By James Voelker
Most people know her as the brilliant witch Hermione Granger from the “Harry Potter” books, full of wands, brooms, and spells. While Hermione may be a fictional character, 24-year-old British actress Emma Watson and her Hollywood alter ego have multiple traits in common. Courage, perseverance and intelligence are just a few of them.
Watson proved these traits in her recent speech to the U.N. about achieving equal opportunity between men and women across the globe. As a U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador, Watson spoke on the launch of the He For She campaign, an international movement that aims to get more men and boys fighting for equal gender rights. While her voice may have trembled now and again, Watson’s message was loud and clear — men’s involvement is just as important as women’s when it comes to promoting gender equality.
“We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence,” Watson said.
Women alone can win only half the battle against gender inequality. I cannot emphasize enough how necessary it is that men stand up against the myopic social standards that seem to be imprinted into our genetic code. Eliminating the long-standing set of biases against the economic, political and social equality of women is a noble and necessary goal.
For example, statistical evidence shows that women are on average paid less than men. According to the nonprofit research organization Catalyst, in 2012 women made up 46.9 percent of the workforce in the United States. But, according to the 2011 household report, women, on average, make only $0.75 for every $1 made by men. To put this in perspective, if a man is making $40,000 annually, a woman would make only $30,000.
I am not saying that everyone should be paid equally across the board, but as long as we foster an environment where men are expected to have more opportunities to succeed because society pushes them into these positions more easily, we are going to have inequality.
As long as the workforce and government representation is primarily male, and as long as men continue this self-flagellation of emotional suppression and pseudo-stoicism — the gender stereotypes Watson referred to — men will never feel comfortable taking on the role of child rearing, expectations about domestic life will never change and women will always be at a disadvantage.
Watson stated that, instead of being taught to think that raising children is a hindrance to a career, her “mentors didn’t assume [she] would go less far because [she] might give birth to a child one day.” When a man assumes that a woman’s resolution in the workplace is not as definite, or that a woman will never have the opportunity to be as successful as a man, the fissure in equality between men and women is only deepened.
But to be clear, when Watson calls on men to consider the effect of sexism in their own lives, it seems to be a bit misguided. I believe men should be supportive of gender equality not because they can ultimately become “free”; they should be supportive of feminism to improve the social and economical position of women.
Watson clarifies that feminism by definition is, “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” This only reinforces the fact that the progress of women gaining total equality can only be attained by the complete collaboration of men and women.
“Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation,” Watson said as she concluded her speech. “Gender equality is your issue too.”
I hope that men stand up and recognize the importance of their participation in the pursuit of gender equality and that they make it a part of their daily lives to create a world in which men and women truly are equals.