Emma Watson Spells It Out: This Is What a Feminist Looks Like

In the Harry Potter series, it was always Hermione who mastered the spells first, and who understood how to use potions and wands and other witchy paraphernalia. And then she patiently explained it to her two adorable and often clueless schoolmate wizards, Harry and Ron.

In her more current incarnation, Emma Watson, who played Hermione in the film versions of Harry Potter, is still laying it out, plainly and unequivocally, so even the densest of us can understand it. As a Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women, Watson gave a speech at the launch of the UN’s new HeForShe campaign on September 20, and it was a masterpiece of elegant logic. Feminism has nothing to do with man-hating and everything to do with equal rights, justice, fairness.

It was so simple and so elegant, in fact, that her speech has gone viral—it received a standing ovation at the launch—generating more than five million YouTube views, and countless repostings on social media.

And of course it has generated the predictable backlash. A misogynist website reportedly threatened to reveal naked photos of her, though the threat was quickly revealed to be a hoax. Nothing like a threat—real or not—of exposing the body to put women back in their place, eh?

Feminism is undergoing a revival—not only the substance, which has always been evolving—but also the word itself, and Watson made clear that the notion that feminists hate men can finally be laid to rest.

Both women and men support the policy initiatives that one would associate with feminism: women’s right to control their bodies; equal pay for equal work; women’s right to be safe in their homes and on the streets. And while support for the goals of the movement used to be accompanied by the caveat “I’m not a feminist, but…”—remember the headline on Ms. magazine’s 25th anniversary issue? “I am a feminist—no ifs ands, or buts”—today more and more women and men are embracing the term.

And that’s what Emma Watson did: editing it slightly, claiming the conjunction, saying “I am a feminist, and…”

That “and” is really significant.  It’s “and we have to engage men to support gender equality.”

Because the chief obstacle to women achieving their full equality is so obviously the behavior and attitudes of men. I mean, you can lean in all you want, but eventually, we guys have got to move over.

The goal of the HeForShe campaign is to engage men for gender equality. It’s simple. Obviously, gender equality is right and fair. It is in full keeping with the ethical mandates of a democratic society, to eliminate discrimination and prejudice and enable individuals to live freer and happier lives.

The HeForShe campaign is determined to get one billion— that’s billion with a “b”—men to pledge to support women’s equality by going to their website and clicking a button that adds their name to the growing list.

A daunting task. And certainly worthy. But equally certainly not enough.

That point was driven home by another speaker at the HeForShe launch, Gary Barker, global co-chair of MenEngage, a coalition of nearly 400 NGOs around the world whose mission it is to engage men to support gender equality in campaigns for reproductive health and rights, education, engaged fatherhood and ending men’s violence.

Barker insisted that supporting gender equality involved more than going to a website and signing up. It means more than a click, a social media post, a “like.” It means acting—interrupting, intervening and challenging other men, and also supporting other men when they disrupt, intervene or challenge. To walk your talk.  To live your “like.”

When Emma Watson speaks, millions upon millions of girls and young women listen. We all should. And then we have to act.

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Michael Kimmel is among the leading researchers and writers on men and masculinity in the world today. He is distinguished professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University, where he directs the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities.