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Opinion and Editorial

Emma Watson’s UN Speech

On Sept. 20 Emma Watson delivered a speech about a new campaign called HeforShe at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Since her delivery, much conversation has broken out about feminism, equality and Watson herself.

That being said, there are only two quotes from her entire twelve minute speech that have been referenced in critiques.

For those who have heard about the speech you’ll certainly recognize Watson’s quotes. One being, “Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation.” And the other: “The more I’ve spoken about feminism the more I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating.” Some sources have added Watson’s quote about her father being viewed by society as a lesser caregiver because of his gender.

These quotes have been the extent of the speech’s coverage by countless media sources. Also, providing the right angle these quotes can be skewed.

Watson’s speech has been widely and harshly critiqued. Sources have criticized her for her failure to mention women of different races, class, disability and sexuality: all of which are subjects of diversity. These critiques have failed to realize that gender is also a component of diversity; therefore, it has little authority to remark on its neighboring components, not to EmmaWatsonDressmention that to do so would be inappropriate.

Ironically, the way Watson dressed while giving the speech was even critiqued. Apparently delivering a speech on one of the world’s largest stages to promote equality is not the place for, as some would describe it, such a feminine dress.

Spectators have also questioned Watson’s authority as a spokesperson for women’s rights. Apparently it’s confusing to have a white, privileged celebrity talk about bias.

However, Watson modestly addressed this concern in her speech saying, “You might be thinking who is this Harry Potter girl and what is she doing speaking at the U.N.? And it’s a really good question. I’ve been asking myself the same thing. All I know is that I care about this problem and I want to make it better.”

It seems Watson knew she would be the subject of criticism, which is why she addressed the definition of feminism early in her speech, “It is the theory of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.”

Also in the beginning, Watson addressed the image she inherently adopted as a feminist. Watson stated, “Apparently, I am among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, and anti-men; unattractive even.”

Gender equality, however, was too important to Watson for her to be silenced because of the damage it would do to her image. She uses a similar technique to Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech when stating,

“…I think it is right that I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf on the policies and the decisions that will affect my life. I think it is right that socially I am afforded the same respect as men…No country in the world can yet say that they have achieved gender equality; these rights I consider to be human rights.”

The main idea of Watson’s speech was not fixated on men versus women, simply that men and women should be equal. This equality is a human right which when attained gives all members freedom. Watson explained, “If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by who we are we can all be freer. And this is what HeforShe is about. It’s about freedom.”

Freedom for men and women is feminism. However, the word “feminism” leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths. It has been dirtied by bias and stereotypes, but that’s okay. “And if you still hate the word, it is not the word that is important; it’s the idea and the ambition behind it,” reasons Watson.

She even points out that there are mentors in our lives who, as she describes it, are “inadvertent feminists” who are simply people who don’t associate with feminism yet believe in equality.

The HeforShe campaign has made it very clear that men are needed for a change to occur. Watson described the importance of feminism for men,

“I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness; unable to ask for help for fear it would make them…less of a man. In fact, in the U.K. suicide is the biggest killer of men between twenty and forty-nine eclipsing road accidents, cancer, and coronary heart disease. I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the   benefits of quality either. We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes, but I can see that they are…”

Not only is feminism important for a man to have, but it’s important for men to show. “I want men to take up this mantle so that their daughters, sisters, and mothers can be free from prejudice, but also so their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too,” explains Watson.

Watson’s speech was about more than what initially meets the eye and what is being discussed in the media. That being said, it’s alarming how the media has covered the speech.

What seemed like only a few moments after Watson’s delivery of her speech there was a hoax about naked photos of her being leaked. After such a proud pronunciation of equality it was really sad to see such a dramatic example of our present state of inequality.

Not all media coverage has been bad. A letter from a fifteen year old boy supporting Watson’s ideas has since gone viral, Taylor Swift has spoken out about the importance of her speech, and various male celebrities have taken to twitter to support #HeforShe.

To watch Watson’s speech in its entirety click here.

Curious about HeforShe? Find out more here.

What do you think? Will HeforShe make a difference in gender equality? Respectfully let us know in the comments below!


Abbey Willcox is a secondary education and English major at Bloomsburg University with a minor in creative writing. She is currently the Opinion and Editorial editor. Abbey focuses on creating fun, interesting and informative articles while helping others shape their unique crafts.