Emma Watson is great. I’m a fan of Harry Potter and her portrayal of Hermione. I’m also quite keen on the whole feminism thing. But despite this, I found that I couldn’t agree with everything in Emma Watson’s speech to the United Nations last week.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fantastic that feminism is being discussed by a woman with such a high profile. The level of coverage Emma’s speech received will hopefully lead to more women and men thinking about gender issues and getting involved in feminist activism. But while men definitely have a role to play in feminism, I am not a fan of the way Emma made men the central theme of a speech about women’s issues.
Women have been shut out of mainstream dialogue and societal power structures for the majority of history. Even now, in many areas of public life from politics to business, men are dominant. So why do we make the conversations we have about women all about men as well?
I also felt uncomfortable when Emma declared that, “men don’t have the benefit of equality either”. Perhaps not, but they do reap many of the benefits of inequality, such as being infinitely more likely to be elected to political office (and without being judged for what they wear while they do it).
That’s not to say that many men wouldn’t appreciate less rigid gender stereotypes. However, we should not ignore the fundamental reality that men do benefit from the patriarchy.
What I found most problematic about Emma’s speech was the idea that men should care about feminism so that, “their daughters, sisters, and mothers can be free from prejudice…”. This endorses the long-standing (but awful) idea that a woman’s value derives from her relationship to men. Men should not support the liberation of women because we are their mothers, wives or daughters; they should support it because we are human.
It also concerns me that many articles the next day dubbed Emma the, ‘acceptable face of feminism’. It is not right that because she is white, middle class, educated and dare I say, attractive, that she is welcomed with open arms. I find it unlikely that women who lie outside of these “acceptable” margins would have had their speech so well received, or even have been up on that stage in the first place.
That’s not to say that feminists like Emma don’t have a place in the feminist movement (they absolutely do). But feminism
should be for all women and I’d love to see a speech at the UN by a woman who shatters all the ideas about what a woman must be like.
Rachel Megan Barker
To see Emma Watson’s UN speech, watch the link below: