What Emma Watson’s audience has failed to realize in the wake of her September 20 UN speech addressing gender inequality is that the HeForShe campaign is hardly groundbreaking—if anything, the movement is an insult to proponents of the feminist cause. The name, for one, is problematic in itself. HeForShe? The idea of men advocating on behalf of women is a perversion of the truly ideal scenario, which would involve men and women working in tandem to promote equality; after all, Watson states that feminism is as much a defense against male stereotypes as it is a guardian of female roles. Men are to be involved in the discussion, and they are expected to spread support via social media, but the call to action stops short of provoking any plans for change. The basic idea behind the platform is that men can advertise their backing of women’s rights by connecting online to post pictures or by using the hashtag #HeForShe. Albeit, Watson’s vision of a shift in the mentality towards gender relations is admirable, but, in suggesting a wave of propaganda as a solution to decades of harmful perceptions of feminism, she is ensuring that HeForShe will become no more than a fad.
HeForShe also marginalizes those who do not subscribe to the gender binary but whose issues are nonetheless intertwined in civil rights matters and deserve the support of a global campaign. Watson’s objective may be limited to breaking down prevailing notions regarding men’s responsibilities, but, given the opportunity to broadcast one’s speech to not only the UN but viewers worldwide, shouldn’t a more extensive argument have been put forth? The power of her platform’s recognition could spur progressive change for issues such as discrimination amongst transgender and agender populations, as well as the egregious state of women’s equality in non-first world countries, but, instead, Watson chooses to echo the concerns that have already been voiced. Granted, the nature of any movement requires that the subject be touched upon incessantly, but, to avoid the likelihood that ignorant parties will tune out discourse by excusing it as a typical feminist rant, it is imperative that the scope of the debate is expanded whenever possible.
Emma Watson’s position as the international figurehead of the feminist cause is a controversial one. Common critiques include the fact that she is blatantly an individual surrounded by privilege and that her background does not lend her the capacity to easily relate to the struggles of the minority groups that she may be representing. However, shaming any individual for an attempt to advocate reform is negative and regressive. Watson notices a fault in the practices existing in her industry, and she is dissatisfied with the restrictive conditions to which both genders are subjected, so she is publicly objecting to these constructs. Why discourage anyone’s ability to discuss their protestations? Smothering the voices of those who believe that they are too commonplace to harbor genuine complaints is detrimental to progressivism. The flaws in Watson’s campaign still stand, but the initiative that she displays in asserting her legitimacy as a feminist is laudable.
Until mediocre reiterations of feminist principles subside and all-encompassing civil rights platforms release the tension that causes groups to question their place in a movement, the process for change will be capricious and inadequate. Equality cannot be achieved through the separation of grievances—Watson partially realizes this in imploring men to involve themselves in women’s rights. But the cultural perceptions of the male archetype must be debunked as well, and cognizance of minority troubles must be extended to those who face bigotry for their orientation or gender identification, or else societal growth will come to a standstill, and reactionary groups such as HeForShe will fall by the wayside, joining the ranks of the well-intentioned but forgotten trends that plague the 21st century.
—Emily Sayer ’18 is currently undeclared.