Emma Watson: Feminist Advocate

The Harry Potter Actress Rallies Support for the #HeForShe Campaign

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Emma Watson at the United Nations. Getty Images

Emma Watson, perhaps most famous for her portrayal of Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter film franchise, is now making a name for herself as a fierce advocate for feminism and women’s issues.

The 24-year-old Watson is a busy woman. She has just graduated from Brown University with a degree in English and is also working as a United Nations Women global goodwill ambassador.

And it is her work as a goodwill ambassador that is drawing public interest, acclaim, and even misogynistic threats.

In speech to the United Nations this past weekend, Watson outlined her support for an initiative called HeForShe. This campaign aims to get millions of boys and men out and mobilized to advocate against inequality.

Watson also made a great splash with her explanation for her politics and why she calls herself a feminist:

“I decided that I was a feminist. This seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word. Women are choosing not to identify as feminists. Apparently, [women’s expression is] seen as too strong, too aggressive, anti-men, unattractive.

Why has the word become such an unpopular one? I think it is right I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decisions that affect my life. I think it is right that socially, I am afforded the same respect as men.”

Watson noted that feminism is not just about making women’s lives better, but also about expanding possibilities for men as well. Watson argued the following before the UN: “I want men to take up this mantle. So their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice, but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too — reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves.”

Indeed, I think some of the most powerful parts of Watson’s speech was the way in which in called out men’s investment in patriarchy:

“I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness unable to ask for help for fear it would make them look less “macho” — in fact in the U.K., suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20 to 24, eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits 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.

If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled.

Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong. … It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, not as two opposing sets of ideals. If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by what we are — we can all be freer. And this is what HeForShe is about. It’s about freedom.”

While Watson is far from the first to make these claims about feminism or even about toxic masculinities, it is significant that a high profile figure with a youthful fan base is speaking so eloquently and unequivocally about such important issues. I hope she continues to amplify these causes with her platform.