By Stephen Klehm
In September, Emma Watson gave a speech at the United Nations in New York, arguing against the common definition of feminism and asking men to take a stand for gender equality.
The speech and its subsequent campaign, He for She, received almost immediate attention from the media. The first reaction for many was applause. However, Facebook comments and published articles criticizing the campaign soon began to appear.
Both men and women pointed out that, although Watson’s speech acknowledged the existential problems men face regarding inequality, He for She’s name itself exemplifies a one-sidedness: a promise of equality and a promise broken. At best, these people argue that the campaign is an incomplete work, insufficiently tackling the problems of men and boys. At worst, they argue it’s a hypocritical scheme of radical feminism. Therefore, many either refrain from a wholehearted support of the movement, or actively oppose it.
I am a strong supporter of He for She.
When I first watched Watson’s speech, I was delighted to find a form of feminism that isn’t misandrist, or “man-hating” as Watson put it. I wasn’t looking for a movement to address male-limiting cultural norms. I don’t believe Watson’s pointing out of the sexual victimhood of men was to imply a promise to advocate men. I don’t believe it has to. That would be the job of She for He, a movement that currently doesn’t exist.
What many are looking for and are upset to not find in He for She is a movement that emphasizes gender equality for both sexes. However, they don’t criticize the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights organization, for not advocating discrimination against heterosexuals. I think it’s OK for men to have a movement standing up for women. The fact that a movement isn’t trying to fix all of the problems in the world isn’t a good reason to oppose it.
Some would say that my support of He for She is simply the result of an impressionable, young man being dazzled by an attractive actress to support a cause in the hope of receiving kudos from girls, kudos that might later be exchanged for sexual favors. And the reason for the male celebrities’ support is simply publicity, as if those are the only reasons a guy would call himself a feminist. The truth is some men have the character to support a one-sided gender equality movement. At least, that’s the way men like me, who call ourselves He for Shes, see it.
Feminism for Millennials is different than it was for our parents and grandparents. We don’t remember a time when the average woman wasn’t expected to pursue a career, let alone given the right to vote. Many guys like myself have perceived feminism as an old battle that’s already been won with warriors who won’t go home.
We see modern feminists as angry women who feel men deserve to be punished for simply existing. Emma Watson, at least for me, changed that. She’s a Millennial, she’s well articulated and she’s not blaming all men for these problems, but asking for our help in fixing them. That’s something I can do.