Occasionally something happens in the world that gets so much buzz it seems to be talked about everywhere. Last week, that included Emma Watson’s address to the UN about her new campaign He for She. Articles with clips to the video were all over Facebook—being posted by the news sources I regularly read and reposted by friends who were excited about it. A few friends at work were talking about it at a meeting the next morning—numerous people said they played the video in class.
But not all of the talk was positive.
First, there was the ridiculous response which included threats that 4chan would leak nude photos of Watson as “punishment” for her feminism. Although this appears to have been a hoax, it served mostly to prove the point that there continues to be a need for feminism. This negativity only makes me want to support Watson even more.
Some of other not-so-positive responses have come from within the feminist movement. These are the responses that have given me some pause and have made me wonder how we can do better as a movement to find ways to support multiple feminist perspectives and inroads.
Don’t get me wrong. I think there is a lot of merit in most of the criticism. First, I wholeheartedly agree with concerns about Watson's lack of recognition of intersections of identity and criticism about racism within the feminist movement. I am glad that so many people celebrated Watson’s speech, but do think the contrast of public responses to Emma Watson and responses to Beyoncé is disturbing. Despite Beyoncé's numerous public displays of her support for feminism, she has been met with almost endless responses criticizing and minimizing her.
I also appreciated critiques of Watson’s “formal invitation” encouraging men to join the movement, as though men have just been waiting around to get word that they are welcome...
I think it is important for us to be willing and able to engage in self-reflection and offer constructive criticism. But I want to see that happening in a way that supports voices and encourages people to go further, rather than approaches that simply criticize and dismiss.
Yes, it seems so basic for Emma Watson to tell the UN the true definition of feminism. But, as much as I wish it were not true, many stereotypes about feminism persist. If there is anything we have learned from social media campaigns, it is that some people continue to believe the stereotypes. Feminism by many is considered the "F-Word." A little clarification about it can't hurt. For some, Watson's speech was exactly what they needed to hear.
I am a feminist, an activist, and a psychologist. Each of these parts of my self inform the work I do. In this case, I think it is my training as a therapist and teacher that has helped me the most. I accept the fact that people are not all in the same place. They haven’t had the same experiences, and may not all be open to the same messages. If I want to reach as many ears, minds, and hearts as possible I have to be willing to meet people where they are.
Look, I get it. I get frustrated too when men say they can’t be feminist or they are not welcome in feminist spaces. Yes, sometimes that is just a BS cop-out for men who would rather not risk losing any privilege in the process of examining inequality.
But sometimes men say that because it is their very real experience of the world. Now, maybe that is their experience because FOX news told them feminists hate men. And maybe they have been told that they are unwelcome in some women-only spaces. Or maybe that is their experience because they are so used to having male privilege that the discomfort they feel when they enter a room of powerful women is so foreign to them they assume that they are unwelcome in the space. But whatever the reason, getting pissed off at the men who don’t feel welcome probably isn’t helping. Instead, welcome them into the dialogue. Then discuss why exactly it is they needed a personal invitation. And talk about how it feels to experience privilege. And talk about how it is reinforcing stereotypes to expect women to provide a safe and emotionally supportive space in which to have these conversations. And then call on those men to invite more men into the movement. I am not saying that we shouldn’t challenge the assumptions that may accompany a request for an invitation—I’m just saying that we may still have to extend to the invitation for anyone to show up to the party.
I am so grateful for organizations, magazines, and individual scholars/activists who push me and challenge me to grow in my own feminist awareness. Sometimes I need to be in a space where people accept feminism as a given and offer important critiques to keep the movement moving forward. These spaces energize, motivate, and inspire me!
But--introvert that I am-- I want to see those spaces grow. I want more people to come to the table, to engage in important conversations about inequality, and to find a home in the feminist movement.
Maybe our journeys won't all look the same, but when our paths cross I hope we find ways to help each other along. Challenge, support, invite, make uncomfortable, welcome, critique, celebrate-every one of us needs each of these things at different points.
So, can we PLEASE stop insisting that everyone’s feminism has to look the same? I mean, isn’t that kinda part of the goal here? To create a world where people get to be themselves, instead of only having access to resources and social capital if they fit into some cookie cutter mold that the patriarchal system finds to be appealing? How in the world can we possibly dismantle this system if we are insisting there is only one “right” way to do it?
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.