Emma Watson bewitches the UN

Cartoon: Kate Mitchell

Emma Watson, UN Good Will Ambassador addressed the UN in New York on September 20th, regarding the launch of a new movement, HeForShe, which encourages men to actively advocate gender equality.

Some claim that “the Harry Potter girl” has no place addressing the UN, however the intended outcome is being achieved. The movement is gaining momentum – people are talking about feminism, about gender equality. Having formally invited the male population to join the cause will only increase this momentum.

In an inspiring speech, Watson highlighted how damaging the current stereotype of feminism is, claiming it is frequently associated with “man-hating” and “being unattractive”. This has allowed many to ridicule the cause.

Watson went on to shut down this common misconception. She defined feminism as “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities”, hoping to reduce the unpopularity of the term, and abolish the “men vs women” stereotype.

The Harry Potter star spoke about how gender inequality affects both sexes, about how men often feel unable to express their feelings out of fear of appearing less “macho”, and suggested that if “we all perceive gender on a spectrum, not as two opposing sets of ideals” then we can start on the road to a more gender-equal society.

Despite controversy amongst some, this will be a great step forward for the gender equality movement as a whole. By attempting to remove the damaging “lady-like” and “manly” stereotypes, the hope is that there will be no reason to live up to said stereotypes, and thus both sexes will be freed from the expectation to behave in a certain way, and from the shame factor of not behaving in said way.

Following this empowering speech, internet trolls on 4Chan were accused of creating a website which appeared threatening to release nude photographs of Watson.

It was later revealed that the post was actually a hoax by marketing organization Rantic, to prove to the US government why it is necessary to shut 4Chan down. And they did so successfully.

These misogynists, who routinely wield sexual terror as a threat, send the message that for women to avoid being sexually harassed, they must retreat and reduce their role in society.

Their presence is one of many reasons this movement needs to exist in the first place.

Overall, though, Watson has been a perfect spokeswoman for her cause. She refused to be intimidated, even before the threat was revealed to be a hoax.

Furthermore, her speech actively worked to break down the barriers between men and feminism, and has served to help the cause significantly.

3 comments

  1. 9 Oct ’14 at 11:06 pm

    Interested Observer

    “The Harry Potter star spoke about how gender inequality affects both sexes…”

    If the concern is for inequalities in both sexes then why is the campaign she is spearheading called ‘HeForShe’? That goes completely against any kind autonomous and independent male involvement in gender issues (‘independent’ as in it must be independent from feminism for it to be truly freeing men) . The subtext of the campaign seems to be to reinforce a very old and damaging gender stereotype that men often face; namely that men are ‘good men’ when they are performing/doing for women, whilst being told to ‘man up and get on’ when they have problems/gender grievances of their own. Men are not for women (and vice versa), they are their own people and should not be being spoken to as if their role is still that of chivalrous knights obliged to rescue damsels. Why call for dialogue on these kinds men’s issues, and simultaneously use those same things as an emotional lever against men, knowing, presumably, that the protector reflex will kick in, therefore blindsiding and impeding the rational discussion and thinking on these issues that needs to happen BEFORE individuals get involved in highly ideological/emotional activism and campaigning. It all seems very manipulative.
    The ironic thing concerning stereotypes is that Emma Watson IS a stereotype, and using stereotypes. She is a quintessentially feminine and ‘lady-like’ young woman using the power of a benign, pretty face to call on men to fulfill a stereotypically traditional ‘manly’ gender role. That is why she is the public face; she is non-threatening, pleasant, attractive and seems to have been given a brief from a ‘feminism 101’ handbook with token references to so- called ‘sexualisation’, the US Ban Bossy campaign, the ‘gender binary’ etc. It all seems extremely contrived. Kind of an ideological marketing ploy, but less slick.

    On a side note, I have been searching the press and internet throughout this and aside from regular and predictable mention in The Guardian and some occasional mentions elsewhere including student newspapers, not many people are really talking about it. People have no more reason to listen to her than to Bono, Sting, Bob Geldoff or any other celebrity/public figure using their fame to promote a cause; chiefly because it always seems to be done with a kind self-important narcissism which immediately puts people off. (This, by the way, is aside from the merit and nobility of their cause). Public figures generally only raise widespread awareness when the person concerned is truly adored by sections of people; e.g. Freddie Mercury and HIV/AIDS.

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    • How does Emma Watson being feminine damage her contribution to her cause? At no turn does feminism criticise femininity, and I doubt she is styling herself to be more palatable to the sexist observes you are concerned with. Certainly the assumption that she is cannot be made without evidence.

      Please elaborate on why sexualisation is ‘so-called’?

      While I certainly agree that her stance has flaws (she is inconsistent, for example, on her stance on gender binary), this is early days for her campaign and her message, and I don’t blame her one bit for starting off slowly.

      The speech has trended on social media, which is an unreliable mode of exposure, so may not have registered in your circles. Your final point, however, undermines the fact that she has been given an official position and platform by the United Nations, giving her considerably more weight than the other examples you cite. And crucially, this is an issue for which Emma Watson can not only be a spokesperson, but a role model, and that is something seriously lacking for young women.

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