Earlier this summer, recent Brown University graduate Emma Watson was named a Goodwill Ambassador for U.N. Women, the United Nations organization dedicated to advocating for worldwide gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Watson, a self-proclaimed feminist, gave a fervent speech at the U.N. headquarters in New York to launch the “HeForShe” campaign, which aims to increase male allyship for women’s issues.
On speaking about feminism, she expressed our global need for ending the social, political and economic gender inequality that continues to plague women in the United States and across the world, depicting these issues as men’s issues, too.
Her impassioned speech focused on the role of men in the feminist movement and questioned the discomfort that we, as a society, feel when speaking about feminism. She explained that the word has become synonymous with "man-hating" and has since become a very unpopular word.
Watson attributes her analysis of how fragile male masculinity is to the strict gender roles that exist in society, specifying that if there was gender equality, men would not be afraid to be sensitive and women wouldn't hide their strength.
"I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness unable to ask for help for fear it would make them look less 'macho'…I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success," said Watson.
Her speech was met with a standing ovation by crowds of men and women and certainly caused a social media uproar — but not before leading me to question some of her key points.
As a queer woman of color and a feminist who advocates for equal political, economic, cultural and social rights for women, I wholeheartedly appreciate that Watson’s media presence and colorful resume helped her give visibility to issues affecting girls and women. I cringe at the fact, however, that in order to be seen as legitimate she had to extend a "formal invitation" for men to feel compelled to stand in solidarity with women.
She spoke against misconceptions that exist regarding feminism, but Watson’s speech was centralized around the needs of men and catered to issues that would most impact them.
This was most visible when she said, “We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes, but I can see that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.”
This statement is harmful to the feminist movement and to girls and women because it is simply dehumanizing and invalidating to our needs and concerns as people and as individuals in society. It conveys that only when men realize that they are being negatively affected by gender inequality, can we begin to see change within our society and culture.
It tiptoes around the fact that men certainly do benefit from gender inequality and that male privilege exists. Unfortunately, her message fails to express that and fails to advocate for issues specific to girls and women of color (i.e. having access to equal opportunities in education and employment).
Watson’s speech was revolutionary in that it was a first of its kind, especially at a U.N. conference, but we must not forget that conversation about gender equality should be centralized around girls and women.