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The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Emma Watson’s UN speech effective, if problematic

Emma Watson, though armed with high aspirations and good intentions, fell short in her speech on gender equality for the United Nations.

“She missed some marks,” said Zana Hicks, junior and president of Feminism Redefined and Allied in Multicultural Equality. “But now we can tell her, ‘Hey, you missed some marks.’ It’s all about learning. Once you’re conscious of (what is problematic), then you can learn and grow and become a better activist.”

Watson’s recent speech at the U.N. headquarters in New York launched the HeForShe campaign.

Watson serves as the U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador for the organization. U.N. Women and the campaign are the latest effort to recruit men and boys for the cause of gender equality.

In her speech, Watson spoke about the importance of feminism, describing both her own experience and that of others. She then extended a formal invitation for men to join the cause.

“How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?” said Watson.

That was when the trouble began.

Watson made it sound as though the unnerving lack of men committing to the movement was caused by feminists acting welcoming. The problem was not that men were not interested. It was the women’s fault they were not acting on their interest.

Clearly, many feminists found issue with this.

Watson also said men should be involved because of gender inequality’s hindrances to men.

Sexism does hurt men, but feminists should not focus on men’s problems more than those of women.

“Appealing to men’s need for feminism undermines serious issues that women face, but it is also not a point worth refuting,” said senior Noelle Lane in an email interview. “Men need to be a part of feminism. Diminishing anyone’s importance in a social movement leads to paralysis and inaction.”

Through her emphasis of sexism’s negative impacts on men, Watson avoided diminishing men’s importance, but inadvertently diminished women’s.

In a movement that seeks to highlight and dismantle the systems that make women feel worthless on a daily basis, the focus should not be on men.

However, Watson’s words may have been effective in getting people who disregard feminism to begin to understand the basic reasons to fight for gender equality.

“I think it was a very astute decision to not blame men,” said Professor and Chair of the Theatre Studies Department David Hammond, “but instead to say, ‘This is a really bad circumstance for men. You ought to support a change because you will be a better man.

“(However), I think she did say, ‘You’re not to blame because you have power, but it’s wrong that you do.’

“I think that’s the first step.”

While Watson could have gone further, perhaps her approach was wise.

She went easy on men despite their privilege as the dominant gender because then, men listened to her. In the same diplomatic spirit, she told people that if they do not like feminism, they can simply not use the word.

“It is not the word that is important,” said Watson. “It’s the idea and the ambition behind it, because not all women have received the same rights I have. In fact, statistically, very few have.”

The fact that women have far fewer rights than men is the basis for what many feminists believe. It leads to more controversial or complex ideas, such as intersectionalism, the collaboration between different movements for social justice.

Watson avoided such topics in her speech, sticking to setting people straight about feminism.

“The definition of feminism has gotten out of control,” said first-year Liam Dulin. “It’s associated with man-hating when it’s just meant to be equal rights. It’s become a word that’s hated when it shouldn’t be.”

Though Watson’s speech was not as incendiary and game-changing as feminists might have hoped for, people should acknowledge the ways Watson advanced the cause while challenging herself to be more progressive.

As it was, the speech was progressive enough to scare those who hate feminism. The hacking group SocialVevo reacted to the speech with a hoax, threatening to release nude photos of Watson.

This desperate and cruel attempt to control the spread of Watson’s message only proves her point that sexism remains rampant and will only subside when people work to eliminate it.

The video of Watson’s speech had millions of views, and her visibility is better than ever. Now she has people’s attention and is in the perfect position to go a few steps further on her next platform, whether it’s the U.N. podium, an interview, or Twitter.

The issue has been broached, and it is again the time for Watson, and anyone else who cares about gender equality, to ask the question Watson posed for those gathered at the U.N.: “If not now, when? If not me, who?”

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About the Contributor
Clare Forrister, Opinion Editor
Clare is a junior majoring in economics and women's, gender & sexuality studies. She has been a part of The Guilfordian since her first semester at Guilford, and her current role is Opinion Editor. She is from Montgomery, Alabama. Once she met Jimmy Carter.

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  • J

    Josh franksOct 26, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    I guess I’m confused here. This speech was made 2 months ago and now you’re complaining about it? What Emma did was insightful and very courageous.

  • J

    JonathonOct 25, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    The message of this arrival made me cry. This article clearly describes the methods that Emma Watson used, but also bashes her for leaving things out. What the author has yet to do is to relate this movement to other movements for social change. When the relationship is made, I am sure that the feminists that oppose Emma Waysons tactics will clearly understand this choice.