Comment: Emma Watson's right - men can help us all achieve gender equality

UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pose for a photo September 20, 2014. (AFP)

Emma Watson said something about feminism, and everybody loses their minds.

Emma Watson, the actress who portrayed the real hero of the Harry Potter series, Hermione, recently gave a speech about feminism at the UN.

Watson, a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, was there to launch the UN’s #HeForShe campaign, the crux of which is encouraging men to speak out against inequalities faced by women, with the hope to involve one billion men and boys in the fight towards gender equality.

A lot has been written about the speech. Some people lauded it as a ‘game changer’ and some criticised it for not going far enough. Others criticised it for only speaking from the perspective of a privileged heterosexual white woman. Some people criticised the people criticising it, while some people criticised those people who criticised the initial critics (and so on).

Writer Mia McKenzie pointed out that the fact that men have not been fully involved in the fight for equality up to this point isn't because they haven’t received a written invitation from the Queen - but because they benefit hugely from the status quo, and are therefore less likely to be motivated to get involved.

“Actually, I think an ideal way to break down prescribed gender stereotypes is for big and tough rugby players to be engaged with feminists and feminist ideals ...”

Other feminists said it was a mistake to position men as the focus of the discussion. Conversely, a lot of (especially male) commenters on the ‘Women Against Feminism’ Facebook page believe the speech ‘demonised masculinity’ and was just another ploy to get men to help women. The horror.  

Whatever your opinion, there is no doubting that the speech created an immense amount of discussion around the topic, and around Watson herself. There has been predictable backlash from some men[‘s Rights Activists] in particular, with a lot of anger directed at Watson - calling her a bigot, amongst other charming things.


But this is nothing new. In August, Watson posted a tweet that said, “Gender equality not only liberates women but also men from prescribed gender stereotypes”. Right-wing ‘journalist’ (blogger) Robert Stacy McCain attacked Watson for sending the tweet while also having the audacity to date a ‘manly’ Oxford student who plays rugby (and also speaks three languages), because it means that he’s an ‘alpha male’ and so obviously Watson is a hypocrite, because if she actually believes that men should be liberated from gender stereotypes she should strictly date sensitive thin bald poets who run from scary looking dogs and spend time criticising actresses on Reddit. Or something.

Actually, I think an ideal way to break down prescribed gender stereotypes is for big and tough rugby players to be engaged with feminists and feminist ideals - as seen in this dedication to Australian Brumbies and Wallabies Rugby player, David Pocock, and his statements on feminism and equality. But then, I’m not a ‘journalist’ like McCain.

But sadly for Watson, and feminists world over, engaging in this kind of outspoken feminism has had a damaging impact on their romantic prospects. After the #HeForShe speech, a tweet from a user named MaximumTrent went viral after journalist Dawn Foster picked it up. Trent, as he is probably called when he’s off-duty and not being maximum (surely you can’t be maximum 24/7), declares in his Twitter profile that he will only date ‘women against feminism’ and in this particular tweet, stated:

Now, we can debate what kind of impact Emma Watson’s speech had on the feminist movement. We can discuss if it was actually useful, or if it will be negative overall. We can discuss Harry Potter, whenever you want, because I like to. We can discuss the problems with the feminist movement, and how best to move forward in a manner that is inclusive and beneficial for all women. But this attempted emotional blackmail is obviously the biggest devastating blow to the movement yet.

How will feminism survive this? How will we ever convince young women to fight for the cause of feminism if it means they have to choose between identifying with women like Emma Watson and Beyoncé, or (looking at his Twitter stream) questionable men like Trent and his army of similar-minded gentlemen?

Wait. On second thought, I think feminism will survive this threat. Actually, it will probably do more to encourage young women to think about feminism than Emma Watson could possibly do alone, even if she could employ magical spells. There will probably be an influx of women rushing to brand themselves as feminists just to make sure they never have to deal with men like this.

And that brings me Maximum Satisfaction.

Rebecca Shaw is a Brisbane-based writer and host of the fortnightly comedy podcast Bring a Plate.