When we discussed feminism we were given this simple definition of the oftentimes-misunderstood word, “a movement for social, political, and economic equality.” That definition was repeated, verbatim, by Emma Watson in her speech this past weekend at the U.N. Headquarters. Watson was named the U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador this past summer. Did I mention she just graduated in May from Brown? Accomplishments. Anyway, Watson is launching a HeForShe campaign that seeks to encourage as many men and boys as possible to become gender equality advocates.
Watson eloquently states that, “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 perceive gender on a spectrum, not as two opposing sets of ideals.” Here, Watson is echoing exactly what we’ve been talking about these past few weeks–the infamous gender binary that is nothing but restrictive and harmful to the progression of society. The idea of viewing gender, or on a broader scale identity in general, on a spectrum has been proposed by many of the scholars we’ve read and also is a strong belief held by the LGBT panel.
Watson also touched upon the negative stigma attached to the concept of “feminism,” and how feminists are frequently stereotyped as being aggressive and “man hating.” Viewing feminists in this inaccurate categorization represents an example of culture complacency that has taken over. For whatever reason, culture has associated feminism to be a negative convention and unfortunately women have adapted this belief too (i.e. the campaign Women Against Feminism). I think Watson did a beautiful job in debunking this mythical negative stigma. Hopefully the newly launched HeForShe campaign will change the way both men and women think of feminism.
I am troubled by the backlash Emma Watson received after giving this potent speech. An article from CNN Entertainment explains that 4chan, the same site that recently leaked famous celebrities’ nudes such as Jennifer Lawrence, has now threatened to release Watson’s nudes as well. It disturbs me that after a young strong female gives an impassioned speech, her sexuality is instantly used as an attack and a threat to exploit her. If such an esteemed actress and wise woman like Emma gives a powerful speech only to receive this disgusting reaction from a media site, what does that show other women who are too fearful to speak up? No women are ever going to want to speak up and take feminist action if they know it will likely result in sexual defamation or public embarrassment.
It’s not just a matter of feminist discourse. Many powerful women figures receive backlash after giving speeches no matter their content. Take this past April when a shoe was thrown at Hillary Clinton during a keynote speech in Las Vegas. What’s more? The shoe-thrower was a woman. Additionally, an article titled “Gen-Y responds to Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In,’” explores the large amounts of criticism of Sandberg from young women. Yes Sandberg is extremely wealthy. Understandably, this is frustrating to women of lower classes that she oftentimes disregards the financial restrictions that thwart women from “leaning in.” However, as article author Colleen Leahey puts it: “The bashing is unsurprising, as it’s become something of a trend to tear apart powerful corporate females in an attempt to promote the women’s movement.” There is definitely a shameful pattern of bashing successful women whether it’s through sexual exploitation (Watson), physical abuse (Clinton), or downright resentment (Sandberg). I’m not saying women don’t have a right to criticism powerful women figures but at least play fair! Nudes, shoe throwing– nothing’s fair game about that. Powerful male figures wouldn’t receive that type of backlash and aren’t we seeking equity here after all?
Emma’s speech was poignant but the backlash it received was below the belt and reveals how much more work the feminist movement still has to do. I wonder how Emma’s speech would have been received if she was a bit older? Or if she didn’t have a background as an actress? Do the critics change their methods depending on their prey? Or is it just women in general?