From Harry Potter actress and dazzlingly successful model to Ivy League graduate and appointment as the new UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson is the definition of a “good” role model. On September 20th, Emma delivered a powerful speech at a UN General Assembly meeting in New York City in which she announced HeForShe, the new campaign to end gender inequality. Since her speech, the world has been abuzz with debate over the broader implications of her invitation to men and boys to join the global feminist movement. Now, as the dust settles after her speech, we should anticipate change with caution. The idealistic goals of a campaign with few specifics beyond the involvement of men and boys are unlikely to be achieved without further development of strategy. At the same time, the speech provides a powerful impetus for collective organization of the global feminist movement and promotes gender rights as a social issue involving both genders.
At the beginning of her speech, Emma Watson explained that women are actively choosing not to identify with the feminist movement. She said that the expressions of women who call themselves feminists are interpreted as “too strong, too aggressive, isolating, and anti-men – unattractive even.” Obvious nerves and a solemn tone gave her an air of authenticity as she explained the struggles of gender inequality. For example, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the director of UN Women, has stated that 100 countries have laws the prevent women from having meaningful involvement in the economy. As Watson used accessible rhetoric and statistics, the emotional impact of her speech resonated throughout a crowd that reacted with a standing ovation when she stepped down from the podium.
The choice of Emma Watson as the spokesperson for such a position was strategic. As a scandal-free public figure of eloquence and respectability that transcends generations, her words carry great weight. She is an excellent candidate to bring continued attention to the need for gender equality in the world.
Unfortunately, a leader is not all that the movement needs. Contributions to the UN Women program have been far from stellar; a paltry $500 million (less than 1% of UN funding), has been contributed to the organization. Meanwhile, more than 140 million women globally do not have access to adequate family planning services to enable them to delay or stop childbearing. The United Nations must be willing to properly back its objectives or risk having yet another underfunded and unsuccessful UN initiative.
HeForShe as a movement must be careful to not become another Kony 2012. The appeal to emotion and internet-viral nature of its popularity threaten to make the movement irrelevant several months down the line. The lack of clear goals of an organization that had close to 160,000 (including 58 in North Korea) signatories in the early hours of September 29th is worrisome, as people that agree to the mission of the organization are unlikely to do more than be “slacktivists.” Men may find themselves quietly removing themselves from email lists several weeks down the line, unwilling to keep up with the news of the organization.
Still, HeForShe and Emma Watson’s speech have been a positive force for the global feminist movement. Emma’s heartfelt, well-delivered invitation to men to join the fight for gender equality may help channel a somewhat disorganized and often stigmatized cause into an all-encompassing movement to establish equality for all. One way to start a social revolution is to generate conversation and to ensure that everyone involved understands the cause. Indubitably, the speech did not have negative implications for the global feminist movement; however, if the movement is to maintain its momentum and not simply become an emotionally-charged Internet fad, Emma Watson and the HeForShe organization must clearly define a strategy to achieve the goals of the cause.
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