Sunday, 28 September 2014

People Were Going to Have a Problem with Emma Watson's Speech No Matter What

image by David Shankbone | modified

            Earlier last week, British actress Emma Watson gave one of her first speeches since being appointed as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador in July. Let me present the following information before I go any further: the title basically means that she is an honorary ambassador. She promotes ideals that are inline with UN Women, particularly the newly launched HeForShe Campaign.  Now to continue, feel free to watch the video here (transcript here):

            Emma Watson delivered quotable lines such as "Men—I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too,” and, "...I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop." Despite these sounding like quite good things, Watson has come under fire for her speech. Most notably, in this TIME article by Cathy Young.

            Emma Watson is there to market the HeForShe campaign, a campaign that encourages men to fight alongside women for gender equality. Sounds good, right? Right. Encouraging men to fight alongside women for equal rights is good.  Yet, Young calls out Watson specifically for her attempt to rule out man-haters. What Young then goes on to do is give examples of all the things that man-hating feminists like to do, like, all the time:
How about addressing this message to feminists who [...] argue that “Kill all men” mugs and “I bathe in male tears” T-shirts are a great way to celebrate women’s empowerment and separate the “cool dudes” who get the joke from the “dumb bros”?"

Knowing full well that these are stereotypes of sometimes-true forms of feminism, Watson addressed in her speech the inequalities that affect men in their every day lives:
[...] I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society despite my needing his presence as a child as much as my mother’s.
I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness unable to ask for help for fear it would make them look less “macho” [...]

In response, TIME's Cathy Young goes on to give many further examples, such as the unfair treatment of male victims in sexual assault cases, domestic violence against men, and the gender bias debate in custody situations, but these are exactly the issues many feminists campaign for as well.

            I get it; a huge criticism of our current wave of feminism is that it lacks coherence. We don't have a single goal like the previous two. And in fact, feminists are, on the whole, divided on these issues. Let's be honest, currently feminism is an ever changing, "what it means to me" type of creature. Hell, that's what this entire blog is about. Her speech is no different. "Feminism, by definition," she says, "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." Stop riding her ass for feeling that way.

            In this article from Black Girl and Dangerous, Mia McKenzie is deeply unimpressed by Watson and accuses her of pandering to men:
Telling men that they should care about gender inequality because of how much it hurts them, centralizes men and their well-being in a movement built by women for our survival in a world that degrades and dehumanizes us daily.

            While I agree that Emma Watson's speech is by no means a "game-changer" as many media outlets and springy feminists believe, it doesn't have to be. As I stated earlier, this speech was meant to be marketable, easily accessible, inoffensive, and inviting. This is a campaign that promotes cooperation and solidarity. The campaign aims to rid the "us-versus-them." Stop trying to make her bring it back.

image by Patrick Gruben

             Now, let's hypothetically say that Emma Watson, during her United Nations speech and campaign, said all the things that Cathy Young or Mia McKenzie wanted (though according to Young she shouldn't have made the speech at all). You'd then get people like me, or bell hooks, or male-sympathetic feminists in general still saying it was rotten for men, rotten for feminists, rotten for somebody. People were going to have a problem with Emma Watson's speech no matter what.

            Some people feel that men have no place in feminism, and only act as oppressors; Watson is not one of them. And she's fucking entitled to that opinion. Watson knew exactly what she wanted to say, and she said it: she wants men as allies. She is, in the very core of her speech and for the very core of feminism, trying amass as many people as possible to fight for gender equality, and is that really all that bad?


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