Emma Watson at the UN

Last week Emma Watson gave a speech to the U.N about gender equality to launch her new campaign HeForShe, through her role as UN Women’s Global Goodwill Ambassador. She stressed the need for everyone – men and women – to get involved to end gender inequality, and cited men and boys as advocates for change. Women are increasingly choosing to not identify themselves as feminists, as the word is becoming synonymous with man-hating and women supremacy. Feminism is neither of these things, she argues, and instead focuses on the argument that men and women should enjoy political, economic and social equality.

Watson cited some basic ideas which ground her perspective on feminism: that women should get paid the same as their male counterparts, should be able to make decisions about their own bodies, enjoy the same involvement as men in politics, and the same respect. These are feminist values, which seem uncontroversial. However she has since been criticised for the way her campaign, HeForShe, sets out to achieve gender equality.  She calls on men to join the campaign and take up the mantle for their sisters, mothers and daughters. She also highlights how gender inequality affects men. But, advocating that men should be motivated to join the campaign on account of their experience of gender inequality is questionable.  Men are clearly affected by gender inequality, but this is not a central issue for feminists – the central issue is the obvious inequality that women experience all over the world everyday.By cordially inviting men to join the campaign, Watson could be accused of continuing to define women through their relation to men, which is hardly ‘game-changing’ and essentially stems from the attitudes of patriarchal society in which women’s inequality largely arises from.

Nonetheless Watson’s key point that feminism should go forth as a co-operative movement still resonates. There is nothing more damaging or misrepresentative of the feminist cause than the man-hating image. Whilst she may have missed the mark somewhat with the nature of the HeForShe campaign, she is crucially still ‘saying something’. There is a clearly identifiable misinterpretation about the nature of feminism in today’s society, and she is an influential person prepared to challenge this misrepresentation.

The most important part of her speech for me was in the Edmund Burke quote ‘the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing’. So, whilst Watson has been criticised for not considering gender as a spectrum far enough, or being treated differently because of her position as a white female, she must still be admired for doing something tangible to challenge the bad name that feminism has acquired. The very fact that her speech was met with headlines about leaked nude photos highlights the implicit insistency in our society that women who talk about women’s rights need to be 'put back in their place'.

Ultimately Emma Watson is a clearly influential and intelligent woman, who is utilising a world stage to regenerate the debate and tackle to complex issue of gender inequality, and for that she ought to be praised.