To kick off the HeForShe campaign, Emma Watson delivered a remarkable and inspiring message to the U.N on Saturday regarding feminism and gender equality.
Citing her experiences while growing up, she stated why she decided to call herself a "feminist" and lamented over the disturbing and all too common idea that feminism = "man-hating." She reminded us that feminism is not solely a women's rights issue, but a human rights issue and something that men also have a stake in.
In what many have noted as a call to action, Emma says: "Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too..."
This has been the most quoted line from her speech. Many people applauded her for calling on men to get involved in the fight for gender equality, but it is only a piece of her message. There's another part to it that isn't getting the coverage it should. In all the buzz surrounding her speech, it seems a portion has been omitted from the discussion, and it is a part that must be addressed in order for gender equality to take root in our society.
It's the part where she reminds us that men are also deeply and negatively impacted by gender inequality and gender stereotypes. She recognizes that this is not something we like to bring up: "We don't often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that they are..."
She goes on to use her father as an example, expressing that society does not value fathers as highly as they value mothers. I'd have to agree with her. For starters, how often are men awarded primary guardianship of their children in cases of divorce?
There's also the issue of paternity leave v.s maternity leave. According to the Families and Work Institute, only 14% of employers offered paid leave for spouses and partners. For maternity leave, the percentage jumps to 58%. Men will often cash in on vacation and sick time in order to take part in the brief and precious experience of bonding with their newborns.
There's also the societal idea that men are simply bumbling idiots when it comes to childrearing. How many times have we (looking at you women) made some comment on how "dads just don't get it the way moms do"? My question is, do you honestly believe that your partner is incompetent? Is it that they don't "get it' (whatever "it" is) or are we as women so desperate to cling to the one thing society says we're good at that we can't make room for fathers in our children's lives? We cry and campaign for fathers to "step up" because "real men" take care of their kids. Yet when they offer anything other than monetary support, oftentimes we push them away because they "just don't get it."
What kind of message does this send to our children? How will our sons grow to be good men and good fathers if we continue to limit and stifle the role models they have? As for our daughters, ultimately, they will see their fathers as the standard on what to expect from men, and how men view them. Do you want your daughter to believe she will be alone in the childrearing process because her partner is a moron? Do you want her to believe that men view her as nothing more than a means for procreation? Don't we own our children more than that? Don't we owe ourselves more than that?
Emma also shared that by the age of 18, her male friends could not express their emotions. Is that surprising, though? Considering that from early on, boys are still typically taught not to cry. Instead, they are told to "man up" (whatever that means). Do you see the problem? Do you see our part in it? We teach our sons not to cry and then divorce our husbands for being emotionally detached.
As far as mental health is concerned, men are less likely to seek help because of the social stigmas attached to mental disorders. She reported that in the U.K., suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20-49.
Emma reminded us that "men don't have the benefits of equality either." She wasn't just calling men to action on behalf of women. She was calling us all to action on behalf of each other:
Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong... It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, not as two opposing sets of ideals.
If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by what we are--we can all be freer and this is what HeForShe is about. It's about freedom.
I want men to take up this mantle. So their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too--reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves."
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