Hogwarts Hero Takes On United Nations

Holiday 2014

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To many of us, British actress, Emma Watson will always be known for her iconic role as Hermione Granger in the beloved Harry Potter series, not for her work as a gender equality activist. This past July, Watson earned a new honor quite different from her various accolades as an actress. Shortly after her graduation from Brown University, Watson was named the U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador for the “HeForShe” campaign. This past September, Watson gave an impassioned speech on gender equality and feminism at the UN headquarters in New York to launch the “HeForShe” campaign, a global campaign that aims to galvanize one billion men and boys to advocate gender equality, addressing issues such as violence against women and their diminished socio-economic empowerment in many societies.
While many may feel that Watson’s fame will distract from the movement, Macon Sheppard ’15 expressed a different view: “I appreciate Emma Watson’s efforts at the U.N. for gender equality, and I think she is shedding light on some of the central issues that have impeded progress towards gender equality. I think it’s unfortunate that feminism has been conflated with “man-hating,” but I do think that some feminists could be more welcoming towards the men trying to join their push for equality.”
The “HeForShe” campaign aims to end the silence that has lasted for too long about gender inequalities. Females have a traditionally subservient role in many African and Asian societies, and many men in these countries expect their women to behave accordingly. In Iran this past October assailants on motorcycles, suspected to be Islamic vigilantes, threw acid in the faces of at least eight young women. Many Iranians believe that these women were targeted because the attackers deemed them to be improperly veiled. This is one of the many examples of gender inequality that will take years to fix because of many communities’ intense commitment to traditional customs and behavior.
In her speech, Watson touched on some of the connotations with the “feminism” that derail the movement for woman’s rights. Watson has attempted to dispel the misconception that the movement for women’s rights attempts to deride men: “The more I have spoken about feminism, the more I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop,” she said in her speech.
Men, too, have been victims of gender inequalities. Present Western society favors men who foster a sense of bravado or machismo. When males do not fall into this category, for whatever reason, they have a tendency to lose a sense of purpose in their lives. For example, from 1981-2012 male suicide rates in the U.S. were quadruple those of females.
Watson emphasized that the “HeForShe” campaign calls for male advocates of gender equality because in order to resolve this issue, there needs to be equal participation from both sexes. Joslyn Gardner ’16 expressed a similar call to attention for the campaign: “The feminist movement needs to be a united effort from all genders, not just a one-sided one. Feminism has become synonymous with “man-hating” because the feminist movement is seen as blaming men for treating women unequally. The first step to gender equality is realizing that both genders are at some points faced with inequality, and men and women need to come together and confront both sides of this issue.”
Certain professions in the United States, such as medicine and engineering, have been labeled as male-dominated fields. This had led to a widespread misconception that women are inherently worse at these professions. To the contrary, women have succeeded when they have had the ability to establish themselves as intellectual peers to men. This equality is being achieved through higher education and the gradual acceptance of women as equals in these professions. However, this has taken a very long time. MomMD reports that in 1949, 5.5% of entering U.S. medical students were female. According to the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) 48.3% (16,838) of medical degrees awarded in the US in 2009-10 were earned by women.
It may seem that Emma Watson is too young or inexperienced to be the ambassador of a campaign against gender inequality. But her speech highlighted the truth that gender inequality can only be beaten by gradually raising awareness in society. Gender inequality will be difficult to achieve across various continents due to the many disparate traditions that have incubated for centuries, but if both men and women become advocates for gender equality, this issue can make headway.

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