I’d call myself a fan of Emma Watson. I like her. I always have. I’m a Harry Potter fan (despite its issues with gender inequality), and I’ve liked her a lot in other stuff, too. I still like her. I also know that she means well in her feminist work, and that her intentions at the UN were great. Cool. Excellent. None of that is the issue here.
In her speech to the UN, Ms. Watson said:
"I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefit of equality, either.
We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.”
Ms. Watson delivered is problematic in many ways.
This message is flawed and unfortunate, as well. Telling men that they should care about gender inequality because of how much it hurts them, centralizes men and their well-being in a movement built by women for our survival in a world that degrades and dehumanizes us daily. This is problematic for the same reason telling white people that they should end racism because racism “holds us all back as a society, so eradicating it will help you, too,” is problematic.
Firstly, because even if that’s true, it does nothing to create solidarity. I have never met a white person who decided to take on anti-racism work because of the negative effects of racism on white people. Literally, never. And I don’t think I’ve ever met a man who genuinely supports feminist ideals because of the ways they benefit men first. If I did know people like this, I wouldn’t like them. I’d question why the often brutal oppression of people of color and women and especially women of color wasn’t enough to get them interested, but having an epiphany about the ways men and/or white people are kinda also hurt by these constructs because “something something society and also men should be able to cry, too” made them jump right on board.
Secondly, because it ignores just how much men do benefit from gender inequality. (They really do, Emma!
The underlying message here is that women deserve equity and equality because of our relationships to men. Continuing to re-enforce the idea that men should respect women and fight for women’s equality because mother/sister/daughter/whatever perpetuates the idea that women don’t already deserve those things based solely on our status as human beings. It encourages men to think of women always and only in relation to themselves, as if our pseudo-humanity is only an after-thought of men’s real humanity. The truth is that women are whole, complete people, regardless of our status in the lives of men. This is what men should hear, over and over again. This is what everyone should hear, every day.