HeForShe speech embraces feminism, attracts considerable attention



Haley Beyma

Earlier this summer, actress Emma Watson was named a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador. On Saturday, Sept. 21, she delivered a speech to the UN launching her HeforShe campaign, the end goal of which is motivating men to join the feminist cause in the fight for gender equality. 

“My recent research has shown me that ‘feminism’ has become an unpopular word,” Watson said. “Women are choosing not to identify as feminists … Why has the word become such an unpopular one?”

She called upon men to join her cause, stating that feminism is an important social cause for both men and women to support. The HeforShe campaign has a 12-month goal of having at least one billion men signed up as advocates. 

However, the young actress’s speech has sparked controversy and debate.

Shortly after her speech, users on 4chan, an online forum, threatened to leak Emma Watson’s nude photos, which, after the recent celebrity hacking scandal, seemed like a credible and ominous threat. The site hosted a countdown clock to time the release of the photos. Several reputable news agencies, including The BBC, caught wind of the threat and reported on the continuing nonconsensual objectification of women and the invasion of celebrity privacy. However, when the countdown ended, the site did not reveal any photos but instead redirected to Rantic.com, the website of a viral marketing company which was attempting to get 4chan shut down. Rantic claims that 4chan is a site rife with the exploitation of young women and that it sought to stop the site from threatening women. The marketing campaign seems odd and poorly planned, however, considering that Rantic claimed to stop the exploitation of women on 4chan but attempted to do so by exploiting Emma Watson. 

Additionally, feminist activists have accused Watson of providing watered down feminism to make the cause more palatable to the masses. By focusing on men, has Watson corrupted feminist doctrine? 

Huffington Post’s Amy McCarthy argues that “instead of ‘He For She’ perhaps the campaign should have been branded ‘Stand With Women’ to imply that men would be standing beside women instead of standing up for them. Women don’t need to be rescued, whether it’s by men, Emma Watson or the United Nations. Positioning men as the saviors of oppressed women isn’t productive, and devalues the work that feminists have been doing for decades.”

Questions have also been raised about the effectiveness of the HeforShe campaign. Watson has been accused of paying lip service to the feminist cause without actually doing anything to combat societal oppression. Will men and women who are initially enthusiastic about the cause quietly unsubscribe from the email newsletter in a few months? Only time will tell. 

Despite the wave of criticism Watson has faced, she embraces the feminist label many of her peers, including Taylor Swift and Shailene Woodley, avoided. It is refreshing to ses a young actress with a young following openly support the feminist logo despite it becoming, in her own words an unpopular word.