The Blog

The F Word: Emma Watson and the Aftermath

Emma's set out the direction we need to head in, but in order to genuinely permeate our society's consciousness on the gender issue for good, we need to re-tune our media's frame of reference. Just think how many girls came to know of Emma's addressing the UN via an article dominated by images of her outfit...

Just days after delivering a powerful speech on gender equality to the United Nations, Emma Watson's received two degrading responses. Admittedly, one is more severe than the other, yet both have shocked me and put a massive downer on the incredible and rousing words of the Harry Potter star given just a couple of days ago. Not only was Emma's triumph referred to as an almost entirely fashion-related one by the Mail Online, (with little attention paid to the important point she was making), but today it's been reported that hackers will retaliate against her speech, threatening to publish a series of naked pictures by the end of the week. Unbelievable.

Emma yesterday tweeted a link to her speech that launched a UN equality campaign in New York called HeForShe. As Women's Goodwill Ambassador for the UN, Emma's setting out to rebrand the dreaded F-word: Feminism. By addressing issues affecting boys and men in the sphere of gender equality, the UN hopes to get 100,000 males involved. Emma's engaging both sexes to steer the gender inequality discussion in the right direction. Why then, can we not unanimously get onboard with this evocative and about-time idea?

Speaking personally about her own experiences of gender inequality (being branded bossy for wanting to direct plays at school, seeing female friends stop playing sport in their teens for fear of appearing muscle-y, seeing male friends unable to express their feelings post-18), Emma sees it as her responsibility to smash this bizarre 'box' concept we've attributed to gender, believing instead it to be more of a spectrum. It's a brilliantly fresh approach, bringing new life to a topic that's been through the mill somewhat. Whilst admitting that feminism has become synonymous with man hating, Emma explains that men too are 'imprisoned' by gender stereotypes, as they are 'made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success.' Getting both sexes on board with her ideology is a sure fire winner. 'If men don't have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won't feel compelled to be submissive. If men don't have to control, women won't have to be controlled. Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive, both men and women should feel free to be strong.' Amen to that.

At a time when gender inequality is being addressed in such an innovative and current way, by bold and bright women, I can hardly believe that we're also harking back to the age-old derogatory activity of leering at women's bodies. The headlines have been dominated this past month with celebrities falling victim to hackers leaking their intimate photos online. Only one man appears on the list of the 101 celebrities embroiled in the naked photo hacking scandal. No surprises that we're seeing this huge infringement of individual privacy brought (almost without exception) to the female doorstep of celebrity. Perhaps Emma would argue here, as she set out in her speech, that this is simply an example of men attempting to control women in order to feel a morsel of success?

To a lesser degree, I was also amazed by the angle taken on Emma's speech by the Mail Online. Their headline read, 'She means business! Emma Watson is smart and sophisticated in belted white coat dress at UN event in role of Goodwill Ambassador for Women.' More than a little patronising, I think. As though to crux of the issue here is a successful wardrobe choice. I doubt we'd feel the need to point out the blatant observation that a man means business if he's addressing an intergovernmental organisation, (nor would we comment on the colour of his suit.) Attention was also paid to Emma's hair and make up: 'Her brown locks were swept into a centre parting and she kept her make-up understated and natural. Completing the look she added a metallic belt and conservative black pumps.' As the designated Messenger of Peace, Leonardo DiCaprio was also in attendance at the New York event, yet surprise, surprise, said article made no reference to the suit he wore, or how he styled his hair (pulled back in a bun, with full facial hair on display, should you wish to know!) Finally, a caption underneath a picture of Emma at the UN building read, 'Beauty and brains.' Is this still such a fascinating combination of attributes for women?

As a 25-year-old female, I'm totally aware of the lure of celeb gossip updates. Once I've trawled through a glossy-picture laden article, I'll be directed to online shopping sites where I can recreate the look of any given A-lister, and often I'll dutifully oblige (!) This is all great, girly fun - but we need to know when to refocus our perspective and take in the bigger picture. Never has there been a more important time to do so than following this HeForShe speech. But this didn't quite happen. With a colossal readership of over 11.7 million visitors a day, the Mail Online is an outlet with real power to change our mindsets with regards to gender and the limitations prescribed to us whichever box we tick - male or female. Emma's set out the direction we need to head in, but in order to genuinely permeate our society's consciousness on the gender issue for good, we need to re-tune our media's frame of reference. Just think how many girls came to know of Emma's addressing the UN via an article dominated by images of her outfit, hair and make up choices; further perpetuating the belief that a woman's primary worth lies in her looks.

Emma referred to her childhood and adolescence mid-speech, explaining how such a firm springboard enabled her to succeed: 'My life is a sheer privilege because my parents didn't love me less because I was born a daughter, my school did not limit me because I was a girl, my mentors didn't assume that I would go less far because I might give birth to a child one day.' Emma thanked these key figures in her life, referring to them as 'inadvertent feminists'. There's no doubt that where the forces of feminism are needed most is wherever girls and young women are: it's vital that those who are in the process of establishing themselves and their views are surrounded by the right messages and individuals. Once you've got all the things Emma lists above under your belt, you're able, although it's far from ideal, to take on the misogynist (eek, I said it) world we're in the process of correcting. Emma will no doubt do just this with much grace and strength, if needs be, come Friday. So whether you fully embrace your F word credentials or associate more with the inadvertent type, Emma's message is clear - both, really, get the same end result.

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