There is little doubt in anybody’s mind that actress Emma Watson has certainly made a name for herself in recent weeks. The former Harry Potter star and U.N. Ambassador for Peace has turned heads and occupied media attention since her stirring speech on Saturday night. But instead of giving the cause the chance it deserves, the launch of Watson’s “HeForShe” campaign comes with the usual cries of outrage from doubtful critics and eager anti-feminists, not complete without the traditional barrage of online slander and nude photo threats.
The launch of HeForShe and its accompanying speech took the world by storm on Saturday night with images, videos and hundreds of news articles suddenly devoted to Watson’s new campaign for gender equality. Her address at the United Nations has since been widely accepted as a pivotal moment and a “game changer” in the fight for women’s rights.
With a true respect for the global problem that is gender equality, Watson’s speech embraced the issues that many hundreds of men and boys may also face. Rather than focusing entirely on the already well-documented atrocities that thousands of women across the world will face on a daily basis, she brought men to the forefront and allowed them to embrace and accept the challenges that many of them may have experienced.
But Watson’s HeForShe campaign has been slammed by internet critics who have denied it the chance it deserves, and the actress has even been threatened with the release of nude photos online, although this threat was later proved a hoax. Critics, in particular, have drawn much focus to the campaign’s title, which they say is ignoring the most basic principle of gender equality by insisting that men must “take up the mantle” and fight for women’s rights.
Watson, however, is not suggesting in any way that by joining the battle for women’s rights men must suddenly forfeit their own. And while critics may have seized upon their first chance to degrade and downplay the importance of such a milestone, their words will carry little value until the HeForShe campaign has been given a chance to prove what it can do.
Already HeForShe has achieved what nothing else has been able to do by bringing the issue of gender equality to the forefront of the world stage. Those who suggest by the name of her campaign that Watson expects the men and boys of today’s society to fight only for their female counterparts are far from the truth. In fact, HeForShe encourages men and boys to stand up and fight against the challenges that all genders may face, males included.
Some critics have made note of the fact that Watson did not address the inequality that many males may face in cases of domestic violence. While females are easily victimized in such situations, males who suffer either sexual or physical abuse may find themselves treated with far less sympathy.
Critics, therefore, seem to be suggesting that when launching a campaign for gender equality Watson must give an example of every issue faced by each gender to be truly fair. Or perhaps they are simply throwing her into the same pen as the traditional “man-hating” idea of feminism that she spoke against during her U.N. address.
Whatever the case, the critics have failed to notice that HeForShe is one of the only gender equality campaigns ever to address men’s issues as well as women’s under the global spotlight. If men don’t want to be treated differently from women in cases of sexual or physical violence then HeForShe is giving them that opportunity.
While governments, non-profits and wealthy private donors will often pick up their wallets for violence against women across the Third World and also the West, very few have yet felt obliged to do the same for men. The HeForShe campaign may just be the thing they need to get them to change such a habit.
Aside from joining the much-needed fight for women’s rights, HeForShe is also giving men their very first opportunity to bring their own equality issues into the limelight. While some may argue that Watson’s campaign is ignoring the real challenges that men face, the truth is that she is encouraging men to stand up for gender equality, women’s rights included, so that their own issues may also be addressed.
There are those who have criticized the actress simply because she believes she was privileged. During her speech she spoke of her family and her education, both of which were free from gender inequality. Watson’s upbringing is not synonymous with the struggles many thousands of women face in countries less fortunate than her home in the United Kingdom. Critics have therefore suggested that she is standing up only for the rights of the middle-class.
It seems the assumption has been made that HeForShe’s first act will be to aid women in England or the U.S. or Europe. But the tragic statistics Watson gave in her U.N. address did not apply to British women. The 15.5 million girls who will be married as children within the next 16 years do not come from America. It is girls in Africa, not Europe, that Watson says are still not receiving education.
There is little doubt that Watson’s HeForShe program has allowed a prevalent world issue to take center stage, despite threats of nude photos against the actress and the online critics that refuse to give her cause a chance. While it remains to be seen what HeForShe will accomplish, the campaign has already gained over 150,000 members in less than a week, proving that thousands of men and boys are prepared to give Watson the benefit-of-the-doubt and join her in the battle for gender equality.
Opinion by Mathew Channer