Have you accepted Emma Watson as your personal hero? Because I certainly have, and it's not because she portrayed Hermione Granger in Harry Potter. Not only has Watson gone on record as being a feminist, but she is a feminist of the most active kind. Using her role as the Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women, the actress has been speaking up against sexism and calling for gender equality in countries across the world. Her latest stint in activism came at the World Economic Forum, where Watson gave a speech about gender equality as a follow-up to her infamous launch of the He for She campaign. And, once again, she made points of immense importance to the world.
In her speech, Watson worked to launch a new campaign called the IMPACT 10X10X10 initiative. "It's about engaging governments, businesses, and universities, and having them make concrete commitments to gender equality. But I want to hear from the human beings that are behind these organizations. I spoke about some of my story in September. What are your stories?"
She then followed this up by asking questions that would encourage those stories to come. And the thing is, those questions are so important. It's so important that Watson not only launched the campaign, but is following up on it — that she is reflecting the progress that they have made so far and looking to make even more progress by making this as personal an experience for each person as possible. That she wants to hear your stories, and to incorporate them into how the campaign works moving forward.
Above all, the questions she is asking raise issues that we all need to address in order to answer them. Let's examine the how.
Question: Who have been your mentors?
How We Can Answer It: I can't stress the importance of women having mentors enough. However, mentors doesn't just mean women supporting women in life, the way Lorde immediately stood up for Taylor Swift against disparaging remarks from Diplo. Women supporting women is a thing of great importance, but your mentor doesn't always have to be someone you know. Seeing strong female characters on TV, like Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreation, Olivia Pope of Scandal, and Peggy Carter of Agent Carter, can inspire women to grow to become just like their TV mentors. We need more female characters on TV to inspire girls and women across the world. We need more women supporting each other.
Question: Did you make sure you treated your children equally? If so, how have you done it?
How We Can Answer It: Gender inequality is a learned bias. In the pilot episode of Empire, Lucious Lyon responded to his son coming down the stairs in his mother's heels by taking him outside and throwing him in the garbage. And I don't even need to talk about how internalized misogyny is a real thing. Boys and girls aren't born with the innate knowledge of what they can and can't do, can and can't like, or can and can't wear; they pick up these cues from parents, other children, and society. Telling boys they can't play with Barbies, and girls that they're "pretty" (compared to boys receiving compliments more like "strong"), shows gender bias. If we can dispel these biases while children are growing up, we can work toward a more feminist future.
Question: Have you been supporting your female partner privately so that she can fulfill her dreams, too?
How We Can Answer It: Nowhere is this core tenant of feminism better displayed in pop culture than in the recent breakup of Nicki Minaj and Safaree Samuels. According to Samuels, "Everyone around her works for her, you know? ... It got to the point where I was being treated like an employee, instead of like her man." Lack of support can be one of the factors that contribute to the end of a relationship, and a relationship where the two people involved don't feel equal is a relationship that isn't built to last. If your wife wants to be a housewife, or if they want to be something else, husbands need to support them either way.
Question: Have you spoke up in a conversation when a woman was casually degraded or dismissed? How did this affect you? How did this affect the women you stood up for?
How We Can Answer It: This is a tricky subject that's difficult to navigate. As Björk said, "Everything a guy says once, [a woman has] to say five times." This is shown in the fact that it took a stand-up routine by Hannibal Buress to validate the claims of the dozens of women who had accused Bill Cosby of sexually assaulting them before the public finally listened. It's important to stand against sexism if you are a male, and even more important to realize that a woman does not necessarily need you to swoop in and be her hero. Stand up because feminism is something you believe in, not because you're expecting anything but to do what's right.
Question: Have you mentored, supported or engaged women in leadership positions?
How We Can Answer It: It is 2015 and the glass ceiling is still a thing. There were no women nominated in the Best Director category at the 2015 Oscars, proving that there are few women behind the scenes in filmmaking and even fewer women being recognized for their contributions. It seems like society collectively decided that women could be equal as workers (as long as they're not paid the same as men), but had to fight and scrape and deal with a lot of disappointment when it came to actually being in charge. This is something that needs to change, and fast.
Question: Have you challenged the language and imagery used to portray women in the media?
How We Can Answer It: From the way the world reacted to the celebrity nude picture leak to the way they responded to Kim Kardashian's Paper Magazine cover, Watson is absolutely correct in the fact that the language used to describe women needs to change. For every negative trait a man and a woman can share, there is a more negative word for the female than the male (see player/slut). Let's flip the script, people.
Question: Have you implemented the women's empowerment principles in your own company? What change have you seen?
How We Can Answer It: The more men — as CEOs are mostly male — who implement principals of female empowerment in their companies, the more women can break through the glass ceiling into leadership positions. The more female empowerment there is in the work place, the more equal our society will be. All of these questions and ideas serve to build a brighter future for both genders, and I can only hope Watson's audience takes these thought points to heart. Check out the speech below.
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