Who better to address women’s rights than the woman behind one of our generation’s most adored female film heroes? On Sept. 20, Emma Watson,
best known from her role as the bold and brainy Hermione Granger in the “Harry Potter” film series, gave an impassioned speech to introduce the United Nations’ “HeForShe” campaign.
“The more I’ve spoken about feminism, the more I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man hating,” Watson declared at the UN headquarters last Saturday. The newest UN Women promotion aims to fight for gender equality by gaining the support and involvement of both men and women. Watson introduced the “HeForShe” initiative as an invite to all men to stand up for the rights of their mothers, sisters and daughters.
“How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feels welcome to participate in the conversation?” Watson said. “Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation.”
In her speech, Watson shed light on an aspect of feminism that is often paid little to no attention: that men face a similar struggle of gender stereotypes and inequality as women. As Watson pointed out in her speech, feminism is often associated with an “us versus them” mindset, rather than an engaged, cooperative effort between both genders.
“Men don’t have the benefits of equality either,” Watson said. “We don’t talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes, but I cansee that they are. And that when they are free things will change for women as a natural consequence.”
Watson alluded to her roots as a feminist in her “HeForShe” speech, saying it was the accumulation of personal experiences in her life that opened her eyes to the unrighteous attitudes and stereotypes faced by women throughout the world.
From being called “bossy” to witnessing her female friends discontinue sports for fear of becoming “too masculine,” to being personally sexualized by the media, Watson is an enthusiastic and dedicated advocate in the movement for gender equality.
This past July, UN Women announced Watson as the organization’s newest Global Goodwill Ambassador, a title that put the British actress and
recent Brown University graduate among the ranks of female activist icons such as Whoopi Goldberg, Serena Williams and Katy Perry.
Watson’s gig as a UN Global Goodwill Ambassador is not her first stint in humanitarian efforts. In past years Watson has been an active advocate for a multitude of causes, including disaster relief, poverty, women’s and children’s rights, girl’s education, physical challenges and health efforts.
The role as the sassy and empowering “Harry Potter” sidekick, Hermione Granger, is just one of many strong, female characters that Watson has
had the pleasure of portraying in her acting career.
The talented and inspirational young woman has assumed the roles of many bold and brilliant female leads such as Nicki in “The Bling Ring”, Russell Crowe’s on-screen daughter in “Noah” and the powerful, independent Sam in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”
While Watson’s introduction to the campaign was received by wild applause at the UN headquarters and generated popular global feedback, the young activist and the UN Women organization also received fair criticism for the “HeForShe” proposition.
Many argue that Watson’s words, while wise and with good intention, are contradicted by the UN initiative itself.
The campaign rightly invites the male population to pledge its support to “take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls,” but neglects to give any attention to the problems affecting men and boys.
Feminism in its modern form, critics explain, has so emphasized empowering women that it has seemingly encouraged the belittling of the roles of men for the sake of women’s rights.
For example, large publicity and outrage is the common response to high-profile sexual assault cases in which the victims are women, yet in sexual assault cases where men are victimized are often shoved under the rug or not considered as important or immoral.
Nevertheless, Watson’s stance on women’s rights and her backing for the campaign is undeniably a brave and admirable step in the right
direction for gender equality.
As eloquently stated by Watson, “If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by who we are, we can all
be freer and this is what HeforShe is about. It’s about freedom.”