Waving a Wand at Gender Inequality Won’t Work. We All Need to Help.

Waving a Wand at Gender Inequality Won’t Work. We All Need to Help.

Tristan Gillia, Opinion Editor

The feminist movement has made big strides in the past few decades, but lately it seems to have stalled out. There’s a divide in public opinion about what the feminist movement is and what it should be. In many cases that divide is being driven by some uninformed comments by celebrities. But recently another celebrity joined that debate in a serious and thoughtful way and on a global scale.

A few months ago, Emma Watson was appointed the United Nations’ Women Goodwill Ambassador, and on September 20,she made a speech (that quickly went viral) talking about a new campaign that she was launching called HeForShe.

If you haven’t seen the video of her speech or one of the articles about it online, here’s the gist: Feminism, in some circles, has become a dirty word. Despite the definition of feminism being, as Watson puts it, “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities […] the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes,” others have transformed that definition, making feminism “synonymous with man-hating” and a desire for women to have all the power in society. And because of this, some men and women don’t want to identify with the term. Watson’s campaign invites all men and boys to help in the fight for gender equality. She actually issued a “formal invitation” for the men to join the feminist movement so that we could all finally win this fight — and all benefit. She made a point that gender inequality affects men as well as women, and addressing men’s issues would actually help improve women’s rights “as a natural consequence.”[1]

The idea  HeForShe is  essential to the progression of gender equality. How can we fight for something as big as equal opportunity and rights for the sexes “when only half of [the sexes] feel welcome to participate in the conversation?” When we frame feminism as a battle between men and women, rather than as a cultural problem impacting everyone, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Sounds smart, right? But like everything else in the world, there is always going to be criticism, and this is no exception. Some critics call her out for making a campaign for feminism all about men. They’re missing the point. This campaign is not all about men; it’s all about squashing the idea that feminism implies that women want more rights and opportunities than men. This idea–an imaginary notion created by critics of feminism to destroy and discredit the movement–is detrimental to the movement for equality. Yeah, “He” might be the first word in the title of the campaign, but it is really about everybody. And let’s face it, “SheForHe” really wouldn’t make any sense. Watson is trying to enlist a broader audience in the fight for equality. More help is more help.

One critic, Cathy Young, wrote an article in Time about how “HeForShe Is Rotten for Men” because Watson doesn’t mention the “problems affecting men and boys.” But Watson does mention these issues. She talks about the stereotypes that impact men and boys: “We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that they are.” She even provides examples — like her male friends having trouble expressing their feelings as they grew older or her dad’s role being considered less important than her mother’s in their family.Acknowledging the issues common to men and boys, while continuing to fight for women’s rights, is fair and honest. It makes for a more inclusive, powerful movement with a greater chance of success.

So let’s stop bashing each other online about what feminism is and should be. Emma Watson issued a call to action so let’s respond.

Works Cited:

1.        Emma Watson at the HeForShe Campaign 2014 – Official UN Video. Perf. Emma Watson. YouTube. United Nations, 22 Sept. 2014. Web. 22 Sept. 2014.

2.        Young, Cathy. “Sorry, Emma Watson, but HeForShe Is Rotten for Men.” Time 26 Sept. 2014: n. pag. Time. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.


[1] For the full transcript, go to:http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2014/9/emma-watson-gender-equality-is-your-issue-too