By Sinéad O’Ferrall (@SineadOFGH)
Emma Watson is the face of the UN’s new campaign #HeforShe which is attempting to address gender inequality. The introduction to the campaign was “it is a solidarity movement, a partnership between women and men based on a shared commitment to fight against persisting inequalities faced by women and girls.” But what about the inequalities faced by men and boys? Where is their campaign?
Between 2011 and 2020,140 million girls will have been married by the time they are 18, 50 million of these by the age of 15. 62 million girls around the world are not in school. But the inequalities are not only present in situations that can be measured, they are also embedded in the culture of every country. Women taking charge are labelled as bossy, while men are labelled leaders. Women are seen as inadequate if they don’t want children or if they want a career and children. Women are constantly judged on their appearance instead of their performance. For example, after Emma Watson’s UN speech there was almost as much discussion on Facebook and various discussion boards about her outfit as her actual speech. There is no doubt women are discriminated and victimised due to their gender.
But this is also true for men. Men who cry or show emotion are called weak, yet suicide is a leading cause of death among men aged 15-44. Men who want to be ‘stay at home dads’ are seen to be lesser than the ones who go to work full time. There are many times men are disadvantaged based on their gender. But no sub-section of the UN is dedicated to men’s rights.
For too long, we have focused on promoting women’s rights as a way to achieve gender equality, but that has led to an anti-male sentiment. It has given birth to the concept that to achieve women’s rights we must overcome men, that they are the enemy that must be defeated. According to Emma Watson’s speech, Feminism is defined as “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”. But in modern usages and when googled, feminism is defined as “The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”.
But this is the problem of gender equality talks, they focus on women’s rights to achieve equality without addressing the men’s rights also. Men may not be discriminated in the same way, but they too can be subject to significant disadvantages. They deserve to be treated fairly. In fact, to achieve equality, they must be treated fairly. The constant focus on women’s rights automatically disadvantages men. The gender equality discussion currently is all about promoting women; in school, in the workplace, and in society as a whole. But this defies the concept of equality.
For example, to promote women in the workplace, a company must maintain a certain percentage of women on the staff list. This means a man might miss out on a job because a woman must be chosen based on her gender. This is not gender equality but discrimination of both genders. The best person for the job should be chosen, gender irrelevant. To pick a woman because she is woman is just as sexist as to not pick her for being a woman. But this is what having a one sided view of gender equality has led to.
While Emma Watson’s definition is a much nicer and perhaps more ideal one – it is not what is carried out today. Feminism has become synonymous with man-hating or that women are better than men. We’re not. If we are fighting for equality we should be fighting for both men and women – for them to have the opportunity to fulfil their lives to the maximum and not be held back due to gender discrimination.
This campaign is calling for men to stand up for women and their rights. I say brilliant. Let them fight for our rights alongside us. But who is fighting for the men? For all those men who struggle with suicidal thoughts, who suffer from prostate cancer or who want to be a ‘stay at home’ dad and let his wife be the bread-winner, who is fighting for them?
So much attention is given to women’s health. We, because of our female biology, have a lot of specific health concerns that need to be focused on. But so do men. Also a lot of the typical issues that are linked to women’s rights also affect men; domestic abuse, violence, sexual assault,rape and bullying. Yet any discussion on these extremely serious topics is always from the perspective of ‘male perpetrator, female victim’. This limited view of gender equality issues is, at best, futile but more realistically it is actually detrimental to progress.
When I researched the campaign and studied Emma Watson’s very inspiring speech I began to question its progressiveness. Was it truly empowering men or was it only empowering men enough to benefit women? She wisely quotes a few statistics on challenges men face but she never calls women to stand up for men. She invites men to fight for their mothers, sisters, and daughters. I would have loved if then she called all women to fight for their fathers, brothers, and sons. There is a need to get a true open two way dialogue going.
When I first heard about the #HeforShe campaign I was excited. I thought finally men and women will be discussed equally in the arena of gender equality. The UN’s new scheme #HeforShe is addressing the anti-male tendencies of feminist movements and pushing back. It is exciting, innovating and tangible. But is it enough? The feminist movement only addresses one half of the gender equality discussion, so while this campaign addresses an important issue of women’s rights, it falls short of addressing the bigger issue of gender inequality.
To view Emma Watson address to the UN for yourselves follow this link:
To read more about the #HeforShe campaign, check out:
For an interesting take on this topic, have a look at this cartoon: