Watson, the UN and Feminism

Last week, Emma Watson gave a ground breaking speech to the United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York. Her speech launched the HeForShe campaign, which is a solidarity movement for gender equality for both men and women. The speech has also sparked debate around the world, on social media, and on the internet about feminism. From the positive reviews, to the more critical reviews and even more sinister , the nude photo threats used to throw ammunition back at Watson for speaking out on feminism. This incident offers a practical definition of the sexist bullying she admonished in her speech. It is clear that this speech has been one of the biggest new stories this week.

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This week also marked the 62nd birthday of author and feminist, bell hooks. Watson called for men to play a greater role in ending gender inequality. This is not a new request. Feminist bell hooks outlines in her book, ‘Feminism is for everybody‘,why feminism is not just a movement that empowers women, but it is also a movement which could, relatively, benefit men. Promoting and enforcing gender equality equally frees men from the social constraints of gender expectations.

However, practically, there is still a lot to be done to reach a truly equal global society. For example, 82 percent of Americans said they believe that “men and women should be social, political and economic equals.” Yet just 20 percent of Americans identify themselves as feminist. Campaigns such as Women against feminism do not make things any easier.  Furthermore, according to a December Pew study 75 percent of millennial women think more changes are needed to give men and women equality in the workplace. Only 57 percent of millennial men agree.

Although celebrities provide motivation, passion and raise awareness for important causes such as feminism, actions rather than words are required for a real change towards an equal society. While it is important for men to choose to be allies, addressing actual systemic inequality through the funding of programs which empower and defend women’s sexual, economic and political rights is the only way to ensure women have a chance at winning.

Systematic changes will need to be made to achieve equality, but the feminist movement is for everybody! Do not be dismissive of the word ‘feminism’, instead think of your parents, your children, yourself, and ask what things you could do on a daily basis to promote gender equality. Whether it be equally encouraging girls and boys to aspire to the same goals, or being more thoughtful of the comments you make about a man not being ‘manly’ because he is expressing emotions that society has constructed to be feminine, or a woman being ‘bossy’, as opposed to being stern and assertive. While there is still work to be done, Watson has resurfaced the feminism conversation- essentially, it is down to us to make the choice to action the dialogue.

By: Abi Ogunmwonyi

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