By: Suzy Flader
On Sept. 20, 2014, actress and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson gave a speech at the New York UN headquarters discussing the new HeForShe campaign. HeForShe is a “solidarity movement for gender equality that brings together one half of humanity in support of the other of humanity, for the entirety of humanity.” In her speech Watson argued that in order for women’s rights to be taken seriously, society needs to start tackling male issues that seem to be underlying causes. In her words, “it is time that we all start to perceive gender on a spectrum, instead of as sets of opposing ideals.”
Despite the initial positive responses and its big splash on social media, critics have found flaws with Watson’s argument. Mainly, it is argued that the type of feminism she is supporting is too “watered-down” and “mainstream” to have an actual effect. While it may not have been a perfect speech, it did bring up an interesting point: how do our prescribed gender roles affect us and others in ways we do not necessarily think about?
Globally, we see examples of how gender norms and values are negatively affecting our health. In various parts of the world women are unable able to get to clinics because they are not allowed to travel alone. Teenage boys die in accidents because they are expected to be “bold” risk-takers. Women contract HIV because societal standards encourage a husband’s promiscuity, while preventing women from insisting on condom use. Generally, a country’s lung cancer mortality rate is much higher for men, because smoking is considered an attractive marker for masculinity while it is frowned upon for women.
Evident in these examples is that the gender issues in healthcare are not restricted to developing countries. As Watson reminded us in her speech, there is not one country in the world that can currently claim women and men are given equal rights. It can be easy for us as Canadians to forget about this, as it seems strange for a developed country to lack something as basic as equality for all citizens. Also evident from these examples is that gender norms do not exclusively affect women; societal expectations of men can also negatively impact their health.
The WHO Gender and Health Department’s goal is to “increase health care professionals’ awareness of the role of gender norms, values, and inequality in perpetuating disease, disability, and death, and to promote societal change with a view to eliminating gender as a barrier to good health.” While it is great that a global organization is attempting to solve these problems, it is up to us to start making actual change. Emma Watson’s address may have its flaws, but there were certainly aspects of it that should make us reflect on how we perceive both others and ourselves. Are there certain expectations that we have that may not be conducive to promoting gender equality?
Love it or hate it, Watson’s speech should make us think about how we might want to change our gender norms – not only because it’s the equitable thing to do, but also because it’s the healthier choice.
A few days ago, Emma Watson shared a message with the world that news sites called “game-changing.” To feminists, the message wasn’t new or radical, but it shook the social media universe and left the world in awe. Emma Watson nervously speaking in front of the UN, proclaiming that feminism is misunderstood, and using her fame to make it mainstream, was a big deal for gender equality.
But chances are that it didn’t get through to everyone. An online marketing group “Rantic Marketing,” created an elaborate hoax that threatened to release nude pictures of Emma Watson. Although this was a hoax, it wasn’t fully harmless, as it still used the threat of a highly unconsensual act to get its point across. The resident male misogynists of 4Chan have already shown us how dangerous they are to the fight for gender equality, and this hoax was utterly unnecessary.
We’ve learned the obnoxious way that most men don’t like being called out on their privilege, words, or actions. They get defensive, upset, and angry. Relating with men has always been one of feminism’s hardest struggles. How can women equalize gender disparities if men aren’t willing to let go of the power they hold from being born in an oppressive society?
Emma Watson did the diplomatic thing. She called for men to take action. She framed it in a way that made it clear that men, too, suffer from the consequences of misogyny. She shared the hopes and dreams of mainstream feminism, and the men of the world mostly listened.
But feminism can’t always have a woman who spent her teenage years working for one of the world’s most successful film franchises as its spokesperson.
In our everyday encounters, the spokespeople of feminism are members of your social groups, your family, or your campus. The average spokesperson of feminism isn’t someone who you spent years watching and reading about, and they definitely can’t deliver a powerful speech every time you screw up.
We’re all brought up in a sexist society, and in one way or another, we have all perpetuated it. It can be anything from using sexist language while playing video games to slut-shaming and victim-blaming. It’s so pervasive that at times it seems normal, and that’s the most concerning thing about it.
Women and feminist men don’t want to be the ones who tell you to “stop saying that” every single time. We don’t want to turn your “joke” into a lesson about sexism. But, for the sake of creating a better society, we have to. Every time we don’t, we feel guilty for letting yet another microagression rest unchallenged.
Feminist activists, who constantly stand up for us, get understandably frustrated and angry with the lack of cooperation from people who reject feminism without taking the time to understand it. Feminists are often mocked for being angry and “man-hating,” but the only reason they bother to express their rage is because they know you can do better.
You may be tired of feminists calling you out on every little thing, but trust me, we’re tired of it, too.