Calling for an Inclusive Feminist Movement

On September 20, 2014, Emma Watson delivered a speech at the United Nations General Assembly centered on gender equality. Dispelling entrenched views that feminism "is synonymous with man-hating," Emma Watson proclaimed that "feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities." I watched, enthralled, as she shifted the focus to men, elaborating how men too were "insecure about what constitutes male success" and "imprisoned by gender stereotypes." Urging men to jump on the women's empowerment bandwagon, she amplified a critical message: the feminist movement's success pivots on the solidarity of both men and women.

As Emma Watson voiced her declaration that "we must strive for a united world," I started to mull over the fact that while women may be united in past and ongoing struggles toward empowerment, any mission of safeguarding gender equality requires confronting varying circumstances and histories. Because feminism invariably intersects with other social movements, the many nuances within the feminist umbrella blockade a common, "one-size-fits-all" trajectory toward women's empowerment.

For example, any endeavor to reduce the global gender wage gap must follow a recognition of the fact that ethnic minority women face worse prospects of equal pay than their Asian or white counterparts, and that this disparity is a corollary of institutionalized racial discrimination. To end sexual violence, we must acknowledge the harrowing statistics positing that trans women face higher rates of sexual assault, and the atmosphere of transphobia that it intimates. To curb the harassment of women over religious dress codes, we must be cognizant of historical and existing hostility to religious groups. Campaigns addressing eating disorders must be inclusive of women of all body sizes; songs aiming to promote healthy body image must avoid "fat-shaming" or "skinny-shaming." Gender cannot be divorced from race, sexuality, religious or socio-economic backgrounds, and the feminist movement must be accommodating to this intersectionality.

Beyond this, I think we have to realize it isn't just women who collectively face the harmful reverberations of sexist attitudes so deeply ingrained in the fabric of society. Frequently dubbed "women's issues" like rape and eating disorders undoubtedly affect men as well, and we must know that in turning a blind eye to the fact that men experience these problems or labeling these cases singular exceptions, we ignore the unsettling reality that men, too, bear the brunt of harmful patriarchal structures. Since the feminist movement itself stems from a global failure to acknowledge the broader inclusion of women, it is only just that we realize the wider implications of these "women's issues."

During her speech at the UN General Assembly, Emma Watson introduced the world to HeForShe, a solidarity campaign for gender equality that "brings together one half of humanity in support of the other half of humanity, for the entirety of humanity." In addition to encouraging men to champion gender equality, I believe we must extend the feminist movement so that we take into account the nexus between gender and race, socioeconomic class, sexuality, religion and body image. I think it's imperative that the perspectives and stories of people from different subgroups of feminism are assimilated into mainstream feminist discourse, so that we avoid excluding and alienating individuals who risk experiencing interlocking systemic oppressions.

I still believe that in the global struggle for women's empowerment, solidarity will prevail in spite of subtle nuances and disparities. I believe that despite widespread inequality posed by race, geography, socioeconomics, religion or sexuality, we can still join hands to accent the incontrovertible truth that fighting for a gender-equal and united world is a necessity. I think that more inclusive discussion in the feminist movement is the first step to achieving this solidarity. What do you think?