It is often the most well-known ideas that need an innovative approach. In recent years, feminism has received its fair share of criticism and negative press. Critiques have ranged from the negative interpretations and appropriations of the movement to questions as to whether it remains relevant and useful in our modern age. Yet, no matter how you may view feminism, the reality remains that there is no society on Earth in which women are equal to men. Across the world, 64 million girls are child brides, 41 million girls are denied a primary education, and one in three women have faced violence in their lifetime. Women are more likely to be hungry, are often denied the right to own land, and make up only 17% of parliamentarians. Gender-based assumptions still imprison both women and men within expectations and limitations.
However, reciting statistics can only do so much before the numbers become repetitive and disassociated with the stories behind them. When Emma Watson took to the stage on September 20th at the UN headquarters in New York City, she sought to put an innovative, rejuvenated light on this over-trodden term. Launching the HeForShe campaign, Ms. Watson sought to change the dialogue away from a singular focus on women to create a positive campaign that includes men in the solutions for gender inequality. Before it can be said that talking on feminism is far from innovative, the mainstream attention that she has brought to gender stereotypes, in particular masculinity, is a new direction for feminism. In stating that, “If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled”, Emma is bringing to attention to the connections between masculinity and the widespread, violent, serious social problems that have come forth as a result, against both women and men.
The HeForShe campaign defines itself as a “solidarity movement for gender equality that brings one half of humanity in support of the other half of humanity, for the entirety of humanity”. The focus is to show that gender equality is a human rights issue, not just a women’s issue, and to have men pledge their support in ending violence and discrimination against women and girls.
With feminism never having been a term without controversy, there was bound to be backlash. Beyond constructive criticism or differences of opinion, she immediately faced sexual and death threats, as well as blackmail attempts. Clearly, her words touched a nerve. The misogynistic comments that emerged should be an offense to everyone, and show the extent to which equality has not yet been reached in our societies.
Sometimes the biggest steps forward come from a change in perspective. This is a new direction that feminism is beginning to take, seeking to achieve equality for everyone, regardless of gender. When attention is brought to these deeply ingrained assumptions and inequalities, it allows practices to change and new solutions to emerge.