How Emma Watson and 'HeForShe' Are Changing Feminism's Bad Rap


HeForShe is the message we need to be sending about the gender equality movement in 2014.

On Sunday, Emma Watson gave her first speech to the U.N. since being named a goodwill ambassador for U.N. women. The speech served as an announcement of a campaign called HeForShe, the first gender equality movement that is attempting to "galvanize as many men and boys as possible as advocates for change." Emma Watson was finally able to put into words the problem with how feminism is portrayed and explained across media culture today: Feminism absolutely does not equate to man-hating.

"For the record-- Feminism is, by definition 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," Watson said in her speech.

This speech marks something extremely important: Framing gender inequality and sexism as everyone's problem, not just one for women. The more we separate the genders and create a legitimately impossible binary to navigate, the more we create problems on both sides of the spectrum. We try to make gender black and white, when it is anything but. We create an enormous gap between what it is to be a "man" and what it is to be a "woman," making it less and less clear how either of these things relate to what it means to be a human.

Watson pointed out in her speech that when Hilary Clinton gave her groundbreaking speech on women's rights in 1997, only 30 percent of her audience was male. When only half of the world is invited to feel welcome or participate in a conversation about human rights, no wonder there’s such an imbalance in perception of what the conversation is actually about. HeForShe is adamant about pointing out that stereotypes go both ways. You can't have a dichotomy without a counterpart, after all. And up until now, that's what gender has been: a dichotomy. One or the other. Male or female. Strong or weak.

This dichotomy is something women have been pitted against for so long. We're constantly told what a woman should be, how she should dress, act, talk and what exact steps she should take in her life in order to have a successful and unassuming life. Being told what to be has never been fulfilling for anyone, and this goes for men too. What HeForShe is doing is pointing out an extremely simply fact: There should be no such thing as masculine and feminine qualities. All people have the potential to be everything.

HeForShe shows that everyone suffers from patriarchy. Men suffer from an extreme lack of positive role models and a society-taught self-loathing for anything that could make them seem "feminine." Everyone is imprisoned by stereotypes and labels. With abolishing debilitating female stereotypes, we will counter-actively be abolishing the male ones too.

The campaigns' core message is defined in these succinct lines from Emma Watson's speech: "I want men to take up this mantle. So their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too-- and reclaim those parts of themselves that they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves."

Isn't that ultimately what we should be working toward? Becoming the "true and complete version" of ourselves as people, as a society? There are so many steps that need to be taken to get there, but this is the first one. This is the message I want my mom to feel empowered by, because she's already shown me so much strength. This is the message I want my dad and two younger brothers to embrace, even when they're teasing me for being the "crazy feminist" of the family. This is the message I want them to hear, to be involved in as we move forward as a family in such a crazy and unsure time. This is the movement I want them to understand that I am deeply involved and concerned with. And that it doesn't mean I hate them for their gender, but I love them because they want the best for me and for me to be myself.

We see so clearly the problems this virus of sexism causes-- depression and mental illnesses that lead to suicide, rape, domestic abuse, homophobia-- because any vulnerability, weakness or anything categorically claimed as "feminine" is seen as "less" by society. Why can't we see these as the symptoms of a larger problem? We can't lose or forget or abandon what makes each of us human. We have to teach ourselves, and each other, how to stitch all these seemingly contradictory parts together, freed from any connotation that society wants to put on them. We have to fight for human rights and we have to fight against any societal implications that anyone is less than the birthright they were given: A life to lead and a person to be.

I don't want feminism to move away from being the celebration of all the ways to be a woman that it has become. Rather, like being a person, feminism doesn't have to be just one thing. I'd rather celebrate contradictions and different interpretations of a movement that lets us celebrate our right to being and invite everyone to have a place at that table. Feminism makes me so happy-- that's something that's meant to be shared.

You can find more information about the HeForShe movement on their website and you can like them on Facebook to keep up with the work they're doing for gender equality around the world. It's a huge step in an entirely new direction for this movement and one that honestly is a long time coming. Gender equality is for everyone and HeForShe has invited everyone to step up to the conversation.


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