If you needed any more reasons to love Emma Watson, the events of this past week certainly gave you a handful. First of all, if you’ve scrolled through your Facebook newsfeed and have ignored the countless shares of Watson’s speech to the United Nations this Monday, September 22, watch it. She delivered a speech with the poise of Princess Diana and the urging concern of UNICEF Ambassador, Audrey Hepburn. It was an unforgettable moment for an iconic voice of our generation striving to re-market the word “feminism.” And while I have a giant girl crush on Watson, this week’s Love Letters is going to focus on the star’s activism and her HeforShe campaign.
In the conversation of gender equality, the word feminist is tossed around a lot, but in colloquial use, the word is often feared and stigmatized.
“My recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word. Women are choosing not to identify as feminists. Apparently, I am among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating and anti-men,” Watson said. Why is it scary to identify as a feminist? Why are women who speak about women’s issues often ridiculed or labeled as ‘man-haters?'”
Women who identify as feminists do not hate men. Most of us have fathers, brothers, boyfriends, husbands, and male friends that we love to pieces. In my own column, I have been criticized as ranting about men, because I discuss relationship issues important to women. The issue with the word “feminist,” as Watson points out, is that its stigma appeals only to women talking about women’s issues when the gender equality conversation should involve men as well. “Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue, too,” Watson said.
Watson explored in her speech that the expectations and restrictions put on the role of “male” in our society is also perpetuating the gender issue. If men are not expected to be controlling or dominate, women would not feel the need to conform to submissiveness. In Watson’s home country, suicide is the biggest killer of men between the ages 20 to 49, trumping road accidents, cancer, and heart disease. Watson attributes this to the weakness associated with men asking for help and the notion that this makes them less of a man.
“I’ve seen men fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success,” she said.” Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either. We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that they are.”
The HeforShe campaign has a one-year goal to get 1 billion male advocates on board. As Watson points out, with only half of the world’s population participating in the gender equality conversation, namely women, is it really a conversation at all?
It is about time that someone of great influence in our generation took the time to address gender roles. Watson is nearly universally loved as we watched her grow up in the “Harry Potter” films. Post-Hermione Granger, she has become a style icon and a UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador. Watson is an inspiration. Instead of walking away with the fame she achieved in her very fortunate situation, she is using her influence to effect change. She is educating herself on topics that matter to the global community and traveling the world in order to gain a wider perspective.
Since her speech, Watson has been harassed by numerous computer hackers who are threatening to release nude photos of the actress. This goes to show that we have a long way to go. Despite Watson initiating the conversation, people are continuing to reduce her to a mere sexual objectification, like Jennifer Lawerence and other hacked actresses.
The type of activism and conversations about things like gender equality are being brought to the mainstream in spite of the many internet threats Watson now faces. These topics are the ones that are meaningful in our use of social media. As Emma Watson eloquently said in her address on Monday, “If not me, who? If not now, when?…I invite you to step forward, to be seen and ask yourself: If not me, who? If not now, when?”