Actress and UN Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson sat down to talk about feminism with the American men’s magazine, Esquire recently. Although it may be surprising to see an article about feminism in a men’s magazine, it is not really uncharacteristic for Emma Watson. After all, she’s the spokesperson for the UN’s HeForShe, a solidarity movement with the central mission to engage everyone, particularly men, as agents of change for the achievement of gender equality. Watson, who recently announced that she would be taking the year off from acting to read, touched on all the usual hot-button feminist issues in her interview—female representation in film, the wage gap—but the crux of the interview was her message for men.
Asked why she chose a men’s magazine to discuss feminism, Watson repeated something she’s said many times before: “So often, feminist issues are being discussed in a room labeled for women, with women, talking about women's issues, focusing on women. But this is an issue that affects everyone. Everyone. That is what HeForShe is about. This is affecting men, too. I want to really talk to men about it.”
But Watson went further, explaining what specifically she’d like to see from men. "There's no point in me going, 'You all have to go away from having read this article and decide that you are a feminist.' That's useless. The only thing that is going to make a difference is if men go away and speak to the women in their lives about what they are experiencing. Ask the question. Go to the pub with the women in your life and just listen and then see how that makes you feel and see how that engages you. And if it does, then I hope that when you're confronted with a situation where you can do something, even if it's as simple as just saying, "I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that…," then taking that action is what makes a feminist."
Ask the question. Just listen. They might not sound like much, but I think these words merit closer examination by men and women, feminists and non-feminists alike.
First of all, Watson’s words, in my opinion, go right to the heart of what feminism really demands of men: to listen, really listen, to the women in their lives. It’s no secret that feminism can be confusing, particularly for men. And there are good reasons for this. There is room (A LOT of room, in fact) for legitimate disagreement about what it means to be a feminist. What “gender equality” really means is not a settled issue. And which public policies, accommodations, political or cultural changes, or actions actually achieve it is up for debate, even (perhaps especially) among feminists. As a result, despite the fact that many feminists insist feminism is nothing more than the desire for equal rights and opportunities for both men and women, it can be difficult to know what the movement really stands for and whether or not you have a place in it. But the truth is that you don’t have to agree with or support every new policy aimed at promoting gender equality in order to help end gender inequality. You have to listen.
In my experience, one of the greatest stumbling blocks to eradicating sexism is that women’s experiences with it are so often dismissed. Workplace misogyny and sexual harassment are often written off as the imaginary trials of someone who is “too sensitive.” And while that very well may be possible, men ought to hear our concerns without immediately jumping to the conclusion that it’s all in our head. What can men do for gender equality? Listen to the female experience and, even if you can't quite hear the condescension in a boss's voice, or don't notice the way men ogle and objectify us in the street, at least consider the possibility that you are missing something.
But the reality is that, although Emma Watson’s plea was directed at men, it is one one that all of us ought to respond to—including self-identified feminists. Listening to others, sympathizing with their struggles, doing what you can to alleviate them: these are things that we all ought to be doing for each other, regardless of gender. The point of feminism is not to ask men to sit down and shut up because we think they have it easier in life, or at least it shouldn’t be. It’s about asking them to hear us out and try to see things from our perspective—and that is something that we ought to do for them as well.
Emma Watson is right: Eradicating sexism requires men to listen to the experiences of women in their lives. In my opinion, it requires women to do the same for men.
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