#HeforShe

#HeforShe

By Cam Vernali

When I logged onto any of my social media sites on Saturday, September 20, I was bombarded with multiple links to articles about Emma Watson’s equality speech for the UN, selfies with “#HeForShe” handwritten on a piece of paper from a teenage boy with a bad filter on it, and many posts signifying some level of support for HeForShe. On that day, Watson gave a speech as the new United Nations Women Goodwill Ambassador, inviting men to “speak out about the inequalities faced by women and girls.” For the first time in a long time, the phrases “feminism” and “gender equality rights” were being thrown into mainstream media.

    Curious about the amount of attention given to it, I logged onto heforshe.org and I was led onto a very “modern” and simplistic website with brief statements about the solidarity movement for agenda equality against a pink, black, and white color theme. Scrolling down a bit more, I was greeted by the HeForShe commitment statement – a short sentence or two – and was encouraged to click the “I agree” button and share it on many social media platforms, whether that be a tweet with the hashtag #Heforshe, an Instagram picture, or a Facebook post to proclaim my support of the organization. After this part in the website, though, things tend to go a bit sour; scrolling down, I was hoping to see how this organization would take measures to fill out its statements and if they had a specific plans in mind, but at the end of the page I only saw a thank you to sponsors and more links to HeForShe’s social media sites. Looking at the space where there should have been a list of what men could actually do to improve women’s lives, and seeing nothing of the sort, I was starting to realize that HeForShe was not quite the “game changer for feminism” that Vanity Fair and many other websites had cracked it up to be.

    One of the most obvious and blatant reasons for this is the very same reason that the speech is being hailed as a “game changer”: it includes men. Right off the bat, Watson proclaims that we need men in this cause. She deliberately is marketing this speech to men, which, in theory, is a smart move: through distorted and incorrect stereotypes, feminists are seen in the mass media as men-hating, fiercely independent, comically rude, and spiteful; ugly women who spew their adversity towards men at any chance they can get. This wrong perception of what feminists are like often cause ignorant and uninformed men — the majority of the male population — to turn away from feminism without actually knowing what it truly is. Watson’s idea for trying to include men in this movement seemed like an obvious step, since gender equality with help from all genders would obviously be stronger than just one group fighting for both.

Even though this is what Watson was most likely trying to do — invite a part of the population into the cause so that it reaches more people and gains more momentum — she ultimately missed the mark with overkill. Watson was catering to men throughout the speech, and it was glaringly obvious in the way that I felt that every other phrase was “men, do this,” or “men, we need you!” The whole speech came off as more of a pat on the back to men who have decent morals and believe that all genders should be equal, which is more of a common sense idea than a revolutionary train of thought. The fact that a speech about feminism had to be marketed to men in order to be worthwhile, as opposed to appealing to the common person, struck me as predictable and weak. The peak of my annoyance was when Watson asked men to help their fellow “moms and sisters” in the cause for gender equality, as if it is so unbearably hard for men to even imagine helping out other women and nonbinary people plagued by sexism, transphobia, fatphobia if – god forbid! – it does not affect anyone in their immediate family and friend group.

Some people think that Watson truly did a “revolutionary” thing by including men in that grand of a scale, though. “It’s a good thing to include men in feminism after decades of them hating it without giving it a second glance!” was a post I saw on Facebook; “Gender equality includes both genders, so men deserve attention in this,” was another tweet I saw. As far as the opinion on whether Watson went too far with her focus on men or just the right amount of attention can be debated based on personal view, even I can admit that. However, what everyone should agree on is that the way this organization is currently handled could lead to problems down the road.

The underlying issue with giving men praise for holding up a piece of paper with “#HeForShe” on it is that so far, this organization doesn’t actually do anything productive or insightful with these “supporters.” It leaves the audience to themselves if they want to find out more about feminism, and even then, there are many types of feminism that do not truly represent what feminism really means. Without guidance from this organization – plans of action to show their worth, what they do and what they stand for – we could have another “KONY 2012” on our hands again.

And where, exactly, in this “spectacular feminism speech,” was the mention of actual women? Where was the mention of trans women, queer women, women of color, women with disabilities, women of any other size, shape or form? Women that deal with racism, transphobia, homophobia, and fatphobia? In trying to recruit men into the fight for gender equality, Watson essentially overshadowed the groups of women and nonbinary people that are chronically underrepresented and unheard. Watson had an opportunity to bring light to these groups of women in order to aid them, and she ironically did the exact same thing that mainstream society does: she forgot about them.

The last detail that I noticed was about Watson herself. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think Watson was a fine choice as the new United Nations Women Goodwill Ambassador: she talked in detail about her personal experiences and opinions on how important feminism is, and spoke very passionately about it as well, which shows she has a lot of interest and dedication to the subject. I am just curious that out of all of the women out there to represent feminism, why was Watson the best choice? Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, and many others could have been easily chosen and shown actual diversity in women, as opposed to the cis, white, able-bodied woman that Watson is. Beyonce has called herself a feminist time and time again and has even performed with the word “feminist” in all caps in her background before, yet when Watson calls herself one, she is “revolutionary?”

What Watson has done was in no way harmful to feminism – getting awareness and attention to a cause is never negative; any attention is still attention, and feminism needs that. But if HeForShe continues down the white feminist road, it will not only be an incorrect take on actual feminism but also a waste of its true potential. This doesn’t mean that this is a lost cause already; with more involvement, inclusion of women and nonbinary people of all kinds besides the “normal” assumed white-cis female, and actual plans to show what they will do to actually better women’s’ lives, HeForShe could really be something great. For now, HeForShe is at a crossroads with its value; it has grabbed the attention that it needs, and now it just needs to show what it can do in order to be a true “game-changer” for feminism.