Who Cares About Feminism?

September 24, 2014


If you think gender inequality doesn’t affect you, think again.

We often hear about the unfair treatment of women in societies around the world: They don’t earn as much as men, they’re held to unreasonable expectations of beauty, and they aren’t recognized as capable leaders but rather confined to domestic and care-taking roles.
But men are just as oppressed. We simply haven’t been trained to see how.

The Celebrities Have Spoken

On Saturday, the actress Emma Watson, better known as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies, delivered an impassioned, nervous and enormously successful speech at the United Nations in a new and far more serious role: UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador.

Representing the UN’s HeForShe campaign, Watson observed that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating, and that feminism itself has become a dirty word, even among women.

Then she paused, looked steadily at her audience of dignitaries, and made her appeal: “If there is one thing I know for certain, it’s that this has to stop.”

Watson is not the first to make these observations in a public forum. Last year, Beyoncé released the song “Flawless,” which samples part of a 30-minute speech by the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie arguing that differing expectations of boys and girls perpetuates a culture in which boys grow up believing that to be a man, they must be devoid of emotions, controlling and hard.

There was a time when this served a practical purpose. A thousand years ago, as Adichie said in her speech, physical strength was the most important attribute for survival.

What About Men?

In the late 1960s, the so-called “men’s movement” was founded on a similar premise and made internationally famous by the writer Robert Bly with his 1990 book, Iron John.

Bly argues that society’s expectations of men prevents them from becoming fully actualized human beings, and he’s not talking about growing a ponytail, crying in public and learning to play Renaissance folk songs on the ukulele. He’s talking about having a richer life.

There will always be those who argue that men are supposed to be in charge, that being in charge means being unfeeling and dominant, and that women are supposed to be submissive — that it’s simple evolutionary biology.

“Just look at the apes,” they’ll say. But, as Adichie notes, “We are not apes. Apes also live in trees and eat earthworms for breakfast. We don’t.”

Emma Watson may not be the first to make this appeal, but she is the latest. And thanks to having the United Nations as her stage, her words are likely to resonate worldwide. Putting them into action is up to you.