by Laura Sproule, contributor
Could Emma Watson’s call for male feminists actually be detrimental to the feminist cause?
When Emma Watson made her first speech as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador last month, it was with the intention of expounding and reclaiming the term feminist’.
She stated that “fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating”. A valid claim, for it is true that in modern culture the fight for equality is too often taken to mean that women want to control and dominate their male counterparts.
However, Watson’s suggested approach to achieving social, political and economic balance of the sexes was a little different to what many might have been expecting.
Launching the ‘HeForShe’ campaign, the actress-turned-activist has called on the male population of the world to join the feminist effort. “Gender equality is your issue too” she insisted, before moving on to claim that the strongly defined gender stereotypes that exist today mean that “Men don’t have the benefits of equality either.”
Her idea to include both sexes and fight for greater gendered freedom for both men and women is admirable. However, there is something jarring in her argument. The very name of her campaign, ‘He For She’, suggests that men should not just participate but take over the mantle in the fight for female liberation.
Feminism, in its truest form, is about women. By inviting men to redefine both their own gender roles and women’s, Watson inadvertently claims that without men’s aid women can never really be seen as equal. In short, she implies (whether consciously or not) that a woman’s right to equality is contained within the male psyche.
Her attempt to address the root of female repression is commendable and not to be criticised. But whilst her appeals may have been made with passion and determination, she does somewhat manage to give individual men an excuse to think that the oppression faced by women around the world every day, on both physical and psychological levels, is not their fault.
The physical, sexual and emotional crimes committed against women should in no way be excused as a result of men’s desire to appear “macho”. A woman’s right to be valued equally by society should not happen merely as a “natural consequence” to men shaking off male gender stereotypes, as she suggests. Rather, it should be a definite decision on the part of governments, cultural leaders and society members to shirk the idea that women are the inferior sex and stop presenting them as such.
As proven by the support it has garnered across social media, with stars such as Douglas Booth and Joseph Gordon-Levitt itching to show their allegiance, the campaign is making waves and brining attention back to the true meaning of feminism. However, we must be careful not to allow the HeForShe initiative to reduce women to passive elements in the fight for their own equality.