Being a self-proclaimed Potterhead ever since my childhood days, I find it hard to disassociate Emma Watson with Hermione Jean Granger of the insanely popular Harry Potter film series. Apparently, she has outgrown her character when she went up the podium and began delivering her speech in the United Nations Headquarters in New York last September 20th. Ms Watson’s speech entitled “Gender Equality is Your Issue Too” is in conjunction with the launching of HeForShe campaign which aims to end gender inequality and encourage men to “take up the mantle” by fighting against gender oppression faced by women. With Vanity Fair calling Emma’s speech a game-changer for feminism and Emma professing that she had been a feminist ever since, the words feminism and women’s rights have become the newest fad in social media. The purpose of the article is not to dwell on how Emma has transformed with grace (my apologies, fellow Potterheads) but rather to examine from the perspective of political science the key points of her speech and to ascertain its impact in the field of feminism.
But what does feminism mean? To define feminism in a single sentence is reductionist as feminism embodies different strands or sets of theories. For instance, the Theories on Subordination deal with the issue of women’s subordination as caused by the patriarchal system, the dominant, which legitimizes such oppression to women, the dominated. Also, we have the Theories on Difference which argue that biological differences between men and women reinforce oppression to the latter. Feminism as a concept is being redefined over and over again thanks to how the mainstream media rings on the feminist message to its followers (one should not wonder why feminism is usually regarded as man-hating). However, over the years, some modern feminists have reconstructed feminism as a movement that aims to end sexist oppression without favoring one class or gender. The definition of Bell Hooks is a noteworthy example: “Feminism is the struggle to end sexist oppression. Its aim is not to benefit solely any specific group of women, any particular race or class of women. It does not privilege women over men.” Emma Watson had the same line of thought when she defined feminism as “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” In this particular strand of feminist theory, the aim of feminism is to materialize gender equality by making it possible that rights and entitlements are being experienced by people regardless of wherever they are in the gender binary.
Emma made clear to her speech that gender equality is the issue of men too which, for me, is a veritable claim. The growth and development of capitalism in this present time poses a greater threat not only to women but to men as well. At the onset of capitalism, it appears that women are not the only ones oppressed and men the culprit behind gender oppression; both men and women are now the ones oppressed and the capitalist institution the real enemy. More and more women and men are being shown barely clothed in ramps and advertisements all for the sake of profit. Men and women are being reduced to objects and appearance by capitalist institutions which use, if not own, them as tools for the capitalists’ own purpose and benefit. While it is still true that the domination of men can be held responsible for women subordination especially in cases where violence is patriarchal in nature, one cannot just put into oblivion the increasing number of men who are also exploited. The notions of machismo and male dominance do not only victimize women but also men. This is evident to the victims of male rape whose cases appear extremely less in literature and studies as most of them fail to speak up for fear it would embarrass them in this machismo-oriented society.
There is so much that needs to be done. Let us begin with this not-so trivial matter: the campaign’s name. The label “HeForShe” carries with it a problematic ambiguity. While the campaign’s name wishes to encapsulate the idea that men need to be cognizant of the oppression experienced by women, it connotes that women need men to stand up for them and implies the weakness of women in carrying out their struggle. To be honest, women do not need men for such endeavor as women can do it for themselves and have actually done this is in the past. In this struggle, men need not stand up for women; they just need to stand alongside them. Keeping the essence of this campaign, perhaps it might be much better if the campaign be labeled “HeWithShe.”
How you should call the campaign is as important as how you should carry it out. Gender equality is not the end of the battle; it is the beginning. Capitalism continues to thrive and flourish. More and more women are objectified and commodified. Cultures reinforce gender roles and social structures (religion and educational system for instance) does the same. Gender oppression is intersectional. It varies in various degrees depending on which social class, race, country, age or color one belongs. Gender gaps need to be addressed. As women’s oppression is not only confined to sexist discrimination, calling for gender equality will never be enough. As the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, I challenge Ms Emma Watson to work in the grassroots so she can see for herself (and eventually work out potential solutions to) the real condition of many women who are still incarcerated in the virtual cells of repression. That riveting speech is a good start and (contrary to a comment of a certain writer) game-changing I must say as a sheer amount of courage is needed to proclaim that men and women need to work together in this quest for gender equality. Breaking barriers has never been easy but in this society where basic freedoms are utterly denied and privileges selectively distributed, we have to.
Image Source: Neon Tommy