Emma Watson made a speech to the United Nations this weekend that both launched an initiative for global gender equality and underlined the world's need for feminism.
Notably, the speech also nodded toward misguided assumptions about what feminism actually is. "The more I have spoken out about feminism, the more I have realized that fighting for women's rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating," Watson says at the beginning of her speech, before launching into a litany of reasons for feminism's necessity.
Watson, who is most famous for her role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies, was appointed as a U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador six months ago. This weekend at the U.N. headquarters in New York City, she launched the "He for She" campaign, which aims to enlist 1 billion boys and men around the world to become advocates for women's rights globally.
Watson is not the first global celebrity to prominently announce her feminism recently. Beyoncé stood in front of a massive "feminist" sign at the VMAs, but Watson's campaign digs into some of the nuance around the topic. It's launching with the acknowledgement that the publicity around feminism as a movement is messy and complicated and in no way universally accepted.
Watson began by explaining how she became a feminist:
"When I was 8, I was confused about being called 'bossy' because I wanted to direct the plays that we would put on for our parents. But the boys were not. When at 14, I started to be sexualized by certain elements of the media, when at 15, my girlfriends started dropping out of their beloved sports teams, because they didn't want to appear 'muscle-y,' when at 18, my males friends were unable to express their feelings, I decided that I was a feminist.
This seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word. Women are choosing not to identify as feminists. Apparently, [women's expression is] seen as too strong, too aggressive, anti-men, unattractive.
Why has the word become such an unpopular one? I think it is right I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decisions that affect my life. I think it is right that socially, I am afforded the same respect as men."
The initiative seems a response to campaigns like Women Against Feminism that have built their foundations off of the idea that you cannot be both a feminist and a person who supports men. Watson acknowledges that claim by saying that this is a campaign meant to target men to become allies for women's rights in society.
In the "HeForShe" campaign, Watson notes that women have traditionally been the ones fighting for their equality when women's equality is a human rights issue that affects everyone. "HeForShe 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 site says.
Watson also recognizes that people may not want to take her seriously because of her past as a child movie star.
"You might think: who is this Harry Potter girl? What is she doing at the UN?," Watson said in her speech. "I've been asking myself at the same thing. All I know is that I care about this problem and I want to make this better."
That seems like a small thing — to care about the plight of women in society and to strive to make things better — but, sadly, it's a monumental step. For women like Beyoncé to sign their names to a movement is one thing. Launching campaigns to create change is the next step. Watson and the U.N. hope to be at the forefront of that movement.