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22 September 2014

Emma Watson calls on boys and men to join the feminist movement

Emma Watson aims to tackle gender inequality through the launch of a new global feminist initiative called “HeForShe”. The campaign aims to recruit 1 billion boys and men to become global advocates for women's rights.

By Fiona Rutherford

Emma Watson gave an impassioned speech to the United Nations on Saturday about the launch of a new global feminist initiative, “HeForShe”, which aims to end gender inequality.

In the first campaign of its kind, the actress, known for her lead role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, calls on men and boys to join the feminist movement.

Although by definition “feminism” is about equal rights for both men and women, the word has often attracted negative misconceptions. As a consequence, many women and men are reluctant to embrace feminism and choose not to define themselves as a feminist out of fear that they’ll be described as “too strong, too aggressive, anti-men, unattractive”.

She said:

Why has the word become such an unpopular one? I think it is right I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decisions that affect my life. I think it is right that socially, I am afforded the same respect as men.”

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Watson admitted that the word “feminist” has become uncomfortable, but emphasised that “it is not the word that is important it’s the idea and the ambition behind it”. She also addressed the fact that gender equality is a men’s issue as much as it is a women’s issue. Gender stereotypes play a huge role in mental health. For example, stereotypical ideas about masculinity prevent some men from expressing their feelings and reaching out for help and support – this is thought to contribute to that fact that suicide is the biggest killer among men in the UK.

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Watson, who was appointed as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador six months ago, described her decision to become a feminist as “uncomplicated” and shared the story of how she became one:

When I was 8, I was confused about being called ‘bossy’ because I wanted to direct the plays that we would put on for our parents. But the boys were not. When at 14, I started to be sexualized by certain elements of the media, when at 15, my girlfriends started dropping out of their beloved sports teams, because they didn’t want to appear ‘muscle-y,’ when at 18, my males friends were unable to express their feelings, I decided that I was a feminist.

The HerForShe initiative aims to recruit 1 billion boys and men to become global advocates for women’s rights, Watson concluded by saying:

You might think, who is this Harry Potter girl? What is she doing at the UN? I’ve been asking myself at the same thing. All I know is that I care about this problem and I want to make this better. And having seen what I’ve seen and given the chance, I feel my responsibility to say something.”