Speech by Watson highlights need for stronger push toward gender equality

As embarrassing as it is, I will be the first to admit it: Facebook’s “Trending Topics” is my primary news source. Be it the dropping of an iPhone 6 or an ISIS atrocity, that little rectangular box on the side of my screen always lends me what I need to know in order to be an interesting seatmate at the dinner table during meal time.

These stories, as is true with most news sources, are indicative of a particular American mindset: They feed us, the Facebook community, the food we are craving. Over the past few days, however, I’ve realized an unnerving inconsistency in the little blue bolded headlines.

On Saturday, September 20, Emma Watson stepped out from under her Gryffindor cloak and stepped up to the podium at the UN Headquarters in New York. The UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador took this opportunity to launch her newest campaign, “HeForShe,” extending a formal and pressing invitation to men to take part in the issue of gender equality.

She spoke with fervor about the negative stigma surrounding the “feminist” movement and issued a plea for it to be connoted less towards man-hating and more along the lines of “those who help girls and women achieve their full potential” (UN Women, “Emma Watson: Gender equality is your issue, too,” 9.20.2014).

Her speech was received with utmost positivity and a standing ovation from the crowd at the conference.

After listening to Watson’s impassioned speech, as a female in this society, I felt proud and empowered beyond belief. “Finally,” I thought to myself, “We as a society have reached a point in which we can not only acknowledge issues such as equality, but address them and fight for them.” Similar to Watson, I am a self-proclaimed feminist. I wear perfume not because it is a social expectation, but simply because I like the smell of vanilla. My mouth slips the occasional b-word, and I am not a man-hater.

The feminist aesthetic is a construct created by society and is now part of the past. As Watson has said, “Feminism, 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.”

I then continued to scroll down that little rectangular box on the side of the open Internet tab on my computer screen and read the headline, “Fraternity dosed women with date-rape drugs based on color-coded hand stamps.”

The article tells of the current investigation of the University of Wisconsin’s chapter of Tau Kappa Epsilon for allegedly spiking the drinks of women who they found attractive at their parties.

Unfortunately, this allegation does not stand alone. Across the world, across the United States and across Vassar, women are still assaulted and objectified in all different types of ways. While we are making immense strides on the gender equality front and have been for the past few years, millions remain unappeased by the current systems set in place. Ray Rice is still a free man, nonetheless maintaining his position on the Ravens, and Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia University, is still carrying her mattress along with the burden of having to see the man who raped her walking nonchalantly around Columbia’s campus.

In 1995, Hillary Clinton, the former Secretary of the State for the United States, so famously declared that “it is no longer acceptable to discuss women’s rights as separate from human rights.” Nothing has changed. We are on the forefront of gender equality for all genders on the spectrum.

Nonetheless, I sit here in Raymond on a Sunday night wondering to myself, “How is it possible to take such large strides towards an issue, yet have there be so many unresolved cases, uneducated people, unconfronted matters?”

The answer I have come up with, though not resolute, is simple: YOU are society. It is up to YOU to be an advocate, to not stand idly by. It is up to YOU to stand strong for each individual across the gender spectrum and ensure that they are being treated with respect. For now, there will be the “You” who will not hear the positive messages, “He” who will raise a fist and assume it gives him power, and “She” who cannot speak because she has not been allowed to for years. However, that is only for now.

To those who are reading this, I charge you with a simple but difficult task: Treat those who you encounter with utmost respect. Smile at people when you walk through the quad. The world will always offer conflicting opinions, but it is up to you to promote equality for all people. Call me simple, call me cliché, but it’s something I truly believe: You are society.

—Paige Lerman ’18 is undeclared is on the volleyball team.

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