I – along with the rest of the world – was recently captivated by Emma Watson’s moving speech on feminism at the UN, which launched the ‘HeForShe’ campaign. First of all, Emma Watson has been my girl crush since I was in junior high, and second, I was pleased to hear her clarify the definition of feminism, as it has been misunderstood by many. Watson states that feminism is “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” She goes on to invite men to join the movement for gender equality, pointing out that gender stereotypes imprison men as well as women. Finally, she ends by encouraging everyone to ask themselves, “If not me, who? If not now, when?” I found that ending really empowering because it implies that even though I may feel small, I can make a difference and there is no reason to wait.
Now, that video sat well with me for about a week. I talked to others about the speech, praising Emma Watson and spreading word of the ‘HeForShe’ campaign. I did have a prickle of discomfort when I was thinking about the name of the campaign because it seems to imply that men are stepping in and saving women, but I pushed it aside and told myself I was being nitpicky.
Then I read this critique of Emma Watson’s speech and the ‘HeForShe’ campaign, which points out some problematic things:
- There has been little discussion of what men who sign the pledge can actually do to improve the lives of women.
- Emma Watson acknowledges that she was privileged because her parents and mentors did not expect less of her because she was a girl, but does not acknowledge how being white, wealthy, able-bodied, or cisgender have affected her life experience.
- The campaign reinforces the gender binary and excludes those “whose gender identities don’t fit into such tidy boxes,” the very people who are more likely to be oppressed.
- The campaign fails to invite those whose voices need to be heard the most – the voices of non-white women, trans men, and non-binary people.
- There has been little discussion about how HeForShe can improve the lives of women and non-binary people who experience intersectional oppressions, like racism, transphobia, and fatphobia.
The critique ends with the suggestion that Watson should have handed the microphone to Laverne Cox (transgender actress, LGBT activist) or Janet Mock (transgender woman, transgender rights activist) if she really wanted to be a “game-changer” for feminism. After reading this critique, I felt a little defensive of Emma Watson. I have also been in a position where I was called out for not acknowledging how my privilege shaped my life experiences. That’s the tricky thing about privilege – it can easily slip by unnoticed when you’re the one who has it. Also, I wondered, isn’t she managing her privilege by using it for good in standing up for women whose voices aren’t heard? (Except that she is only standing up for certain women.)
I agree with the critique in its concerns about the exclusion of non-binary people and I’m really ashamed that I didn’t notice that when I first listened to the speech. I need to get back into the practice of being critical of what I read and listen to. Additionally, haven’t been able to find anything that explain what the ‘HeForShe’ campaign will actually do to end persisting inequalities.
What do you think of Emma Watson’s speech and the ‘HeForShe’ campaign? Did you initially agree with it, or were you critical of its shortcomings? Could Emma Watson have used her privilege in a more productive way?