IS EMMA WATSON THE MOST IMPORTANT FEMINIST OF THE 21ST CENTURY?

August 29, 2016

Beatrix Payge

emma watson

Emma Watson, who is best known for playing Hermione Granger in Harry Potter, is arguably one of the most well-known women on the planet. One of her most defining moments in the past few years was her HeForShe speech given after she was named a United Nations Women Goodwill Ambassador in 2014. The speech called on men to step up and join the feminist movement, as it affects them too. It received widespread support on social media and from fellow celebrities, including Benedict Cumberbatch, Harry Styles, Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne.

Initially, the speech was applauded. Many people, such as Joanna Robinson in her piece for Vanity Fair, titled ‘Watch Emma Watson Deliver a Game-Changing Speech on Feminism’, saw Watson as a ‘game changer’ for feminism. The speech, and Watson herself, went viral. She was commended for bringing feminism to her many fans, and for using her platform to positively influence and instigate change in society. By calling on men to get involved, Watson aimed to abolish the traditional ‘us vs. them’ mentality that exists around feminism, and the media in particular seemed to agree with this, and believed that Watson could be heralding in a new era.

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However, not all of the feedback was positive. Watson received a fair amount of criticism, particularly from some feminist writers from across the world. The main criticism was that Watson is not a good representative of intersectional feminism. In her article for Black Girl Dangerous, ‘Why I’m Not Really Here for Emma Watson’s Feminism Speech’, Mia McKenzie discusses this. She says that while Watson obviously has good intentions, her speech seemed to be saying that the only reason men hadn’t got involved in the feminist movement so far was because they hadn’t been invited by women. McKenzie also thinks that it’s troubling that people who are in positions of power and privilege, such as Watson who is wealthy and white, are the ones who are celebrated most by the media. By focusing on men, McKenzie believes that Watson may be leaving out those who are most oppressed, for example, women of colour. McKenzie does say that Watson’s heart is in the right place, but she’ll need to keep learning and growing as a feminist.

Another writer, Amy McCarthy, said in her article ‘Sorry Privileged White Ladies, But Emma Watson Isn’t a ‘Game Changer’ for Feminism’ that it was disappointing that Watson was pandering to the patriarchy by making feminism more palatable to those who do not need the movement. She said that the pay gap statistics used by Watson in her speech only referred to white men and women, and excluded women of colour, who earn about 14 per cent less than white women, or Latina women, who earn about 25 per cent less. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, because the same thing can be seen as pandering to the masses, that is including men and these statistics, is also the same thing that she was and has been celebrated for.

Since giving her speech a couple of years ago, Watson has continued to be seen as a feminist icon of the 21st century. She has continued to campaign and be an activist for the movement, extending into work with charities, the fair-trade movement, and environmental activism.

The controversy surrounding the U.N. speech has died down, and Watson has taken a year off acting to start her own book club on Goodreads, where she chooses various self-help and feminist books. It seems she is taking McKenzie’s advice, and is using the year to learn and grow as a person.

Just like any other feminist, Watson has strengths and weaknesses. While she may still have a lot to learn, I don’t think anyone can criticise her for using her position of power to raise awareness for a cause that most definitely needs more awareness.

– Beatrix Payge

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