Emma Watson with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Photo: Getty
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Dear Emma Watson, it’s great that you’ve come out as a feminist. Here’s what to expect

With her speech at the UN, the actress has taken a new role – that of public feminist. The threats to leak nude photos of her online that followed shortly after are sadly not an unusual example of how women who speak out are treated.

Dear Emma Watson,

I’ve always been a fan of yours, despite the fact that you audaciously stole the part of Hermione from me when I had gone to the immense trouble of sending Newsround a picture of myself wearing a cape and armed with a quill and the family cat. The fact that I was too old to be Hermione, and can’t act, did not deter me, but I now feel that I am able to be a bigger person and tell you that you completely deserved the part. Brava.

And now, in 2014, I’m very pleased to be seeing you play an altogether different part – that of the public feminist. Your incredible speech at the UN this week was a real watershed moment for me, as I’m sure it was for all the other feminists who are reeling from just how far we have come. I was 23 when I first felt comfortable using the term “feminist” about myself, and the same is true of many women I know, because when we were younger, nobody close to approaching our age ever used it. The notion that a world famous actress followed by millions of young women in their magazines and on their screens would proudly call herself a feminist was unimaginable to my generation. To us, feminists were shrill, angry separatist lesbians intent on destroying the male sex, or at the very least intent on chopping their bollocks off. Feminists didn’t look like you, or me, or Beyoncé, or indeed the many girls I’ve visited in secondary schools who have set up feminist societies and feel passionate about the issue of gender equality. “Feminist” was a caricature we were all keen to avoid.

Of course, you pointed all this out in your excellent speech when you said that the myth that feminism is equivalent to man-hating has to stop. You said that your feminism includes men and boys, that gender equality is their issue too. So many of us are with you on this need for a more inclusive, and therefore more powerful feminism, but as you have discovered, some people are against you. Like so many others, I was sickened when hackers threatened, in response to your speech, to release nude photos of you on the internet. “She makes stupid feminist speeches at UN, and now her nudes will be online,” one insecure yet vengeful chronic masturbator supposedly said.

2014 has shown us many things, not least that feminism can be, and seems intent on becoming, a mainstream political endeavour – just look at you, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Ellen Page, Lena Dunham, to name just a few women who have “come out” recently. But 2014 has unfortunately also shown us that the lot of any woman who dares to exist in a public space is to be potentially “undermined” by a horrific invasion of her privacy by a few pathetic little bigots who are threatened by female empowerment. These are the bitter revenge tactics of a few small little men who cannot bear to see women asserting themselves with the poise, confidence and intellect that these sociopathic hackers lurking behind their screens, are entirely lacking. I am sorry that they are now targeting you, Emma, and I am sorry that it may prevent other young women for speaking out for fear of similar “reprisals”.

All I can say Emma, is: fuck them. It makes me furious that these men, these boys, are attempting to grind you down, in the same way that similar men have tirelessly attempted to grind down the emergence of our gender as a viable political threat for generations now. Fuck them. I know that you will not let them stop you, just as we other feminists will not let it stop us.

As Laurie Penny has said, a woman’s opinion is the short skirt of the internet. They will say that you deserve it. You do not deserve it: no woman does. And I will wear my short skirt with pride, and I have no doubt that so will you. Keep fighting the good fight: feminism needs you.

In solidarity,

Rhiannon

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett is a writer for the New Statesman and the Guardian. She co-founded The Vagenda blog and is co-author of The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media.

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“We don’t BeLiviu”: how Romania is rising against corruption

Night after night, activists gather in Victory Square to demand the resignation of the government.

For much of the year, the large tarmac square in front of the main government building in Bucharest is little more than a glorified roundabout, busy with traffic and surrounded by towering, communist-era blocks on one side and a wedge-shaped park on the other.

But when Romanians gather to protest, as they have done these past weeks in record numbers, it becomes a place of pent-up frustration; against the ruling class, the direction in which the country is heading and the way many politicians continue to use the public purse as a source of cash for their personal use. This was not how it was supposed to be, ten years after the country joined the European Union.

On 31 January Romania’s new government, in power for less than a month, sneaked in a piece of emergency legislation during a late-night session to weaken the punishment for abuse of power, negligence while in office and conflict of interest. In effect, the move decriminalised some forms of corruption, if the financial damage caused amounted to less than roughly £38,000.

Many Romanians and international observers saw it as a brazen attempt to help politicians facing legal problems, prominent among them Liviu Dragnea, the leader of Romania’s largest political party, the Social Democrats, and the president of the Chamber of Deputies (Romania’s House of Commons). Dragnea is facing trial for supposedly getting colleagues added to the public payroll even though they do not work for the state. He is one of many public officials facing a day in court; in fact, he has already faced the courts, earning a 2015 conviction for electoral fraud that barred him from becoming prime minister despite his party’s strong showing in parliamentary elections last December.

The backlash against the ordinance was swift, as night after night tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, and, once, half a million took to the streets to protest. On 5 February, between 500,000 and 600,000 people protested across Romania, with 300,000 in the government square alone. Demonstrations have also taken place in 50 towns and cities in the country, as well as in the Romanian diaspora.

The government backed down on its immediate plans and repealed the decree, but trust was by then long gone. Protests are now in their third week and, despite snowfall, show little sign of ending.

“This government needs to go. You can’t be elected in December and have hundreds of thousands on the streets in a month,” said Dorial Ilie, a 33-year-old PR worker, one cold evening in the square.

Romanians are fed up with corruption. The country sits 57th in Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index – up from 69th place in 2014, but corruption remains endemic, and Romania is near the bottom of the list when it comes to EU countries.

Despite the efforts of the country’s much-admired National Anti-corruption Directorate (DNA), set up in 2003 and responsible for the successful prosecution of thousands of politicians, civil servants, judges and business leaders, there is a sense that the rich and powerful still operate as if they were above the law. This was certainly not helped by the attempts to change the anti-corruption legislation.

“They had been planning to do this for years,” said Dan Popescu, a 46-year-old priest protesting in the square, echoing the sentiments of many of those around him.

The demonstrations, the largest in the country since the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, have been an impressive display of people power in a country that is increasingly using the streets as a communication platform. Large-scale protests in Romania also brought down the last elected government in November 2015, after corruption was blamed for a fire in a Bucharest nightclub that left 64 dead, and before that, mass protests during the 2014 presidential election, this time over mismanagement of diaspora voting, arguably helped tip the balance in favour of the now-incumbent, Klaus Iohannis.

Protesters are hoping for a similar impact this time around, although, having survived a no-confidence vote in parliament on 8 February, the new government shows little willingness to depart.

At the same time, most of those gathering night after night in Victory Square – as the drab square outside the government building is officially known – are still loudly demanding the resignation of the government, but would probably settle for the resignations of Dragnea and the prime minister, Sorin Grindeanu.

After so many nights standing out in the cold, protesters have become very creative. Elaborate banners filled with puns (“We don’t BeLiviu”) have appeared, as have messages written with lasers and projected on to nearby buildings. Some have shone the Batman symbol on to the roof of a nearby museum, a funny (or perhaps desperate) plea for help. The national anthem is often sung. On Sunday, a sea of protesters held up pieces of paper coloured over their phone lights to create a vast Romanian flag.

Despite these touches of humour and inventiveness, there is a steely determination evident and it has only grown since the first night or two.

On 13 February the national parliament approved a referendum related to the fight against corruption, as proposed by the protest-supporting president. But most of those on the streets these past weeks would argue that they have already given their opinion on the matter.

Many Romanians are increasingly frustrated that they have to head out to protest time and again in order to hold their elected officials to account. Few believe that the present political class can change. “They’ll try again, in another way. Maybe in parliament, where they have a majority,” said Ioana David, an administrative worker for a construction company.

Even so, she – like so many others – is likely to continue to go out into Victory Square in the days and perhaps weeks ahead, in order to make sure her voice gets heard.

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times