Though better-known as the face of Hermione Granger, U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson has ventured beyond her character’s activist nature (remember the house-elves?) to play her real-life role as an advocate for women’s rights.
Last week, Watson spoke about the role of men in feminism at the United Nations to launch her new campaign, HeForShe. A “solidarity movement for gender equality,” HeForShe was described by Watson as a “formal invitation” for men to join the feminist movement.
Though largely admired by the general public, Watson’s speech has also incited reproach. Critics claim her speech implicitly gives men an easy break. By suggesting that many men are unknowingly already feminists based on common sense, Watson’s speech may encourage men to claim the feminist label without changing their actual behavior towards women.
So what are some concrete ways that men can show their support for gender equality in their daily lives?
The problem is evident enough on college campuses like ours. Fraternity parties and club venues shamelessly objectify females with their sexualized themes and gender-biased door fees, a practice that often treats women like currency. Social media outlets such as Yik Yak are riddled with lewd jokes and comments about body types, many of which dehumanize women.
This crudeness can be easily blamed on sexist attitudes. However, perhaps it is also a result of our society’s deteriorating value of respect in general, a transformation clearly visible through various 21st century social phenomena such as cyberbullying, online flaming and leaking of private digital property.
Yet disrespect between the sexes manifests in subtler and “politer” ways as well. Small habits that might seem benign, such as diminutive names or patronizing praise, only further reinforce the idea that women are more childlike and naturally less capable than men.
So men, think twice about your intentions before calling someone “princess” or “lady.” Before you tell a woman “good job,” reflect on whether you are genuinely admiring her work as a peer or whether your encouragement is merely a form of socially instilled patronization.
Beyond words, body language can also be a major reinforcement of male authority. Men often seem to hover over women in a pseudo-possessive nature in casual social settings, as if women were young children in need of guidance. A female faculty member even spoke of mortifying experiences during which an older colleague would pat her on the head during meetings, a gesture clearly meant to undermine her legitimacy as a professional.
But the responsibility doesn’t only fall upon men; women, too, can improve this culture of respect. As Logan Lerman told Watson’s character in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “we accept the love we think we deserve.”
Women, if you know you have earned more respect than you’re given, speak up. Be polite but clear if you feel uncomfortable or insulted. In many cases, the offenders may be sincerely oblivious to their crimes, but setting clear boundaries will help them recognize their gaffes and avoid repeating them around other females.
There is little doubt that feminism is still an intimidating term to many; just yesterday I was discussing this very column with a peer and his response was shockingly negative: “Oh, man, the feminist speech. It’s too much for me.” When I questioned him further, his only explanation was that the whole movement in general was “too much sometimes.”
While I was sufficiently surprised, it seems that my friend’s knee-jerk reaction is not at all uncommon. During a session I was sitting in on at the Canes LEAD conference last week, both male and female students testified about their peers’ trepidation with the “F-word.”
Evidently, there are still many misconceptions floating around about the definition of feminism, and Watson is right to try to reshape the public perception of the movement to make it more inclusive.
However, just getting men to board the boat isn’t enough; if we are to row anywhere effectively, we must have a functional team that cooperates and respects all members as equals.
Jackie Yang is a freshman majoring in neuroscience.
Featured photo courtesy of UN Women.