Emma Watson may be famous for her role as Hermione Granger in the “Harry Potter” series, but she is rapidly becoming just as famous for her political activism. After being named as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations in July, Watson has become a face for political activism, launching the HeForShe campaign and giving a speech on gender equality to the UN. This speech is creating headlines not only because of her fame and artistic profile, but because she is still relatively young at only 24 years of age. Many people are used to the likes of Angelina Jolie and George Clooney being engaged in politics and altruism, but Watson is considerably younger and, hopefully, will be able to get younger generations involved in world-changing efforts. Her own focus at this time is feminism, a cause which Emma Watson took to the UN with a speech that is earning her accolades for poise and cogency.
Watson’s speech to the UN was the announcement of the HeForShe campaign, an initiative to get more people, particularly men, involved in the issue of gender equality. As Watson herself phrased it, this was a “formal invitation” to men to support gender equality as a cause for the good of everyone regardless of gender. The initiative aims to get 100,000 men involved in supporting gender equality. In Watson’s view, this is part of the mission of feminism itself, which she noted has been stigmatized as “man-hating.” Feminism, however, is not the belief that women should be in control, but that “men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” It is this cause that Watson and the HeForShe campaign advocate.
The young actress took the opportunity to address many of the problems associated with feminism today, especially the stereotyping of women who identify as feminists. Putting it in the context of her own experience, Watson proclaimed that “I am among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, ‘too agressive,’ isolating and anti-men, unattractive, even.” Capitalising on her own well-known beauty, Watson was able to make the point that such stigmas are contrary to the reality of what a feminist is and looks like. She questioned this stereotype not only through her own example, but with the campaign she is now the representative of.
Emma Watson was not only trying to take feminism to the UN, however, but to men in particular. According to its own mission statement, the HeForShe campaign “is a solidarity movement for gender equality that brings together one half of humanity in support of the other of humanity, for the entirety of humanity.” The theme that feminism has much to offer men as well as women was an important point in Watson’s speech. “We don’t want to talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that they are,” she said, poignantly chronicling her own experience with men hampered by male stereotypes. “Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either,” Watson said, which is part of what the HeForShe campaign is meant to combat.
At age 24, it might be acceptable for someone like Watson to focus on things other than politics, a fact that she seemed aware of and addressed in her speech. “You might think, ‘Who is this Harry Potter girl?’” she asked, noting that she had also wondered what she was doing at the UN. But in her view, redressing inequality is in part her responsibility and, ostensibly, that of every other person. On that basis, Watson appealed to men and women alike to participate in changing the world for the better of all because “when [men] are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.”
Many celebrities have engaged in political and charitable campaigns, including Angelina Jolie, a famous Goodwill Ambassador for the UN herself. The British actress is surely not the first, but is instead following a precedent set by others before her. Nevertheless, her age and the poise with which she has carried herself in doing so has impressed many observers. Already she is having an impact on the world, though the extent to which she will help change it is still to be seen. Nevertheless, Emma Watson has made a good step towards taking the broad goals of feminism to the UN with her speech and in increasing her charitable profile.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury