Some brief thoughts on Emma Watson UN Speech on #HeForShe  

I was interviewed by BBC Radio Tees this morning on whether feminism is necessary following Emma Watson’s speech to the UN. I spoke with a male journalist (who clearly doesn’t like feminists) and Angela Epstein who has made a career out of belittling feminism. These are the notes I wrote just before the interview:

Reasons for Feminism:


  1. 2 women a week are murdered by current or former partners – this does not include homicides perpetrated by extended family members including fathers and brothers.
  2. 40 women an hour are raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  3. Women and children are the vast majority of victims and refugees of war yet are very rarely represented at national and international peace agreements.
  4. 150 women a day are turned away from refuges in the UK due to lack of space.
  5. Women are more likely to suffer ill health and death due to male violence than they are to die from cancer, heart disease and car accidents.
  6. Women still earn less than men for the same work – this gap is wider for Women of Colour.
  7. Last year, a 13 year old girl was labelled “sexually predatory” in all her actions by the attorney responsible for prosecuting her perpetrator of sexual assault – an appalling breach of her human rights which only got national attention due to the work of Ending Victimisation and Blame
  8. 1400 girls were sexually abused, raped and trafficked in Rotherham whilst the police, social services, CPS, and schools did nothing. The media has reported this as if it was a one-off event rather than simply an exemplar of what is happening to girls across the UK every day in places like Nottingham, York and Sheffield
  9. Jimmy Savile was allowed to continue sexually assaulting and raping hundreds of young girls and boys whilst working for the BBC and engaged in “charity work”. He was given his own rooms in hospitals. Staff everywhere knew and no one stepped up to support the children.

More obviously, feminism is important because a young woman stood up in front of an international audience and said women are equal to men. For this, she has had threats of sexual violence through the theft and release of private images and all manner of abuse. This is why feminism is necessary – because women have no right to an opinion in the public sphere.

Reasons for feminism pertaining directly to Emma Watson:

  1. The threat to release of photos of Watson nude which have been stolen and then released publicly: this is sexual violence
  2. Count down clock to Watson being “legal”
  3. the fact that the Daily Mail published an article on her outfit rather than the speech


My issues with Watson’s speech:

  • no practical advise on how to change,
  • very little structural analysis: remains embedded in neoliberal discourse on choice
  • the word feminism is important. There is a reason why that word is derided and insulted – it’s because the word has power. It makes it clear why women are trapped in continuing cycles of poverty, male violence and child-bearing and rearing,
  • Watson calls for men’s inclusion but ignores why men do not want to support women’s rights as it challenges their power,
  • real male allies do not need to be coaxed into clicking a button on a website. They are already doing the work by reading and listening to feminists and then putting their knowledge into practise by supporting women’s liberation,
  • We need to stop stroking men’s egos and worrying about their feelings. We’ve had 10 000 years of human history where women have been raped, tortured and murdered. Men have the power to change this and have chosen not too. We need to stop focusing on being inclusive to men and start actively challenging them,
  • This statement is odd: “If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled”
    • Women aren’t compelled to be submissive, they have no choice. Men do have a choice to be controlling and they make the choice to engage in this behaviour within the home and within the public sphere. Men absolutely do suffer because of gendered stereotypes but we need to be clear that men who use violence are making a choice to do so – if we think otherwise, we insult all the men who make the choice to act like a decent human being.

I do have criticisms of Watson’s speech but more importantly, I am dancing with joy that she stood up in front of an international audience and said women are equal to men. As a mother of members of the Harry Potter generation, I am ecstatic by this speech. As a feminist, I am happy that Watson stood up and defended women. I do have concerns about her speech, particularly the idea that we don’t need the word feminism, but I am so fucking glad she made it.

Here’s a great post from Clementine Ford on Watson’s speech.

2 thoughts on “Some brief thoughts on Emma Watson UN Speech on #HeForShe  ”

  1. I thought that Watson’s speech was well-judged for people who are uninitiated with feminism. Your critique above is perfectly valid, but I still think that there is some value in the beginnings of a potential culture change starting moderately. To ask men to make a radical 360 would perhaps be to risk further denigration of the concept of feminism and the unfair labelling of left wing and radical feminists as lunatics. Maybe evolution not revolution is the answer. I think something else worthy of discussion is the idiotic and demeaning depiction of the speech in the British press:

  2. While I might concur that it is not the business of women and feminist movement to “stroke men’s egos and worry about their feelings.”, if the intention these men are to relinquish their total control over society and women, there is a need to do more than rely on men who are already allies. Unfortunately the male allies are a very small number and are insignificant in comparison with the numbers of men who are either indifferent or committed to maintaining the status quo. If after a century and more of feminism, still only a very small minority of men can be considered allies, the future is very bleak.

    Current feminism’s strategy has one central weakness in the developed world and that is it almost total dependency upon men to create wealth and share it with women via taxation, and women’s dependency upon existing, and thus inherently patriarchal, organisations for employment.

    The route to equality and thus freedom for women must surely be through a strategy of disengagement with the patriarchy, institutionally and individually, and the creation of a self-sustaining social order. Only when women are able to generate sufficient resources to be wholly independent of men, and therefore able to engage with them on an equal basis. To illustrate the point men contribute via taxation 72% of NHS funding, yet women consume 85%+ of NHS services. Only when women contribute as much as they consume can they be free of the patriarchy.

    Until such times as women do create this parallel self-sustaining feminist entity, they will remain effectively vassals of the patriarchy. Reforms to patriarchal institutions from within are always vulnerable to men’s reactionary strategies and their capacity to knock away the foundations simply by refusing to cooperate.

    The incessant focus upon the number of female CEO’s is reflective of the fundamental weakness of feminism and its obsession with bourgeoise metrics of success. Were we to demand equality at all levels and in all spheres, and to deploy a viable strategy to achieve it, then the possibility to end dependency on men might be achievable.
    Emma Watson’s speech is run through with the same middle class niceties that we have come to expect from current feminism. It is the language of the collaborators, who pander to men’s egos and sensitivities because they remain as dependent on the patriarchy as their great-grandmothers were. They even rely upon Edwardian stereotypes to describe women, and men, and lobby for public funding.

    Your pet cat may frolic about with aparent freedom, but she is wholly dependent on you to open the tin and spoon the food into the bowl. Let to fend for herself for a few days and she would either go hungry or search out another beneficent person to feed her. Your cat isn’t really free, she’s your pet. Until women are able to sustain themselves, they will always remain men’s “pets”!

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