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 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.

Photo: Getty Images
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What's to be done about racial inequality?

David Cameron's words on equal opportunities are to be welcomed - now for some action, says Sunder Katwala.

David Cameron made the strongest, clearest and most high profile statement about ethnic inequalities and the need to tackle discrimination ever yet offered by a British Prime Minister in his leader’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
“Picture this. You’ve graduated with a good degree. You send out your CV far and wide. But you get rejection after rejection. What’s wrong? It’s not the qualifications or the previous experience. It’s just two words at the top: first name, surname. Do you know that in our country today: even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names? … That, in 21st century Britain, is disgraceful. We can talk all we want about opportunity, but it’s meaningless unless people are really judged equally”, said Cameron.
While the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, this was a powerfully argued Prime Ministerial intervention – and a particularly well-timed one, for three reasons.

Firstly, the Prime Minister was able to root his case in an all-but-universally accepted appeal for equal opportunities. It will always prove more difficult in practice to put political energy and resources behind efforts to remedy discrimination against a minority of the population unless a convincing fairness case is made that values cherished across our whole society are at stake. Cameron’s argument, that any party which tells itself that it is the party of the ‘fair chance’ and ‘the equal shot’ must have a response when there is such clear evidence of discrimination, should prove persuasive to a Conservative Party that has not seen race inequalities as its natural territory. Cameron argued that the same principles should animate responses to discrimination when it comes to race, gender and social class. Put like that, wanting job interviews to be fair – by eradicating conscious and unconscious patterns of bias wherever possible – would strike most Britons as offering as clear a case of the values of fair play as wanting the best baker to win the Great British Bake-Off on television.
Secondly, Cameron’s intervention comes at a potential "tipping point" moment for fair opportunities across ethnic groups. Traditionally, ethnic discrimination has been discussed primarily through the lens of its impact on the most marginalised. Certainly, persistent gaps in the criminal justice system, mental health provision and unemployment rates remain stark for some minority groups. What has been less noticed is the emergence of a much more complex pattern of opportunity and disadvantage – not least as a consequence of significant ethnic minority progress.

Most strikingly of all, in educational outcomes, historic attainment gaps between ethnic minorities and their white British peers have disappeared over the last decade. In the aggregate, ethnic minorities get better GCSE results on average. Ethnic minority Britons are more likely, not less likely, to be university graduates than their fellow citizens. 

As a result of that progress, Cameron’s intervention comes at a moment of significant potential – but significant risk too. Britain’s ethnic minorities are the youngest and fastest-growing sections of British society. If that educational progress translates into economic success, it will make a significant contribution to the "Great British Take-Off" that the Prime Minister envisions. But if that does not happen, with educational convergence combined with current ‘ethnic penalties’ in employment and income persisting, then that potential could well curdle into frustration that the British promise of equal opportunities is not being kept.  Cameron also mirrored his own language in committing himself to both a ‘fight against extremism’ and a ‘fight against discrimination’: while those are distinct challenges and causes, actively pursuing both tracks simultaneously has the potential, at least, depolarise some debates about responses to extremism  - and so to help deepen the broad social coalitions we need for a more cohesive society too.

Thirdly, Cameron’s challenge could mark an important deepening in the political competition between the major parties on race issues. Many have been struck by the increase in political attention on the centre-right to race issues over the last five to ten years. The focus has been on the politics of representation. By increasing the number of non-white Conservative MPs from two to seventeen since 2005, Cameron has sent a powerful signal that Labour’s traditional claim to be ‘the party of ethnic minorities’ would now be contested. Cameron was again able to celebrate in Manchester several ways in which his Cabinet and Parliamentary benches demonstrate many successful journeys of migrant and minority integration in British society. That might perhaps help to ease the fears, about integration being impossible in an era of higher immigration, which the Home Secretary had articulated the previous day.

So symbolism can matter. But facial diversity is not enough. The politics of ethnic minority opportunity needs to be about more than visits to gurdwaras, diversity nights at the party conference fringes and unveiling statues of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square. Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech as Labour leader did include one brief celebratory reference to Britain’s ethnic diversity – “as I travelled the country during the leadership campaign it was wonderful to see the diversity of all the people in our country” – and to Labour bringing in more black, Asian and ethnic minority members - but it did not include any substantial content on discrimination. Tim Farron acknowledged during his leadership campaign that the Liberal Democrats have struggled to get to the starting-line on race and diversity at all. The opposition parties too will no doubt now be challenged to match not just the Prime Minister’s rhetorical commitment to challenging inequalities but also to propose how it could be done in practice.

Non-white Britons expect substance, not just symbolism from all of the parties on race inequalites.  Survation’s large survey of ethnic minority voters for British Future showed the Conservatives winning more ethnic minority support than ever before – but just 29 per cent of non-white respondents were confident that the Conservatives are committed to treating people of every ethnic background equally, while 54 per cent said this of Labour. Respondents were twice as likely to say that the Conservatives needto do more to reach out – and the Prime Minister would seem to be committed to showing that he has got that message.  Moreover, there is evidence that ethnic inclusion could be important in broadening a party’s appeal to other younger, urban and more liberal white voters too – which is why it made sense for this issue to form part of a broader attempt by David Cameron to colonise the broad centre of British politics in his Manchester speech.

But the case for caution is that there has been limited policy attention to ethnic inequalities under the last two governments. Restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab decided to give up his role chairing an ethnic minority taskforce for successive governments, unconvinced there was a political commitment to do much more than convene a talking shop. Lib Dem equalities minister Lynne Featherstone did push the CV discrimination issue – but many Conservatives were sceptical. Cameron’s new commitment may face similar challenges from those whose instinct is to worry that more attention to discrimination or bias in the jobs market will mean more red tape for business.

Labour had a separate race inequalities manifesto in 2015, outside of its main election manifesto, while the Conservative manifesto did not contain significant commitments to racial inequality. The mid-campaign launch in Croydon of a series of race equality pledges showed an increasing awareness of the growing importance of ethnic minority votes - though the fact that they all involved aiming for increases of 20 per cent by 2020 gave them a slightly back-of-the-envelope feel. 

Prime Ministerial commitments have an important agenda-setting function. A generation ago the Stephen Lawrence case opened the eyes of middle England to racist violence and police failures, particularly through the Daily Mail’s persistent challenging of those injustices. A Conservative Prime Minister’s words could similarly make a big difference in the mainstreaming of the issue of inequalities of opportunity. What action should follow words? Between now and next year’s party conference season, that must will now be the test for this Conservative government – and for their political opponents too. 

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.