A couple of days ago, I had tea with a number of intelligent and stylish and (happily) progressive women. After the usual civilities ("Where do you live?" "What do you do?") and several cucumber sandwiches, the conversation turned toward the current attack on Planned Parenthood. Several of the group were a decade or so older than I, and had been active in the 1974 fight for the ERA. (I was only 12 at the time, but thanks to my best friend's famous feminist mother, I was acutely aware of the women's rights movement.) As we refreshed our tea and moved on to petits fours and chocolate covered strawberries, we bemoaned the fact that our daughters and granddaughters don't have enough feminist role models.
For many young women, the F-word (no, not that one) isn't cool anymore. It's become synonymous with "man-hater" or "lesbian." When Shailene Woodley, the young star of the Divergent dystopian action series was asked "Do you consider yourself a feminist?" she answered this way:
"No because I love men, and I think
the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is
never going to work out because you need balance. With myself, I’m very
in touch with my masculine side. And I’m 50 percent feminine and 50
percent masculine, same as I think a lot of us are. And I think that is
important to note. And also I think that if men went down and women rose
to power, that wouldn’t work either. We have to have a fine balance."
I'd argue that she's 50 percent ignorant and 50 percent immature. And 100 percent silly. But, that's just my opinion.
Happily, my daughter and her cohorts do have a marvelous role model — and it's someone they grew up with. Emma Watson, best known as the overachieving little witch from the Harry Potter movies and recent Ivy League graduate, became a Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women last year.
Here is a speech she made in its entirety (if you'd rather watch it, click here):
Today we are launching a campaign called for HeForShe. I am
reaching out to you because we need your help. We want to end gender
inequality, and to do this, we need everyone involved. This is the first
campaign of its kind at the UN. We want to try to mobilize as many men
and boys as possible to be advocates for change. And, we don’t just want
to talk about it. We want to try and make sure that it’s tangible.
was appointed as Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women six months ago. And,
the more I spoke about feminism, the more I realized that fighting for
women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there
is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop.
the record, feminism by definition is the belief that men and women
should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of
political, economic and social equality of the sexes.
started questioning gender-based assumptions a long time ago. When I was
8, I was confused for being called bossy because I wanted to direct the
plays that we would put on for our parents, but the boys were not. When
at 14, I started to be sexualized by certain elements of the media.
When at 15, my girlfriends started dropping out of sports teams because
they didn’t want to appear muscly. When at 18, my male friends were
unable to express their feelings.
I decided that I was a feminist, and
this seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me
that feminism has become an unpopular word. Women are choosing not to
identify as feminists. Apparently, I’m among the ranks of women whose
expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, and
anti-men. Unattractive, even.
Why has the word become
such an uncomfortable one? I am from Britain, and I think it is right I
am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I
should be able to make decisions about my own body. I think it is right
that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decisions that
will affect my life. I think it is right that socially, I am afforded
the same respect as men.
But sadly, I can say that there
is no one country in the world where all women can expect to see these
rights. No country in the world can yet say that they achieved gender
equality. These rights, I consider to be human rights, but I am one of the lucky ones.
My life is a sheer privilege because my parents didn’t love me less because I was born a daughter. My school did not limit me because I was a girl.
My mentors didn't assume that I would go less far because I might give
birth to a child one day. These influences were the gender equality
ambassadors that made me who I am today. They may not know it, but they
are the inadvertent feminists that are changing the world today. We need
more of those.
And if you still hate the word, it is not
the word that is important. It’s the idea and the ambition behind it,
because not all women have received the same rights I have. In fact,
statistically, very few have.
In 1997, Hillary Clinton
made a famous speech in Beijing about women’s rights. Sadly, many of
the things that she wanted to change are still true today. But what
stood out for me the most was that less than thirty percent of the
audience were male. How can we effect change in the world when only half
of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?
I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation.
Gender equality is your issue, too. Because to date, I’ve seen my
father’s role as a parent being valued less by society, despite my need
of his presence as a child, as much as my mother’s. I’ve seen young men
suffering from mental illness,
unable to ask for help for fear it would make them less of a man. In
fact, in the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20 to 49,
eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. I’ve seen
men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes
male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either.
don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes, but I
can see that they are, and that when they are free, things will change
for women as a natural consequence. If men don’t have to be aggressive
in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled.
men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women
should feel free to be strong. It is time that we all perceive gender on
a spectrum, instead of two sets of opposing ideals. 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
I want men to take up this mantle so that their
daughters, sisters, and mothers can be free from prejudice, but also so
that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too, reclaim
those parts of themselves they abandoned, and in doing so, be a more
true and complete version of themselves.
You might be
thinking, “Who is this Harry Potter girl, and what is she doing speaking
at the UN?” And, it’s a really good question. I’ve been asking myself
the same thing.
All I know is that I care about this
problem, and I want to make it better. And, having seen what I’ve seen,
and given the chance, I feel it is my responsibility to say something.
Statesman Edmund Burke said, “All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.”
my nervousness for this speech and in my moments of doubt, I told
myself firmly, “If not me, who? If not now, when?” If you have similar
doubts when opportunities are presented to you, I hope those words will
be helpful. Because the reality is that if we do nothing, it will take
seventy-five years, or for me to be nearly 100, before women can expect to be paid the same as men for the same work.
15.5 million girls will be married in the next 16 years as children.
And at current rates, it won't be until 2086 before all rural African
girls can have a secondary education.
If you believe in
equality, you might be one of those inadvertent feminists that I spoke
of earlier, and for this, I applaud you. We are struggling for a uniting
word, but the good news is, we have a uniting movement. It is called
HeForShe. I invite you to step forward, to be seen and to ask yourself,
“If not me, who? If not now, when?”
Thank you very, very much.
No, Hermione, thank you.
If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com.