I’ve watched Emma Watson’s speech at the UN to launch HeForShe campaign more than once since Saturday. I think it’s really wonderful – she specifically addresses men who are afraid of feminism and rallies them to become supporters of gender equality. The immediate backlash from the depths of the internet against her just reinforced the need for her message.
Why is a young, wealthy, white woman spreading this message? Mind you, as a young, well-off, white woman, I’m not saying she can’t do a great job spreading this message (as indeed she has). I understand the reasons she was chosen – she’s UN Women’s ambassador, she has millions of fans who grew up with her as Hermione Granger, yes.
This is a message for men to be partners in feminism. This is a message for men who think feminism is dangerous, who think feminism is a threat to them. Men who know what feminism is and are comfortable with it are already on board. Men who are threatened by feminism, or think it is a movement to disenfranchise them, are the target of this campaign.
So why isn’t a man spreading this message? A man who is recognized as stereotypically “masculine.” A man that the opponents of women’s equality cannot call “pussy” or “weak.” A man who speaks their language, but can explain why gender equality benefits everyone. A man who says that oppressing women and girls is not “manly.” A man who is willing to understand his position of power in the world and is willing to learn to share it.
I admit, this has been buzzing around in my head for a few days now, following a conversation with a coworker who explained why she wants a man as the main speaker for a Violence Against Women event she is coordinating. Then, I read Julia Zulver’s piece and Mia McKenzie’s critique. Although they come at it from slightly different angles, their message is the same: Emma Watson is great, but…
We need to pull the calls for feminist solidarity away from privileged white feminists. Emma Watson as the voice of feminism just reinforces the exclusion of all of the other feminist voices out there: the voices that are not white, Western, cisgender, heterosexual, or wealthy. Does that mean if you are white, Wester, cis, hetro, and/or wealthy, you cannot be oppressed or fight for equal rights? Of course not. But it’s time to give the spotlight to those other voices. It’s time to listen to other perspectives, other ideas.
The people with the most privilege are centered in the discussion, while the people who are the most oppressed are an afterthought, at best. De-centralizing women in conversations about gender inequality isn’t good. – Mia McKenzie
So who should the UN have asked? If the campaign needed to be launched by a woman, why not the head of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka herself? As a black South African woman, she certainly has an interesting point of view on this topic. If they wanted a man, how about Archbishop Desmond Tutu? Or in keeping with the Harry Potter theme, Daniel Radcliffe? There are plenty of well-known men who consider themselves feminists.
Let’s let the lesser-known voices of feminism tell their stories. Let’s let feminist men, trans* feminists, non-white feminists have their say in a wider forum. Let’s have #HeForShe pave the way for a greater conversation around gender equality, racial equality, human equality. Let’s talk about breaking down the power structures that so many people do not even realize exist. Let’s make equal rights for everyone a priority.