The Response to HeForShe

emma

By Isabella Crane 

 

It has been about a week since Emma Watson gave her widely acclaimed speech in support of the campaign “HeforShe”, a ‘solidarity movement’ of the United Nations that promotes worldwide rights for women. Since then, Emma has received a wave of online response articles, many impassioned letters, multiple death warnings and threats to her privacy. All of which, you might argue, could not have been totally unanticipated by any movie-star turned social campaigner. However, what I find incredibly frustrating is that even many of the articles supporting Emma retain a condescending attitude and uphold a tendency to focus on the irrelevant details of her speech, such as her clothing. Given that these are all responses to a speech about gender equality, the irony would be laughable if the situation weren’t quite so serious.

Let us start with a few recent online blog and newspaper titles that address my point exactly.

 Her Voice Might Tremble, But Emma Watson’s Message Is Strong And Clear

Upworthy.com

She means business! Emma Watson is smart and sophisticated in belted white coat dress at UN event 

Dailymail.co.uk

Emma Watson hits a high note with gender equality speech – and her wardrobe choices

Telegraph.co.uk

The most obvious issue here is the focus on Emma’s personal appearance as opposed to her campaign. While I have no doubts as to the excellent quality of Dior’s new collection, the fact that Emma chose to wear one of their items really has no relation to the HeforShe movement or to the UN in general. You would think that an issue of such paramount importance as women’s rights would merit more pertinent questioning than ‘where one might go to acquire a similar belt’, but clearly that’s hoping for too much. What’s worse is that this misdirection of focus is almost entirely exclusive to women. Think about it. Had David Cameron given the same speech, it’s difficult to imagine his personal appearance topping any headlines.

To pick a more specific example, take the Daily Mail. Here, a brief, passing reference was made somewhere in the first paragraph to HeforShe before the reader was moved briskly on to what was clearly the focus of the article: Emma’s two dresses. It’s so far from containing anything revalent that one cannot help but wonder whether or not the journalist has ever even watched Emma’s speech. It’s quite possibly the most depressing piece of reporting I’ve ever read. To me, it’s simply a disgusting reflection of how ingrained sexism has become in society that ‘slips’ like these go practically unnoticed. Other articles have used similarly patronising language in relation to the young actress, saying she ‘hits a high note’ and her ‘voice might tremble’. The intention may be kindliness, but the conveyance is belittling.

Equally degrading to Emma was a website created shortly after her speech, entitled ‘emmawatsonyouarenext.com’ (no I’m not joking), which threatened to post intimate photos of Emma. The creation of the website and their right to post this content is a whole issue in itself, however the fact that it was created as a response to her speech is just ridiculous. The idea that leaked photos would in some way hamper the validity of her argument, or her right to represent women, is irrational and unfair. Even if the photos were real, in this case what relevance does her private life have to the power of her message? There is no connection between those two things. We shouldn’t even be talking about it, or if we must, it shouldn’t be in connection to HeforShe.

emma2

Fortunately, it’s not all people who think this way by any means. Hundreds of men and women have expressed their whole-hearted support for Emma and the HeforShe campaign for all the right reasons. But, nevertheless, what these examples have shown is how serious low-level sexism is – not just in the case of celebrities – but also in the lives of women everywhere. We need to eradicate these ‘small’ and repeated recurrences of prejudice if we ever want to move towards social change or hope to achieve equal opportunity.

 

Photos Taken From UN Women on Flickr

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