Femme Friday #1: Emma Watson on Feminism, Gender Equality and HeForShe

First of all, if you haven’t seen Emma Watson’s speech on feminism, gender equality and the launching of her campaign HeForShe, I recommend you watch it now.

Feminism is important because it concerns us all.

That is basically what she wants you to know. Even if you may not like the word “feminist”, you should at least approve of the idea behind it:

Feminism, by definition, is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.

(Emma Watson)

We all deal with gender expectations that are placed upon us as kids, youngsters and even later on in our adult lives. We all experience and suffer from discrimination based on our sex and/or gender at some point, either in childhood, at school or at work.

Women, often joined by various supporters, have fought such expectations and discriminations for more than a century in various feminist movements all around the globe. And the fight still goes on, as long as babies’ clothes are divided in pink and blue, “boys don’t cry”, and men/women “shouldn’t behave/dress/talk/think like that”. The fight goes on, for as long as it will take until the very last person becomes a “feminist” – if not by name then by definition.

Emma Watson for UN Women HeForShe Campaign
Emma Watson for UN Women (source: unwomen.org)

Emma Watson, the UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador, or that girl from Harry Potter, as she calls herself, uses her fame in the movie industry to raise awareness for a great cause. She invites all men (sons, fathers, brothers, husbands, friends) to join the HeForShe campaign and show support to their mothers, sisters, wives and female friends. She asks you guys to join in the fight against ongoing gender expectations that destroy your lives just as much as ours.

But what does it really mean to be male or female? What if you can’t fit into any of these categories? What if you don’t want to fit into any of them? This leads me to one big problem that I have with this speech:

While Emma speaks about gender expectations, and discrimination based on sex and gender, even goes on to describe her own experiences that lead her to question gender, she still continues to use the gender dichotomies (male-female, man-woman, boy-girl) that confine our society in their narrow thinking. She reinforces the assumption that there are only these two options even though gender studies and feminist movements should have shown by now that this is not the case. Gender isn’t fixed. Gender is fluid. Take a look at transgender/transsexual or genderqueer people. (This is a topic that I will talk about a little more in the future.)

I do acknowledge that discussions of gender are always difficult. However, if you start a campaign to fight gender expectations, you should be informed and therefore aware of such difficulties, ready to face them. I am hopeful that we will one day reach a point, at which you don’t have to explain what feminism means, at which you don’t have to use limiting vocabulary to do so, and at which people in general will be more aware of the difficulties surrounding questions of sex, gender, identity, sexuality and also race as well as class.

Until that day, I congratulate Emma Watson on her position and her wonderful speech (because it was wonderful!) and hope that some of you out there will join the HeForShe campaign and become feminists.

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6 thoughts on “Femme Friday #1: Emma Watson on Feminism, Gender Equality and HeForShe

  1. Her speech was great. I hope now more women and men will identify as feminists. It’s not about holding up a pitchfork everytime someone says something sexist. I hope feminism will get a better name!

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    • I agree! My male friends always laugh at me when I say I’m a feminist. A girl friend of mine also never really took me seriously when I called myself one but after seeing Emma Watson’s speech, she realised that she herself was a feminist (just never called herself that). It’s great when famous people speak out for good causes. We need people like that if we want to have some change in the world.

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