Watsons HeForShe formally invites men into gender equality discussion

It may a tad confusing to see Hermione Granger formally addressing the United Nations. But Emma Watson is no longer just a movie star and no longer a child: six months ago, she was appointed as the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, and now she is ready to begin making real change. And with her clear, demanding, personal call to action, she has made it impossible to laugh her off as just a Harry Potter character.

Her speech to the UN on Sept. 20 announced the creation of the HeForShe campaign, a movement for gender equality targeted at involving men and boys in the discussion. Since then, Watson’s message has gone viral, with millions of views on YouTube. There’s a simple reason for this: Watson’s message and call to action is one of the most decisive and powerful gender equality speeches ever delivered.

The power of the HeForShe campaign comes from its directed focus on men and boys. The problems with past and even current feminist movements is that they are often interpreted as being against men, rather than for women or for the equality of humankind. Too often, these movements have ended up with women fighting back against men. This has pushed men out of the conversation, placing the two genders into two different camps, and has even made the word “feminism” seem aggressive and hostile. As a result, Watson said, this associates the movement with “man-hating.” In the past, these movements have pitted men and women against one another and forced them onto opposing sides of the conversation.

But now, Watson has extended “a formal invitation” to men to participate in the movement for gender equality. Her campaign is targeted directly at men, proving that feminism is not anti-men. Moreover, Watson does not just invite men – she forcefully calls them to action, causing them to ask the questions, “If not me, who? If not now, when?” HeForShe is calling men – the other half of humanity who has largely ignored the discussion – into the movement for gender equality and calling them to act right now.

Watson’s speech also dispels the bygone movements that solely focus on female rights and looks broadly to overall gender equality. This intention is deliberate and crucial. Not only is the current feminist movement more progressive, it is also no longer a women-versus-men movement; it is a people-for-humanity movement. Watson’s speech is largely centered on the injustices faced by women, but this is simply because the issues and injustices women suffer through are more numerous and more statistically relevant than those often suffered by men.

However, she makes a deliberate effort to call attention to the fact that gender equality is an issue for men as well as women. Boys suffer from unjust standards and perceived expectations of masculinity in similar ways to how girls suffer from expectations of femininity. The HeForShe campaign seeks to empower men to help alleviate all gender inequalities, and that is why the front page of the movement’s Web site does not say “women’s equality” or “men’s equality.” It says “A Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality.”

That is really the final piece to Watson’s remarkable speech. This movement is a campaign for solidarity. This is not just a call to action; it is a call to community for both genders. This campaign seeks to bring men into the conversation that women have dominated for decades so that both genders, as an act of solidarity, can achieve universal gender equality.

It is too early to see if the HeForShe campaign will revolutionize the gender equality movement, but one thing is for certain: Emma Watson is not just a child star thrust into the adult spotlight. Her voice is strong and her message is clear. Through her past and present influence, she has the ability to reach the lives of so many boys and families and her message will be widely heard. HeForShe is the most powerful movement for gender equality and feminism so far in our time.

Sage Fulco ’18 fulco1@stolaf.edu is from Wayzata, Minn. He majors in physics.

Graphic Credit: ERIN KNADLER/MANITOU MESSENGER

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