I don’t think Emma Watson said anything wrong in her speech, per se. She spoke eloquently and she is clearly budding into an excellent young feminist. However, it is frustrating to watch the Internet explode over the viral video of the beautiful actress being a “game-changer” by saying what feminists around the world have been saying for years previous to the UN speech.
I think writer Kate McGinn had good intentions with her article last week, but I find the idea that Watson “redefined” feminism, frankly, a little offensive. Crediting Emma Watson with redefining feminism as being open to all genders means disregarding all the work feminists have done over decades in emphasizing that—yes!—men can be feminists!
No one can deny that there still exist men who do not feel welcome in feminism. But there is so much work out there exposing the negative effects that patriarchy has on men that I can’t help but feel that any person who doesn’t realize feminism is fighting those battles simply doesn’t want to know. They want to be able to blame someone else–feminists, usually–and not consider their own role in constructing gender stereotypes.
Nevertheless, the work is there. Next year, the director of “Miss Representation,” a film about the portrayal of women in the media, will release “The Mask You Live In.” Years in the making, the film is about masculinity and male gender stereotypes. For a few years, a “Contested Masculinities” class was offered here at CC by the Feminist and Gender Studies department. A quick Google search of “college courses on masculinity” reveal that our gender studies department isn’t the only one to supply these kinds of classes. FemCo has done events around masculinity and male stereotypes; this is not a revelation.
In her speech, Watson asked: “If not me, who? If not now, when?”
The answer is: “Feminists, years ago and ever since.”
The other issue with Watson’s speech is that it is a very shallow interpretation of feminism. Again, she didn’t say anything explicitly wrong and she couldn’t possibly have explained all the in-and-outs and intricacies of feminism in a thirteen-minute speech, but nevertheless, anyone who decides to take her speech as the new feminist gospel will not be able to delve very deeply into the vast complications of capitalist, white-supremacist, homophobic, patriarchy based on those thirteen minutes.
In my initial viewing of the speech, I felt pleased when Watson declared herself privileged. However, she defined her privileges more as relating to her experiences with feminist role models in her life than her privileges of class, race, and sexuality. No doubt certain experiences are privileges to have, but I was disappointed in the lack of intersectionality in Watson’s speech.
I don’t believe that every single thing someone says about one marginalized group must focus on the individuals who are marginalized in every other way as well. But when you are giving a broad speech on feminism and declaring that HeForShe is a “uniting movement,” it is dangerous to not acknowledge that the only “union” you’ve formed is between wealthy, white, heterosexual men and wealthy, white, heterosexual women.
So, it wasn’t a problem with what Watson said; it was a problem with what she didn’t say. She spoke as if getting men more involved in feminism would end the controversy around the movement. But it wouldn’t end the problems faced by women of color, by queer women, by poor women, and by trans women, that are frequently ignored by what has come to be called “white feminism.”
I am concerned about areas of feminist study that have been neglected by wealthy, straight, white feminists in the past and present. I am less concerned about feminists coddling men and spending more time and effort letting them know that they should be comfortable with us when, in reality, facing systems of oppression is not supposed to be comfortable. I am especially less concerned with this when we’ve already been trying to do it for years. There were already thousands of self-identified male feminists before Watson’s speech, and the ones that refuse the title simply don’t want to listen.
After Watson’s speech, the anti-feminist basement dwellers of the Internet threatened to release nude photos of her in retaliation. In retaliation for what? Obviously these men are at the other end of the extreme, but it just goes to show that you can declare your point in the nicest, most welcoming way you can think of, but if those you’re trying to reach aren’t ready to accept your challenge yet, they won’t hear you. I’d rather spend my time correcting the way feminism has wronged others than trying to get forgiveness from the privileged.
Part of Alice Walker’s definition of womanism, a theory rooted in a combination of racial justice and feminism, states: “Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.” In accordance with the rest of Walker’s definition, I, as a white woman, cannot declare myself a womanist. Nevertheless, I hope that my own feminism will continue to strive to be of that deeper, richer, more inclusive brand, as purple is to lavender.
I do not want Watson to have redefined feminism, because her definition, at the moment, is simply lacking. I do think that Watson is young, and like many of us young feminists, she is coming into her own feminism and her ideas are still evolving; I know mine are. I have hope that Watson will continue in her learning process and, perhaps in another decade, we will hear a much different, even more inspiring and inclusive speech from her.
I’ll stick to what I said before; Emma Watson did redefine feminism. She redefined feminism in the sense that she clarified what it means to be a feminist. In light of the negative connotation surrounding the word “feminist,” Watson did an excellent job showing that a woman feminist can not only be feminine, she can be reasonable and tolerant of the opposite sex as well.
The response to my previous article featured some valid points. Watson’s speech was indeed vague and did not delve into the complicated aspects of the fight for women’s rights. Frankly, I do not think a 600-page book could fully delve into the “capitalist, white-supremacist, homophobic, patriarchy” in which we currently live. Of course, her 13-minute speech should not be taken as gospel. That, however, does not mean her speech can’t spark change.
Rather than oppose the viral attention her speech received, one could view the media attention as beneficial. Watson may have reiterated the words and ideas of other feminists before her, but she also drew a substantial amount of coverage to the topic. The video of her speech has been viewed about six million times on YouTube alone. I do not believe this influx of attention towards feminism can be considered negative on any level, especially due to the increasing opposition towards feminists among women themselves. As the face behind the widely held beliefs in her speech, Watson managed to attract a young generation to an old battle. Such a negative stigma surrounding feminists can’t stand against the beautiful young actress who seems the exact opposite of the stereotype. With so much attention, negative retaliation is inevitable. However, at least from my personal experiences, noticeable increase in discussion of women’s rights has sparked since Watson’s speech.
Of course, her small speech on the topic does not come close to encompassing the entirety of the issue. However, she manages to tackle a large obstacle that stands in the way of modern feminism. According to a poll carried out by the Huffington Post in 2013, only 20 percent of Americans (23 percent of women and 16 percent of men) identified as feminists. One of the reasons for this is the growing rejection of the word “feminist.”
This was the whole target of her speech—she tore down the growing ideas that feminism is a man-hating institution, which it is not. Progress cannot be made unless both women and men want progress. Watson, by “redefining” feminism, showed that most women do want to be feminists because women simply don’t like the word. By opening the discussion to men, she showed that feminists aren’t aimed at taking rights away from the opposite gender. She did not suggest “coddling” men. She simply invited them to join in feminist efforts, while also clarifying that fighting for women’s rights does not mean fighting against men’s rights. If 50 percent of the population feels threatened, no actual progress can be made on the political level. To eliminate the stigma is not to end the controversy. It is a step in the right direction, though.
Yes, her speech did not cover the specific issues faced by women of color, homosexual women, lower class women, or women of other minorities. I do wish Watson had discussed the issues faced by those women, but I also do not believe time would allow her to give that discussion justice. Despite this, I don’t think her speech was limited to “white feminism.” She spoke about women, and women as a whole. Granted, her personal examples and experiences are those of a privileged, white, straight actress, but she spoke of what she knows.
Emma Watson’s audience was not the educated feminists or active participants in the fight for women’s rights. Her audience was the general public, of which only about a quarter identify as feminist. In putting Emma Watson as the face of this campaign, HeForShe managed to draw an enormous amount of attention to feminism. I refuse to discredit Watson’s speech as a meager attempt at becoming a public figure for feminism. Her speech is not the manual for the next generation of activists. She simply took down one of the many obstacles facing the modern feminist, which is the negative ideas about the word. I also look forward to Watson’s future speeches—one that is not necessarily different, but is more in-depth.