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September 22 2014

The Emma Watson UN Speech

Hadley Heath

British Actress Emma Watson, best known for her role as Hermione in the Harry Potter films, recently gave a speech on feminism before the United Nations. Her speech is making shockwaves around the Internet.

Watson emphasized that feminism is not by definition a man-hating movement. She repeated the dictionary definition of feminism, and yep, no man-hating required.

Sadly, there are some examples of women who hate men and are very forthcoming about it. The technical name for this would be misandry.  But it’s not too difficult to confuse with more radical camps of feminism that paint all men (or most men) as violent rapists, sexist oppressors, or at least complicit members of a patriarchal system designed to hurt women.

I – and I imagine many of the women sharing and liking the video of her speech – appreciate Watson’s attempt to separate the ideal of gender equality from this kind of male stereotyping that pits men and women against each other.

At IWF, we have long emphasized that women’s and men’s interests are tied.  Greater freedom for women – especially the freedom to access health care and education – boosts global economies and supports stabilized civilization. Economies grow better when we recognize that economies are not like static pies to be divided between women and men, but built and shared as men and women work together.

Men and women can work together in the home too: Refreshingly, Watson underscored the importance of fatherhood, subtly making the case for two-parent households. “I needed him as much as I needed my mother,” she said of her father. Watson discussed the hardships men face as well, pointing out that suicide has surpassed road accidents as the leading killer of young men in Britain.

One of the criticisms of feminism that Watson did not mention was the criticism that too often progressive feminists see more and bigger government as the only solution to women’s problems. They don’t see non-government centric solutions (like the ones we’ve laid out in Lean Together, our new book).  This is why groups like the National Organization for Women in the U.S. have gained the reputation of being more about the interests of the Democratic Party than about women.  And this agenda is isolating to women who believe that government should be limited.

But, in her defense, Watson did applaud “inadvertent feminists” or people who encourage women and girls to succeed in their individual attitudes and actions. This was another refreshing takeaway from the speech: We can all help the cause of gender equality by taking some individual responsibility in the matter. Hey, she even quoted Edmund Burke!

One aspect of her speech that deserves greater discussion was her dismissal of gender differences. Watson basically accepts that gender is a social construct that should be viewed on a spectrum, rather than the binary male versus female.  She believes that because of cultural expectations, men are not welcome to be sensitive, and women are not welcome to be strong.  These cultural expectations will vary wildly from one part of the world to another, but in inviting women and men to just “be ourselves,” Watson should keep in mind that some characteristics of masculinity and femininity may be innate and very much a part of who we are.

In terms of public policy, Watson mentioned a few specifics: wage equality, educational equality, and political representation among others. Again, we must keep in mind that she was addressing an international audience, and the advancement of women looks very different from country to country. 

But let’s hope that Watson and others who emulate her well-intentioned efforts to restore feminism to its dictionary definition and to invite more people to its cause will aim for the right definition of women’s advancement: more freedom and choice for women in all areas of their life. This includes keeping more of their tax dollars, choosing how and where to access their own health care and education, and having the economic freedom to build their own business or negotiate their own wages.  

Watson’s speech touched a nerve with many people, and perhaps it will help foster an important discussion of gender equality, what it looks like at home and abroad, and how to ensure greater progress for men and women culturally, economically, and politically.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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