Emma Watson recently gave a speech to the UN General Assembly, as part of a new campaign aimed at re-energizing feminism- a simple (and to some of us, self-evident) idea that women and men should be treated equally and should have equal access to things like education, employment, health care, representation under the law, and property. The campaign is called He For She. As soon as she said the name of the campaign, my heart sank. A campaign for women’s equality where the male pronoun comes before the female- what could go wrong with that?
Emma is smart, talented, and a worthy representative of women. I am thrilled she is taking up this important work. Throughout her speech, she spoke with sincerity and shared her personal experiences as a young woman growing up in an environment that threw her the “softballs” of gender inequality- being called bossy, friends that didn’t want to look “too muscular,” while cocooned in the support of parents and mentors that encouraged her to set her own boundaries and define her own versions of success and “womanhood.’ She readily acknowledged that she had it pretty good, relative to many women around the world. She spoke about the need for men and women to come together to support the advancement of women’s rights; and she talked about a world where men are also being constrained in a tight web of masculinity and suffocating gender stereotypes. It was a fair, balanced speech- but as she wrapped it up with a call for unity and action, I felt a wave of disappointment. That was it? That was what jezebel called a “badass speech?” Whoa- our standards have dropped.
Hell to the yes- men need better mental health care, men and boys need more diverse role models, and we all need to put down the pink and blue branding irons that seemingly come out at birth these days. But- can we get back to the actual issue here? You know the part about women around the world being systematically discriminated against in ways that range from the horrifyingly blatant and brutal to the sinisterly subtle? Women remain underrepresented, underpaid, underserved, underinsured, and under appreciated. Just TODAY, I was in a meeting where a woman was described as too brusque, as the type that might “ruffle feathers”. And oh yes, it was a woman that said this. I wanted to stick my pen in my eye.
I applaud what Emma and the UN are trying to do, but why does it have to be done with such a tone of supplication and entreaty? It felt like a lot of cottony, non-threatening, anti-inflammatory words were being used, as if she was told not to ruffle feathers. Did someone say, “Speak up, darling but don’t shout. You’ll make the men uncomfortable.” Suffragettes did not get what they wanted by asking if they could pretty please get the right to vote. Sure, you get more bees with honey, but they aren’t going to split the hive with you.
I agree that we need to enlist men in this effort, but to “extend a formal invitation,” as Emma stated in her speech? What is that all about? I don’t think we should “ask men” to join us- this isn’t a picnic and I’m not wearing a bustle.
Women, especially those of us who have enjoyed many of the same supports and opportunities to push for equality that Emma has; need to demonstrate through our words, actions, and by leveraging the mountains and mountains of data that show that when women are more equal in society, WE ALL BENEFIT. That’s right, every last one of us- man, woman, and child.
Women need to link arms, first and foremost, with each other, and then with our brothers, husbands, fathers, and sons- and make it straight up UNACCEPTABLE to allow feminism and equality to be ideas controlled by those who don’t believe in them.
Emma- I love what you have started, but next time let’s lace up those trainers and make a real run for it!