Gender inequality is, once again, a ‘hot topic’ due to the understated and poised Emma Watson, the UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador who urged men and boys to become ambassadors for social change under the new, rather catchy campaign title HeForShe. You can’t help but to have heard of Watson’s speech, and rightly so. It’s about time that we have such an appealing and accessible advocate for Feminism to revive what is all too often seen as a ‘stuffy’ topic, guaranteed to ruffle feathers. I say, let’s ruffle the feathers a little bit more!
The movement’s mission, as stated on their website is to "...bring together one half of humanity in support of the other half of humanity, for the benefit of all." The benefit of this ‘solidarity movement’ is obvious: changing the preconceptions of the modern day feminist as ‘bossy’, ‘pushy’ and ‘man-hating’ and, I suppose, to point out that Feminism is not just the pursuit of the feminine. But, most importantly this high-profile awareness and action campaign is about re-emphasising the need for radical changes in the way that we value and treat women and inviting men to support them.
This is, undeniably, an important human rights issue which does need to be addressed further in our ever short-sighted society, but, I feel there are a few issues which need to be ironed out for the campaign to be truly equal starting with, I suppose, the idea that men and women are two halves of society that are so entirely opposite and that discrimination is just set aside for women in particular.
HeForShe seems to be aimed at men in order to invite them into the gender inequality dialogue. In actuality, the ‘follow up’ on the campaign’s website leans towards empowering women to, disturbingly, point out to men just how ‘wrong’ they have it in terms of their support of women, putting them in the position of wrong-doing before they’ve even started. The website invites women to ‘Share this with the men in your life’ as if the website is going to suddenly open the eyes of the blind: I think Watson had that part covered. As if the men in our lives have been deaf to the cry of feminism for so long! As if they, like any of us, aren’t aware of the divide. As if, like I am, like you might be, they aren’t scared to death of doing the wrong thing to make it better. As if, they don’t face gender assumptions of their own. The quandary lies before us: if we keep pointing out difference in the sexes, how can we progress as a united world seeking equality for all genders? We are all human. We all face forms of adversity.
Where Watson details the upsetting moments in her life where she encountered inequality, I am certain that there are men that face similar stereotypical and out-dated associations with their own gender: strong, powerful, lad, unemotional, athletic. Shop fronts and shelves still perpetuate these ideals for both genders. So, I’m intrigued to see where the HeForShe campaign will develop their thought and action for the promotion of both males and females.
There is a fine line between being supportive and being patronising and it works both ways. What are men supposed to do with the offer that we provide them, without patronising women? Where is ‘he’ in HeForShe, and importantly, where is the platform for those that don’t identify neatly in the tick-box of ‘he’ or ‘she’? Gender, like sexuality, is a spectrum that we must consider when championing true equality. Perhaps it should be less of he for she which almost implies a sort of weakness. He and she doesn’t even cut it...how about Human for Human, or simply, Us?
Upon logging on to the HeForShe website, inspired by Emma Watson’s humble, considered and logical address of the UN, I was excited to find out more about how I can be part of the movement. Interestingly, I did wonder what the speech would sound like from a male role-model to identify with, or a collaborative effort to tackle congress. I encountered a mild irritation at the colour choice of the webpage: pink. I love pink and, Gumption is pink! But where Gumption uses pink as a celebration of empowered femininity, as a space for women, HeForShe are supposed to be promising an equal platform, a neutrality or ‘common ground’. To me, this limited design palette was reminiscent of UK deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman’s ‘pink bus’ geared to encourage, embarrassingly, the hordes of disaffected female voters. Interestingly, and amusingly, the bus was heckled by a male member of the UK public in Stevenage who demanded to know where his blue bus was, sporting a T-Shirt that branded him as a ‘Victim of Feminism’. This incident clearly shows how destructive we can be when trying our best to provide equality, causing a gap which needs to be bridged urgently. But is the website as patronising and alienating as that famous blunder bus? How can we bring about change without causing more damage?
I’m not saying that bringing the idea of gender equality to the forefront is a bad idea at all. The campaign has great power in reminding us of abuse that women suffer, about their ill-treatment and discrimination across the globe and brings to light the pay gap between men and women which The Telegraph illuminated at the end of last year, with its reference to the World Economic Forum predicting that equality in this area will not be realised for all until 2095. Additionally, I do think that men and, ever so urgently, boys need to know that they are welcome to join the equality revolution.
My point is not that I hate the HeForShe campaign, no, I am grateful to it as an educator for inspiring the young people that I see every day to get passionate about equality (male, female or otherwise) and acting in a fair and just manner, enabled by education to achieve all that they desire, regardless of their sex. I am more than sure that this issue needs to be addressed, and soon.
We need to stop thinking about Feminism as getting on a soap box and shouting to the world that women need to be heard. Instead, with passion, intelligence and empathy we need to go out into the world, being the amazing women that we are. We need to be the right woman for that promotion, among the top dogs in our political parties, women who educate and challenge those who do not promote respect and equity for all, promoting equality in all that we do, for the benefit of Us.
References and Further Reading