I love the above video for a number of reasons, but right now it’s because I think it highlights something that I didn’t talk about in my last post. What is the role of men when it comes to gender equality? You may not have noticed this, but I only mentioned one man in Britain’s feminist movement, John Stuart Mill. One. That is not to say that there weren’t other men who promoted women’s rights, but it is important to note that there was only one man who prominently featured in it. I think it’s time that that changed, and I wanted to take a moment to talk about Emma Watson’s #HeForShe campaign.
I was pleasantly surprised when I woke up to news that Emma Watson had launched a campaign at the UN called #HeForShe. Now I admit, I wasn’t crazy about the hashtag grammar, but I decided that it was probably something worth looking into. I’m so glad I did. If you haven’t seen the speech, I’ve included it below and you can find the full transcript at the end of this article.
Watson’s speech resonated with me in a lot of ways. Similar to Watson, I have always identified as a feminist, and this has never seemed like a complicated decision for me. Why shouldn’t I want to be treated as an equal to my male friends and counterparts? And while a desire for equal rights has always seemed like a no-brainer to me, I can’t emphasize enough how isolating both the idea of equal rights and the term feminist can be. Watson is absolutely right, many of the men I have met consider gender equality as “synonymous with man-hating.” I don’t think that feminism, or a push for equal rights, has to be viewed in that light. For me, asking for equal rights does not mean that I hate men. It means that I support women. It means that I want to level the playing field. It means that I think that women should be paid the same as men. It means that not only do I want a seat at the table, but I also want my voice to be encouraged and heard with the same weight as any man’s voice. In short, when Judi Dench ends the above video, I want a world in which those statistics are a thing of the past and Daniel Craig can honestly answer “Yes, we are equal.”
I think Emma Watson has started a great campaign. I also think that the most important thing she has done is aim the messaging at men. I hope that it encourages men to speak up for their female friends, mothers, sisters, and wives. I hope that when people make sexist comments that it encourages them to take a stand. That it encourages them to support the women in their lives. To be active and to refuse to silently let things continue the way they are.
Although Watson does focus the campaign on women’s rights, I also think it’s significant that she looks at male inequality. To quote Watson directly:
Men, I would like to give this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue, too. Because to date, I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society. I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness, unable to ask for help for fear it would make them less of a man. In fact, in the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20 to 49, eclipsing road accidents, cancer and heart disease. I’ve seen men fragile and insecure by what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either.
Watson is right. Gender inequality works both ways.
I know that having conversations on gender equality is often a hard thing to do. The conversations can be awkward, difficult, and complex. More often than not, it’s easier to let a comment slide than it is to pause and having a meaningful discussion on equality. But I think it’s more important that we take the time to struggle through these hard conversations. That we take the time to acknowledge that gender inequality is a global and a pervasive problem, rather than pretending that gender inequality does not exist. Ultimately I hope that #HeForShe helps promote a stronger dialogue on this issue, and that it helps both men and women stand up and support each other.