Emma Watson’s Crusade Against Misogyny and Gender Stereotypes

Emma-Watson

Malgré des progrès notables au cours du siècle dernier, l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes n’est toujours pas acquise. Dans certains pays, tel le Royaume-Uni, les lois discriminant les individus selon leur sexe ont été certes abolies, mais dans les faits les inégalités persistent. C’est pour faire bouger les choses et impliquer les hommes dans ce combat qu’Emma Watson, ambassadrice de HeForShe, a décidé de prendre la parole à l’ONU.

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On the 20th of September 2014, Emma Watson delivered a speech at the United Nations headquarters in New York to denounce gender inequalities. Indeed, she was appointed UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador six months ago and she launched the HeForShe campaign, which calls on men to act in favour of equality. Still today some countries like Saudi Arabia do not allow women to vote. But even if discriminatory laws have been abolished in many countries, gender inequalities persist. For instance, only one in five British MPs is a woman. More than one million women suffer domestic violence and 85,000 are raped in Britain each year.

In her speech, Emma Watson says she regards herself as a feminist, but highlights the fact that feminism is often a misunderstood word. It has become synonymous with man-hating. However, by definition, feminism is “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities”. And that goal can’t be achieved without the involvement of men, which is what the HeForShe campaign is all about.

But it isn’t so easy for men to be feminists: gender stereotypes do not only affect women. Men are expected to be bold, manly, even macho, and if they aren’t, they run the risk of being excluded or worse. In of our sexist society, “suicide has become the biggest killer of men between 20 and 49”, Watson noted. As a consequence, HeForShe is not only a campaign against misogyny, it also fights gender stereotypes, in order to free people.

The speech raised much support among boys and men, including Barack Obama, Ban Ki-Moon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt or Matt Damon. Unfortunately, Emma Watson also received threats from the 4Chan website.

Emma Watson is the heiress to a long tradition of UK feminism, who were at the forefront of the equal rights struggle.

Emmeline Pankrust, a British women’s right activist, helped found, in October 1903, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), an organisation campaigning for women’s suffrage in the UK. It gained momentum for its activities and its members were the first to be called ‘suffragettes‘. They took part in several hunger strikes, which led to their arrest and  the vote of the ‘Cat and Mouse Act‘ (suffragettes were released until they regained their strength and were then re-arrested).

emmelineEmmeline Pankrust

Although, the period of militancy had to stop suddenly because of the outbreak of war in 1914, the Representation of the People Act was passed four years later, granting women over 30, who had enough property, the right to vote. However, it only represented 40% of the total female population in the UK. It also extended men’s suffrage to the right to vote over the age of 21, and abolished most property qualifications for men. There was a striking inequality between men and women. It was not until the Equal franchise Act of 1928, shortly after Emmeline’s death, that women over 21 were finally able to vote and obtain the same rights as men.

Nevertheless, gender inequality remained a substantial issue. On June 7th 1968, 187 women sewing-machinists at Ford Dagenham went on strike against unequal treatment. They had been placed in the union’s B grade of unskilled workers while men, who did the same level of work, were placed in the semi-skilled C grade. They were also paid only 85% of the male rate. They were joined by 195 women from another Ford plant in England. Secretary of State Barbara Castle undertook their cause to end the strike. The women were awarded a pay increase. Yet, they had to strike again in 1984 to solve the re-grading issue, when they officially became skilled workers. Thanks to those women, the UK’s Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970, which says that separate pay scales for men and women based on their sex is prohibited. In 2010, a movie adaptation was directed by Nigel Cole. It certainly shows that in spite of recent progress, gender stereotypes still have to be fought head on. HeForShe takes on this very task.

Claire ALVES & Emeline CARPENTIER

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