On closing the gender gap

Feminism has been brought to the forefront of media attention with polarizing responses toward the movement.

A number of men have explicitly expressed their disdain for feminists and announced, via Twitter and other mediums, their reluctance to date a feminist.

Some women have also denounced feminism with the “I don’t need feminism” movement, in addition to a number of female celebrities (Shailene Woodley, Lady Gaga and Lana Del Rey to name a few) who have chosen not to identify as feminists because they are not “anti-men.”

However, there have also been a number of female celebrities who have embraced feminism, one of whom is Emma Watson, who caused quite a stir last week with her

HeForShe speech on behalf of her role as goodwill ambassador for UN Women.

Watson spoke of some of her girlfriends dropping out of sports for fear of appearing masculine and her guy friends’ reluctance to express their feelings for fear of appearing feminine. It is evident that these are superficial issues, and her speech was very much a regurgitation of a standard feminist speech that only scratched the surface of the movement.

I’ve read many articles debating the decision by the UN to appoint Watson, a privileged white female, to represent the cause when she’s probably just following the “fad” (despite Watson having identified as a feminist in a 2011 Vogue interview). Why not a minority woman who can talk about developing world struggles?

They fail to see that appointing Watson in this role was a very intelligent move by the UN, because she embodies white privilege. She is rich, was educated at an Ivy League school and is the media’s sweetheart. She recognizes that she’s incredibly privileged; yet she still found a way to relate to the movement.

By drawing upon personal experiences, she is making feminism relevant to the average person who may not understand, or be interested in, sophisticated theories and global concerns. There have been many women who have spoken about feminism, but none of their speeches have gained as much attention as Watson’s. It’s not about diminishing their voices; it’s about Watson’s capability to drive this topic to a place where subsequent discussions will be afforded proper attention.

Moreover, her speech has already garnered millions of views on Youtube. It’s about time that feminist discourse reached a wider, more basic sphere, and who better to do that than a role model that appeals to the younger generation — the generation that will be driving societal changes in the years to come?

Near the end of Watson’s speech, she joked, “You might be thinking, ‘who is this Harry Potter girl and what is she doing speaking at the UN?’ ” This shows how closely branded her image is with that of an immensely popular fictional icon. There is a generation of children who have grown up with her and a new generation of impressionable children who are discovering the world of Harry Potter.

People will watch her speech and say, “Oh, look, it’s Hermione!” or “Hey, it’s the girl from Harry Potter!”

It doesn’t matter whether they identify with Emma Watson or Hermione, the point is she has gotten their attention and they are listening to what she has to say.

Maybe, finally, we can reclaim feminism, because as Watson so deftly pointed out, feminism is not the man-hating movement so many believe it is. Once that message has become saturated, feminism will be embraced more openly.

So yes, there are larger issues within feminism that need to be addressed, but we shouldn’t discount the power of smaller initiatives. After all, lobsters were considered peasant food until the railway carried it inland to a new crowd who thought it was the most delicious thing ever, which then drove its popularity and turned it into a delicacy. Watson’s speech may be the ripple that turns into a tsunami. In fact, it has already inspired a 15-year-old boy to pen a letter that also went viral.

She is just beginning her journey as a goodwill ambassador and I’m excited for whatever future endeavours she may undertake. We only have to wait and see.

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