Gender Inequality

Commentary: #HeForShe

Emma Watson is in the hot seat for her views on gender inequality.

Dear Reader, if you’ve been living under a rock – or perhaps under a bridge – you might have missed Emma’s gender equality speech in the UN this past Saturday. If so, I’ve included it here for your convenience. Please take the thirteen minutes to watch this if you haven’t seen it:

Now, before I comment on the speech itself, let me talk a bit about my own position in this matter.

Growing up, I was surrounded by a lot of strong, varied – sometimes stereotypical – role models: everything from politically active and outspoken women, real ‘man’s man’ working men, successful business leaders, self-sacrificing house wives, artists and musicians, bikers, gay florists, sailors, dedicated teachers, farmers and entrepreneurs – native Swedes as well as immigrants from a wide variety of countries. Most of the women around me were far from the soft spoken, demure, submissive stereotype (naturally – few women belong to that stereotype). As such, I’ve never really felt the gender stereotypes to be as powerful and cemented in as they obviously are in the world. Almost every company I’ve been employed by have had equal salaries and a fair amount of women in at least lower to middle management. Part of it is growing up in the capital of one of the most gender equal countries in the world, I’m sure – part of it is being raised in a family of strong, outspoken, confident women. Even so, I’ve been surrounded by the objectification of women and the idea of gender stereotypes, as well as gender prejudice. It’s hard not to, in modern society.

To me, gender equality has always been a given, yet I have been loathe to call myself a feminist.

As Emma mentions in her speech, the word has lost a lot of its meaning to many people, and has been infected by the male-bashing, man-hating side of the issue. There are many, many different types of feminism out there today and many of them can’t agree with one another. Some are of the ‘men are scum’-type of opinion, some deny any biological differences between the genders, some want to preserve gender stereotypes but create equal opportunity, some want to eliminate gender altogether, some want forced equality on all levels, some want freedom of choice – and everything in between. At this point, the statement ‘I’m a feminist’ is just not enough – depending on who you speak to, they will assume very different things about you.

Our various societies and cultures still have a very long way to go before we reach anything resembling true gender equality. Some cultures and nations are a lot closer to it than others, like my own native Sweden. But even those countries have a long way to go. And gender inequality doesn’t just affect women. However, if you speak out about the negative effects on men you become an instant target. Men are the privileged ones, after all. Shining a light on their problems is just diverting from the real issue, and – according to some – just another way of oppressing women. I couldn’t disagree more. The fact that men also suffer under gender inequality does not in any way diminish or invalidate the struggles of women! On the contrary – it adds to the problem and it needs to be discussed. By everyone.

Much like Emma Watson, I’m speaking from a point of privilege – does that make us less qualified?

Emma Watson has gotten some critique for just that – her privilege. Some have seen a petite, prettied-up young wealthy white woman speak in a quivering voice and felt that this somehow diminishes her message. They see a woman ‘appealing to men’ and fitting into a stereotype that they are fighting against. To me, they couldn’t be more wrong.

The fight against gender inequality needs all of us.

A privileged rich young woman speaking out in this way, to this crowd, will likely have a greater impact than if it had been a child bride from some third world country up there on the podium. People listen to, and respond to, those within their own group first and foremost. I’ll be the first to admit that I wouldn’t have been as affected by the speech had it been a young oppressed African girl recently escaped from a slave-like marriage. Not because I do not value her experience, but because I cannot identify as much with her. This is not due to prejudice or arrogance – it is only natural to listen more closely to the group you identify with the most. It is basic survival and human interaction 101: you need a cohesive group to accomplish anything, and the opinions of those closest to you mean the most.

Like attracts like.

Yes, we need oppressed women of color speaking out against gender prejudice – but this does not mean that we don’t need people like Emma Watson. Gender equality is not about separation, segregation or an ‘us against them’-mentality. It’s about inclusion. We need good role models speaking out from all walks of life – all genders, all social standings, all occupations, all cultures.

We need Everyone.