-hating.” She began her argument by saying, “For the record, feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.”
I agree with Watson: though feminism has made incredible strides for both men and women, it has been misrepresented and mislabeled as irrational and man-hating. I appreciate that Watson, unlike many other female public figures, claimed the feminist title and stressed the importance of both men and women supporting gender equality. However, I do not believe that this speech was a “game-changer” (vanityfair.com). I think Watson made some major oversights in her speech regarding equality of the sexes.
Watson argued that men need gender equality, too, as many men face marginalization for having traditionally female traits or professions. However, what about those that do not feel they are in danger of inequality? Shouldn’t they also want to fight for gender equality? I worry that asking men to support women in the fight for equality because they can also be marginalized is telling men to only fight for equality if they are worried about being marginalized themselves. I do not feel that this is a sustainable argument; a group should not have to have a personal reason or have experienced repression to advocate for the marginalized. They should advocate for the marginalized because of the inherent worth of their fellow human beings.
Finally, Watson only addresses gender inequalities experienced by middle class, white, straight, cisgendered women and men. The feminist discussion of today has moved past this one-sided approach: in order to understand gender inequality, we must examine the experiences of those from all races, ethnicities, classes, sexual orientations, gender identities, etc. The issues of gender inequality extend beyond equal pay and reproductive rights, and I wish Watson realized that her argument could only be strengthened by including the experiences of women different from herself.