Emma Watson to men: Gender equality is your issue, too

UNITED NATIONS – “It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals. We should stop defining each other by what we are not, and start defining ourselves by who we are.”

British actress Emma Watson made this call as she launched a United Nations campaign for men and boys worldwide to join the movement for gender equality. (WATCH the full video here.)

The UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador was at the UN Headquarters in New York on Saturday, September 20, to deliver a strong and personal message on equality, gender roles, and feminism.

“I want men to take up this mantle so their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human, too and in doing so, be a more true and complete version of themselves,” Watson said.

The UN Women campaign called “HeForShe” aims to mobilize one billion men and boys as advocates of change in ending inequalities that women and girls face globally.

In the speech that earned her a standing ovation, Watson stressed the importance of men’s involvement in promoting women’s rights.

“How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited to participate in the conversation? Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue, too.”

“I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society. I’ve seen young men suffering from illness, unable to ask for help for fear it will make them less of a man …. I’ve seen men fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either. We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that they are.”

Watson said liberating men from stereotypes ultimately benefits women.

“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 need to control, women won’t have to be controlled. Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong,” she said.

The actress famously known for her role as Hermione in the Harry Potter series poked fun at being in the UN but turned serious about her advocacy. 

“You might think: who is this Harry Potter girl? What is she doing at the UN? I’ve been asking myself the same thing. All I know is that I care about this problem and I want to make this better. And having seen what I’ve seen and given the chance, I feel it is my responsibility to say something.”

‘Feminism is not man-hating’

Watson spoke at length about her personal experience as a feminist, and how society views the concept. The 24-year-old actress took on her role as UN Women ambassador 6 months ago. Earlier this month, she visited Uruguay to learn about women's political participation there. 

“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 is that this has to stop.”

Watson said she decided to become a feminist after being called “bossy” for wanting to direct a play at 8, and grew up as a teenager being sexualized by the media and seeing how gender stereotypes stopped her girl friends from joining sports teams, and male friends from expressing their feelings. 

She said deciding to become a feminist was “uncomplicated” but she found from personal experience and her own research that feminists were viewed as “too strong, too aggressive, anti-men, unattractive.”

“Why has the word become such an uncomfortable one? I think it is right I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should 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,” she said.  

Watson said that the notion of feminists should be expanded to include those who help girls and women achieve their full potential.

“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 are the gender equality ambassadors that made me who I am today. They may not know it but they are the inadvertent feminists needed in the world today. We need more of those.”

She stressed that both men and women must work together for the girls and women who are less privileged than she. She cited women who earn less than men for doing the same work, child brides, and girls who are unable to finish their education.

‘Wave your magic wand’ 

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka commended Watson for her work with UN Women.

Ban said in jest, “She’s been waving a magic wand. I hope you use your magic wand to end violence against women!”

Turning serious, he said, “Men are responsible for most of the threats and violence against women. Often, these men are close to the victims – fathers, husbands, boyfriends or supervisors. We need to say to men and boys: Do not raise your hands in violence – raise your voices to stop it – and to support human rights for all.”

The UN chief was counted as the “number one man” to sign up on the HeForShe map in a 12-month campaign to tally the goal of getting a billion male advocates.

CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer and 24 actor Kiefer Sutherland also attended the event along with top UN officials.

Watson gave them a parting message: “In my nervousness for this speech and my moment of doubt, I told myself firmly: if not me, who? If not now, when? …. I invite you to step forward, to be seen and ask yourself: if not me, who? If not now, when?”

Here is a transcript of Watson’s speech:

Today we are launching a campaign HeForShe. I am reaching out to you because we need your help. We must try to mobilize as many men and boys as possible to be advocates for change. We don’t just want to talk about it. We want to try and make sure it’s tangible. I was appointed as Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women 6 months ago.

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 is that this has to stop. For 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.

When I was 8, I was called bossy because I wanted to direct a play we would put on for our parents. When at 14, I started to be sexualized by certain elements of the media. At 15, my girlfriends started dropping out of sports teams because they didn’t want to appear masculine. At 18, my male friends were unable to express their feelings.

I decided that I was a feminist. 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, [women’s expression is] seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, and anti-men, unattractive even.

Why has the word become such an uncomfortable one? 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 are considered 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 are the gender equality ambassadors that made me who I am today. They may not know it but they are the inadvertent feminists needed in the world today. We need more of those. 

If you still hate the word, it is not the word that is important. It is 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. What struck me the most was that less than 30% of the audience were male. How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or being welcomed to participate in the conversation?

Men, I would like to give 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. 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 heart disease. I’ve seen men fragile and insecure by what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either.

We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that they are. 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. 

Both 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 see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals. We should 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. 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 parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so, be a more true and complete version of themselves.

You might think: who is this Harry Potter girl? What is she doing at the UN? 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 need for the forces of evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing. 

In 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 cast doubts when opportunity is presented to you, I hope those words will be helpful. Because the reality is if we do nothing, it will take 75 years or maybe 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 the inadvertent feminists I spoke of earlier and for this I appraud you. We must strive for a united world but the good news is we have a platform. It is called HeForShe. I invite you to step forward, to be seen and I ask yourself: if not me, who? If not now, when? Thank you.

– Rappler.com