Emma Watson, who first gained global recognition as Hermione Granger in the “Harry Potter” movies, has gone on to champion gender equality as a Goodwill Ambassador for U.N. Women. On Saturday, she gave a passionate speech before the United Nations, introducing HeForShe, a campaign meant to engage men in actively stopping violence against women. Since then, hackers have threatened to release nude photos of Watson in a disgusting attempt to silence her. It seems this has only made her voice louder, making her an all-around badass.
Watson’s speech is a thoughtful, comprehensive invitation for both sexes to dismantle gender stereotypes. She emphasizes that dismissing feminist concerns as “aggressive, isolating, anti-men, and unattractive” has negatively affected both men and women. Watson states her case plainly. In effect, she diminishes the remarkably silly debate over the “real definition” of feminism. She puts it simply and powerfully:
I decided I was a feminist and this seemed uncomplicated to me… I am from Britain and think it is right that as a woman I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decision-making of my country. I think it is right that socially I am afforded the same respect as men. But sadly I can say that there is no one country in the world where all women can expect to receive these rights.
Watson hasn’t shied away from labeling herself a feminist, unlike so many other actresses with social influence. With a broad appeal to young men and women alike, I think she has a legitimate chance at initiating change. However, she also faces the risk of not being taken seriously. She addresses this in her speech, saying:
You might be thinking who is this Harry Potter girl? And what is she doing up on stage at the UN? It’s a good question and trust me I have been asking myself the same thing. I don’t know if I am qualified to be here. All I know is that I care about this problem. And I want to make it better. And having seen what I’ve seen—and given the chance—I feel it is my duty to say something.
Her obvious passion and personal experience with sexism certainly qualify her to be an advocate for gender equality. But her message goes beyond equal rights; it’s about the way we perceive gender and perpetuate limitations for both sexes by reinforcing an unjustified dichotomy. I mean, how powerful is this:
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.
If that isn’t motivation enough to start speaking up about gender equality, then I don’t know what is. And for all the haters out there, launching insults at Watson only bolsters the necessity of this movement. Threatening to post nude photos of someone campaigning for equal rights seems so stupid, so insane, so laughably pathetic to me that I have no doubt the power behind her words will eclipse any wormlike attempt to bring her down. Alternatively, you could take the more innocuous approach and pick apart the pieces of her argument that are less than perfect, but I don’t see how that would be constructive. Emma Watson is not the only advocate for gender equality, but her speech is one of many that at least deserve our respect if not wholehearted support.