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Emma Watson is not the “game-changing,” new face of feminism

Credit: Johnathan Carriger/The Foothill Dragon Press
Emma Watson delivered a speech to the United Nations last week regarding feminism, but had many holes in her arguments. Credit: Johnathan Carriger/The Foothill Dragon Press

Emma Watson recently turned thousands of heads with her sparkly speech about feminism. It started strong, possessing all the key points a presentation on gender equality should. Though about half way through, things took a turn for the worse.  

The speech was delivered to the United Nations General Assembly in New York earlier this week. As a Goodwill Ambassador for United Nations Women, Watson was there to launch HeForShe, a campaign inviting men to become advocates for women in the effort to end gender inequality.  

Sure, Watson gave touching personal examples of gender related oppression throughout her lifetime, and yes, she made a good point by addressing the fact that the word feminism is often wrongly perceived as “man hating.” Her argument on women not being payed the same as their male counterparts? I’m all for it. Unfortunately, I was taken aback by a few holes in her argument, and I would like to call attention to them.

Watson questions how we’ll ever achieve gender equality when only half of people “feel welcome to participate in the conversation.” She implies that the only reason men haven’t jumped on the feminism bandwagon is because women haven’t invited them. Not only is she pinning a fault on the group that’s requesting action in the first place, she’s forgetting the obvious reason why the majority of men aren’t feminists: they’re benefitting from gender inequality.  Nobody wants to give up the economic, political, and social benefits that they get from gender inequality’s status quo, so it’s safe to assume that this is the reason men haven’t dove head first into feminism. It has nothing to do with women not inviting them.

Suggesting that women haven’t been attempting to get men to care about the oppression of women is farcical. Women have been fighting for equality for hundreds of years: 9th grade history students may take Olympe de Gouges refusal to be excluded from the Declaration of Rights of Man for example. Interestingly enough, that was two hundred years ago.  It’s men’s fear of sacrificing their own power that’s stopping them from acting, not their lack of invitation. Plenty of men are comfortable sharing a link about gender equality, but actually giving up power isn’t exactly on any man’s to-do list.

Watson also said: “I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefit of equality, either.” She continues by saying that we’ll never see change for women unless we first free men from gender stereotypes. The victim is now longer the female, but the male. Watson is promoting the idea that gender inequality is a prominent issue for men, and this centralization only further marginalizes women in a movement built to help them overcome oppression. Watson is creating a false narrative that everyone is affected negatively by gender inequality, but this isn’t the case. Not to mention, she is once again ignoring how much men really do benefit from gender inequality.

Watson went on to say “I want men to take up this mantle. So their daughters, sisters, and mothers can be free from prejudice.” She’s sending an unconscious message that women only deserve equality because of our relationships to men, which encourages men to only think of women in relation to themselves. Enforcing this idea that we need to support the women of our direct family just preserves the dated idea that women aren’t already deserving of equal treatment based solely on their status as human beings.

I believe a campaign to gain male candidates in the fight for gender equality was necessary, but Watson didn’t launch it with the grace a movement about such a delicate subject requires.

She did a whole lot of talk about feminism being interpreted as “man hating” and how that affects men, though she never mentioned misogyny or any of it’s effects on women. Watson also completely left out oppression within females themselves. Wealthy women like her are often oppressors to women of lower income. Watson’s social standing practically grants her access to being taken seriously by the press and other feminists, yet she’s the one who needs to further educate herself on what is and isn’t significant concerning gender inequality.

Lastly, maybe she wasn’t siding with men, but Watson was turning a campaign that was supposed to be helping women into sympathy for (supposedly) gender stereotyped men. Perhaps this was on purpose: a tactic to gain male support for a female-oriented issue. Regardless, she’s trivializing the subject of her own campaign.

I do not believe Emma Watson’s speech is “game-changing” in the least, or that she’s the new face of feminism, though I do support her intentions and her effort towards gender equality. Many people immediately supported the beloved actress without analyzing her reasoning, so I hope both Watson and her followers take a look at the bigger picture.

What do you think?
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Comments on articles are screened and those determined by editors to be crude, overly mean-spirited or that serve primarily as personal attacks will not be approved. The Editorial Review Board, made up of 11 student editors and a faculty adviser, make decisions on content.
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    Maizie AndersOct 25, 2014 at 10:35 am

    Your article is very true, and I to agree that while Ms. Watson started strong in the speech it did take a turn for the worse! I am offended that she focused it on the male population who has been so called “excluded” from the equality talk. Thank you for bringing this to everyones attention. It is a great article!:)

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Emma Watson is not the “game-changing,” new face of feminism