Friday, September 26, 2014

Emma Watson, the UN and #HeforShe

by Melissa Scott, Writing Intern

Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images
Emma Watson’s impassioned speech about the UN Women’s HeforShe Campaign produced considerable appreciation and support. Of course, the listeners at the UN headquarters in New York responded to her speech with a thunderous standing ovation, and the HeForShe ideal also went viral. Social media enthusiasts called Watson and her speech “game-changing” for feminism. Unfortunately, as usual, whenever there’s a noteworthy feminist moment, a small portion of people voiced their dissatisfaction. Everyone has an opinion, and take, on what constitutes “feminism;” that’s fine. But the criticism in this case targeted Watson herself, and her representation as Ambassador in the campaign; that doesn’t seem fair.

UN Women partitions the United Nations as an organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. The organization announced their appointment of Watson as Goodwill Ambassador this past July, shortly after her graduation from Ivy League Institution Brown University. Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, enthusiastically assured, “We are thrilled and honoured to work with Emma, whom we believe embodies the values of UN Women.” Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka added, “The engagement of young people is critical for the advancement of gender equality in the 21st century, and I am convinced that Emma’s intellect and passion will enable UN Women’s messages to reach the hearts and minds of young people globally.”

Immediately following her appointment to UN Women, Watson traveled to Bangladesh and Zambia contributing to various humanitarian efforts, in addition to her work and promotion for girls’ education. “Being asked to serve as UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador is truly humbling,” explained Watson, regarding her new appointment as Ambassador. “The chance to make a real difference is not an opportunity that everyone is given and is one I have no intention of taking lightly. Women’s rights are something so inextricably linked with who I am, so deeply personal and rooted in my life that I can’t imagine an opportunity more exciting.” She acknowledged, “I still have so much to learn, but as I progress I hope to bring more of my individual knowledge, experience and awareness to this role.”

Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
Watson marks the first Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Women group, and as Mlambo-Ngcuka previously noted, she generates interest and excitement among young people today. Her appointment as Ambassador clearly demonstrates the organization’s ambition to raise awareness and involvement of UN Women aims within the younger generations. To me, this decision seems fresh and innovative, and a potentially far-reaching attempt to gain sentience.

Now, as Ambassador, part of Watson’s job and role is to advocate UN Women’s HeForShe. Putting her face on the front-line of the campaign accomplishes the goal of millennial awareness. The vast amount of posts on social media concerning her UN speech alone demonstrates this success; rarely do UN speeches, or issues, achieve the top trend list with teenagers. At least, not from what I see on my news-feed. But Watson did not invent the idea for the campaign. In fact, UN Women set the HeforShe action plan in motion before Watson’s official appointment as Ambassador. She simply stands to promote and support the campaign, and she used her speech to explain the campaign’s importance as a mechanism to do so.

In Watson’s speech, she questioned the stigma placed on the idea of feminism as a “man-hating” archetype, and reemphasized the goal of gender equality—not gender dominance. Watson insisted, “The more I have spoken about feminism the more I have 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.” Watson’s (and the UN Women’s) proposed solution to this “man-hating” misunderstanding involves the implementation of HeForShe. HeForShe, explained Watson, implores men and boys to support the fight for gender equality as well. “How can we affect change in the world,” she strongly inquired, “when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation? Men—I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.”

This point of Watson’s speech caused the most reproach—disputes surrounding her “invitation” and the question of male participation met especially vicious tones. A few critics argued the fact that male participation always remained “welcome,” and the fact that this participation continued to be low, proved male disregard for women’s rights. Thus, according to these detractors, Watson and her speech, contrary to “game-changing,” earned overrated acclaim along with the fruitless and impractical efforts of HeForShe.

While I make no pretense of being a cognizant feminist thinker, the idea of requesting male amity and support certainly does no harm, right? Indeed, male celebrities took the gesture by storm this past week, posting pictures of themselves supporting the campaign and advising other men to do the same. Possibly, as critics assert, a complete male backing of gender equality faces difficulty, but awareness is the first step. And UN Women took that step, using the HeForShe launch—with Watson leading the way. I can understand the argument of whether or not the idea is particularly “game-changing,” but Watson herself never christened the idea as such. Her involvement in HeForShe sought to raise awareness regarding her belief of gender equality, and an even level of support from both sides. And that’s exactly what she did. 


  1. Men and women together on women's rights??? Might work Hermione!


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