Wellesley is comprised of students from the entire gender spectrum who support the tenets and dialogue about feminism in all its variegated forms. These discussions often emphasize our desire for men and women to be treated equally. Who we allow to participate in our discussions about feminist policy has a direct impact on how our society changes. If only women are included at the table, the resulting legislation may be biased against men and vice versa. It is therefore crucial to involve everyone in the political process to gain a balance of opinion when making policy decisions about gender-related issues like domestic abuse and wages in the workplace.
Last week, United Nations Goodwill Ambassador and actress Emma Watson launched the #HeForShe campaign, inviting men to unite with women in spreading feminism around the globe. Feminism is too often stereotyped by the media as a movement that aids one gender at the expense of the other and cultivates “man-haters” intent on destroying societal order. Watson rejected this misconception and instead encouraged society to acknowledge both the latent mistreatment of men and more prominent discrimination against women as a first step to reconciliation between the genders.
Watson described sexual stereotyping as the manifestation of a repressive patriarchy that in fact silences both genders. Stereotypes of aggressive men and docile women help perpetuate domestic abuse of women and form a rift between the genders. These caricatures permeate all four corners of the world. They often contribute to the gross violations of human rights in many countries, from rape as a weapon of war to denial of education. Stereotypes that label women as defenseless also often permeate through lawmakers’ minds and contribute to skewed policies that favor men. By reforming these caricatures, our society and leaders can gain a more three-dimensional view of men and women and thus create fairer policies.
Watson’s speech brought both celebration and intense criticism from all sides. While some suggested that Watson’s speech was not radical enough given her influential celebrity status, others praised her attempt to clarify the nature of feminism. Others criticized how the campaign focused more on changing men’s attitudes than the more pressing women’s rights issues in some parts of the world like sexual trafficking and honor killings. Most agreed on one crucial point: Watson’s speech opened the discussion of feminism once again.
However, one response to her speech was unacceptable and uncouth. Hackers on the imageboard website 4chan threatened to leak nude photographs of Watson in response to her speech. Regardless of whether they possessed her photographs, this type of symbolic violence and willingness to strip a person of her dignity simply because she spoke her opinion affects women speaking up for feminism everywhere.
This act was morally reprehensible yet eerily unsurprising. 4chan has leaked pictures of naked celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence and Ariana Grande without their consent. What’s striking about the retaliation Watson faced was the irony of the threat. These extreme reactions to famous women underline the need for feminism. One of its core concepts is that every person, man or woman, is entitled to dignity and the right to dispose of her possessions as she sees fit. This is the true feminism that Watson’s speech prescribed.
The scattered, rancorous reactions to Watson’s speech also highlight that feminism is often misconstrued. As Watson pointed out, feminism does not pit any combination of genders against each other. Rather, it’s a human rights issue because gender policy affects the entire society. We must remind men that they have as much of a role to play in feminism as women do. If we wish to change the status quo advocated by the hackers, we must act together.
When men stand up for women, women stand up for men. #HeForShe is that kind of campaign that aims to build trust between genders. There is no doubt that we need feminism in our world. But our definition of feminism needs to encompass that all the genders that fall between the male and female poles. Therefore, men and women, cis- and trans- and people of all genders need to be involved in feminist discussion.