Why I Support Emma Watson’s Promotion of Gender Equality

Emma Watson - HeForShe Gender Equality

I find it disgraceful that people fear the words feminism and feminist. What gives me hope is that the cause of fear is ignorance, and ignorance can be solved with knowledge and education. The concept of feminism has been around for centuries. Humanitarians, philosophers, journalists, professors, and theologians have written and spoken-out about the term at some point or another. It is an ideology, a system of ideas. If you look the term ‘feminist’ up in a dictionary, nowhere will the term ‘man-hater’ appear, I promise. In fact, it will discuss the advocation of equality of rights between men and women. Note the word ‘equality.’

Conservatism, Liberalism and Environmentalism are also ideologies and people do not cringe at the sound of those terms. For some reason, the term feminism has caused quite an outrage throughout the world.

I hear people question, “Why do you have to identify yourself as a feminist? Why can’t you just believe in feminism without identifying yourself as such?” To which my response would be, “What the hell is wrong with saying you’re a feminist?” I can guarantee that a mob with pitchforks and torches will not come after you if you identify yourself as a feminist.

As with all ideologies, there is a spectrum. Some feminists accept the act of pornography as a woman’s choice and not degrading to women, others simply identify feminism as the equality of men and women. One point I would like to make clear is that women who choose not to shave their legs, not to get married or not wear a bra, should not be considered ‘radical’ feminists. If that is the case, then a wide majority of the females in America can be considered a ‘radical’ feminist which then defeats the purpose of the term ‘radical.’

In recent years, the fight for equality between men and women, what feminism stands for, has become more publicized. President Obama discussed, in the latest State of the Union address, the need for equal pay for woman in the workplace, Malala Yousafazai was shot for promoting education for girls in Pakistan, and Emma Watson has recently started a campaign HeforShe, calling on men to join the feminist movement. Instead of standing in unison with Watson for the promotion of equality amongst men and women, Watson has received a great amount of criticism and backlash for her actions.

Watson introduced the HeforShe campaign, as a part of the UN Women Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality, in September 2014. In the first lines of her speech, she introduced the primary purpose of the campaign, to put an end to gender inequality. For those who do not know, Watson is the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. The HeforShe campaign specifically calls attention to the men of the world and asks them to join the movement for gender equality. The campaign quickly spread across social media with hashtags, retweets and instagrams, gaining attention from world leaders and public figures. Activist leaders including Demond Tutu, Hillary Clinton and Yoko Uno have shown support and commitment to Watson’s campaign. More recently, she has spoken at the 2015 World Economic Forum and introduced the next phase of HeforShe, IMPACT 10X10X10. The purpose of this next phase is to call on the public and ask what impact they can have on gender inequality.

One criticism is that Watson is not the right woman to be the face of a movement promoting an end to gender inequality. To which I would ask, why not? Yes, it is true that Watson is a wealthy, white woman with an Ivy League education. Watson is also a public figure who has the means to lead an international movement. I do not know why the United Nations chose Watson as the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador; however, I am sure they had good reason behind it. Although, criticism against the United Nations for their lack of support in certain world issues is a different argument entirely.

A separate criticism is that the feminism movement should not be directed towards men. Again, let us refer back to the definition of feminism. It is an ideology that promotes gender equality. People of all sexes, genders, identities, ages, ethnicities, and religious beliefs are welcome to join.

People criticize that since she is a white woman, she cannot understand the oppression of minority women; therefore, the HeforShe campaign discriminates against ethnic minorities. Let us take a step back and look at the bigger picture. This campaign is a call for gender equality, a call to put an end to the oppression of women. It is not fair to compare oppressions and say one oppression is worse than another. Oppression in itself is enough of an issue to speak out against. We live in a patriarchal world; Watson is a woman and thus, has experienced gender inequality at some point in her life. The oppression women face in ethnic minorities and third-world countries is certainly deplorable; however, that oppression cannot possibly be stopped overnight and this movement is a step in the right direction. Instead of disregarding Watson’s efforts completely based on the color of her skin, we need to come together and draw attention to gender inequality.

Let us not discriminate against Watson based on her economic status and ethnic background, but let us support her in her efforts to make a difference in a world that does not permit a woman to receive equal pay to her male coworker for the same work, a world where women have to look behind their back every few seconds when walking alone to make sure they are not being followed, a world that sexualizes prepubescent girls and boys in the media, and a world where a girl is not allowed to receive an education.

Feature image: UN Women, Creative Commons

Katherine Kelliher
Katherine is currently a senior at Saint Louis University studying Political Science, Communication-Journalism and French. She drinks her coffee black and is an avid film watcher.