Actress Emma Watson is the Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women. At the 2014 launch of the HeForShe campaign, she gave an impassioned speech. It was met with a thunderous standing ovation and rippled through the online community causing the UN website to crash. Within days, Vanity Fair had called her speech “game-changing.”
What was her speech about?
It was about gender equality.
Watson argued that fighting for women’s rights has become synonymous with man-hating and the word “feminism” has gotten a bad wrap. Women who call themselves feminists are often seen as “too strong, too aggressive, isolating, anti-men and unattractive.”
She says that for most women, that’s not what feminism is about at all. She says by definition, feminism is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. This definition allows for political, social and economic equality of the sexes, and it has nothing to do with hating men.
Watson started to question gender-based assumptions at a young age. When she was 8, she was called bossy but she noticed that boys were never called this. As a young actress, she was sexualized by the media. At 15, she noticed her girlfriends start to drop out of sports teams because they didn’t want to appear to have muscles. At 18, she realized her male friends were unable to express their feelings.
Men are imprisoned by gender stereotypes just as women are. Men often feel the need to be seen as strong and aggressive, and they sometimes believe their role is to dominate. Many men believe it’s a sign of weakness to express their feelings or to be kind and compassionate to others.
Watson believes that when men are free of these stereotypes, things will change for women as a natural consequence. If men don’t feel the need to be aggressive in order to be accepted, then women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t feel the need to control, women won’t have to be controlled. Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive and strong.
Watson believes that in order to end gender inequality, everyone needs to be involved. She hopes to galvanize as many men and boys as possible to become advocates for change. She says HeForShe is about freedom and she wants men to take up the mantle so their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice, and so their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human, to reclaim parts of themselves they’ve abandoned, and to be a more true and complete version of who they really are.
Men are rising to Watson’s challenge. Actor Tom Hiddleston of The Avengers recently tweeted, “Em Watson you are impeccable and extraordinary. I stand with you, I believe in gender equality.” Then he posted a link to her speech and quoted her phrase, “Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong.”
Other male celebrities are supporting the cause, too. Harry Styles, Russell Crowe, Emile Hirsh and Chris Colfer have posted HeForShe selfies online. And Iceland recently announced a UN conference on women and gender equality to which only men will be invited.
Watson closed her speech with the following words: “…I care about this problem and I want to make it better…If not me, who? If not now, when?...If you believe in equality, you might be one of those inadvertent feminists I spoke of earlier…I am inviting you to step forward, to be seen, and to ask yourself, if not me, who? If not now, when?”
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Debbie L. Kasman
Founder and Co-Leader KPR Women, retired principal, and author of Lotus of the Heart: Reshaping the Human and Collective Soul
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