There has been a lot of talk recently about a project called He For She, a campaign led by the UN Women’s Solidarity Movement For Gender Equality. It has gained popularity specifically because the project has a very recognizable name attached to it, in the form of young Hollywood actress and self-described feminist Emma Watson. You might know her as the adorable British child actor from the Harry Potter series, but Watson is also a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, and a graduate of Brown University.
He For She is a campaign that was launched with the help of Watson’s celebrity voice during a United Nations conference, where she eloquently addressed the leaders of the world with a touching and lovely speech about gender equality, and what it means to her. The campaign calls for a movement, for men all over the world to speak up for their sisters, mothers and friends, for men to become allies in feminism. “[A] solidarity movement for gender equality that brings together one half of humanity in support of the other half of humanity, for the entirety of humanity” is the mission statement for He For She, which has drawn tons of other celebrities in support. The movement calls for men to join the fight against violence and discrimination for women, it seems simple enough, yet for some reason this mission did not sit well with an insecure few.
Not long after Watson gave her powerful speech at the UN Conference, she was bombarded with threats that promised to reveal private and nude images of her from an online hacker. You may remember the controversy surrounding the same group of boys when they released pictures of other celebrities from their private iCloud accounts. Most memorable was Jennifer Lawrence, who had her privacy stolen and intimate details of her personal life made public, and it was her response to the entire incident that made her the heroine of our time. Another person facing threats is Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist critic of the gaming industry. She was recently forced to cancel a talk at Utah State University after someone threatened “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if she was allowed to speak at the school.
The fact that such an informed speech which calls for equality and peace garnered that much anger and resentment in a group of individuals is astounding. What is more astounding is the form that the backlash came in, sexual harassment. Any sort of sexual threat to publicly intrude on the privacy of another human being is against the law — and entirely unacceptable. The threat against Watson is just one of the reasons that so many women are afraid of calling themselves feminists. Hell, there is even an entire blog dedicated to women expressing the colorful and vast reasons why they don’t need feminism, it seems ludicrous to me, but these women all have very personal reasons as to why they choose to not associate with the F word.
The good news: reactions to Watson’s speech weren’t all bad. In addition to other celebrities posting pictures of themselves holding up #HeForShe signs, many celebrities took to Twitter to pledge their support, or to praise Watson’s bravery. Especially interesting and powerful was when Joseph Gordon-Levitt showed his support by “coming out” to Hollywood and to the world — as a feminist. Unlike many other stars who are afraid to call themselves feminists (Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry), Gordon-Levitt wants the world to know that he, in fact, is a proud one.
The other good news is that all this attention on feminism makes us talk about it; it brings the issues that girls and women face all over this world center stage. Celebrities can have a tremendous impact on social and political issues, such that in the year 2014 we have to acknowledge them. Yes, there are the celebrities who never seem to have any idea what is going on (or care), but there are some actual intelligent ones out there. Whether we like it or not, most of the time those individuals in the limelight have the ability to influence a mass amount of people at once. We are only so fortunate that some of them happen to use that power for good rather than evil.
Other celebrities who have spoken up in favor of feminism and gender equality include Ellen Page, Aziz Ansari, Rosario Dawson, Amy Poehler and the immensely genius Louis C.K. If any of these celebrities can help to educate a even a small group of people on the real-life, everyday issues of feminism and gender equality, then I am satisfied. We (society) need all the players on our team that we can get. We need more voices, whether they are saying something we want to hear or not — the conversation needs to get started somehow, and as often as possible. So if these celebrities can help to put a face to the voice of gender equality, then so be it.
When we live in a society that invalidates women, that is terrifyingly loud and oftentimes uneducated about the actual definition of feminism, it’s probably not a bad thing to have a few well-known faces to support the movement. So to these celebrities I say thank you for giving your recognizable faces to the cause. We need you.