Why I am not excited about Emma Watson’s speech at the UN

I really am not, far from actually; to be honest I am quite the opposite, I’m really don’t like it. On my newsfeed on Facebook kinda exploded with lots of praise for this British actress who stands up for feminism at the UN, as if she is the first or something. But it is not just that; it is the speech she actually gave, entirely based in a gender binary, unquestioningly enforcing the male-female sex framework, that just irritated me. Her definition of feminism, which she states as the definition of feminism, is “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” I guess I am not a feminist; well, I can count the instances that I called myself that on less than one hand, sure; yet when asked why I don’t, I guess I now have her speech to refer people to…

I thought we were making strides in thinking broader about gender equality, about gender justice; I thought some people at the UN were finally getting it – I spent my time participating in engagement with different UN agencies, with powerful transgender activists and sex workers, who tried to make them understand that gender equality is about more than male-female equality; I thought we were moving towards language that strove to be more explicitly inclusive. Here I am, thinking that the feminism that is worthwhile, that I see so strongly in the cisgender and transgender women, the sex workers, the lesbians, the women of colour, that I feel humbled to be associated with, is about more than equal opportunities, more than inequity between men and women, more than anything to do with “the sexes.” I praise those young women at SAY-F in South Africa, women of all colour, who actively engage with sex workers in an understanding that feminism, if it is to have value, should be all inclusive; they are just one example of a grassroots group that understands that gender equality is about questioning the very society that we live in.

When Ms Watson says that she “is among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, and anti-men, unattractive even“; well, no, no, yes, don’t know, yes… as in, no, her speech is far from too strong, it is kinda like lukewarm tea without the teabag; no, unless you mean that putting forward such a narrow definition of feminism is aggressive towards those who have spent a lot of time trying to create real change, then yes; and yes, it is isolating, though not in the way she thinks; anti-men? maybe, maybe not; and yes, I find such feminism and those who espouse it extremely unattractive, and I’m not talking about looks here.

When we use the words “men and women”, it automatically implies “cisgender men and women” due to the way those words have been defined for such a long time. Yes, I believe it is necessary to be explicit when talking about “all women”, and to ensure the rhetoric is nuanced and goes beyond simply spelling out how women have less economic and educational opportunities. I have yet to find a clear reference to gender based violence, to the diversity among women (apart from acknowledging that she has had it better than other women) and the huge differences in stigma, discrimination, and violence, within that group called women – cisgender, transgender, women of colour, white, poor, rich, middle-class, straight, lesbian, bisexual, married, etc. etc.

I remember reading the Harry Potter books, and rolling my eyes at Hermoine Granger starting SPEW: lets save the poor elves whether they want it or not, cause they don’t understand, don’t know, can’t understand, what is actually good for them… I just had another one of those moments, but only in real life, and because Emma Watson decided to define feminism in such a way that just ignores all those brilliant people who have worked hard to make feminism palatable for people who are more than just “women, girls, mothers, daughters”… those who face violence because of many intersecting issues, issues that are not about men and women, but about gender in the broadest sense (as well as race, class, sexuality, and all that jazz.)


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