Over the weekend, I learned the true meaning of the word feminism. Not since the days of Gloria Steinem have I ever heard the word feminism used more frequently than it has been in the past year, and especially in the past month. I sat and watched part of the VMAs with Amanda and the word feminist was seen (and heard) at least a half dozen times.
But it wasn't until I read about Emma Watson's association with U.N. Women as Goodwill Ambassador that I started to re-learn what the word actually meant. On Saturday, she gave an impassioned speech on gender equality to launch the "HeForShe" campaign at the U.N. Headquarters in New York that had people standing on their feet in thunderous applause.
Here's what she had to say about the definition of feminism:
"...my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word. Women are choosing not to identify as feminists. Apparently, I'm among the ranks of women who's expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, and anti-men, unattractive even. Why has the word become an uncomfortable one?"
"[I am from Britain] and I think it is right that I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decisions that will affect my life. I think it is right that socially, I am afforded the same respect as men."
Pushing back against recent campaigns like Women Against Feminism, she is educating us all on what it truly means to be a feminist. I am especially interested to hear what Kate has to say when her Women and Globalization class meets this week as this will certainly have an impact on their topic of discussion. Perhaps she will finally be heard when she says, once again, it's all about equality.
"It's not the word that's important, it's the idea and the ambition behind it."
I watch my girls work very, very hard for all that they have achieved so far, but I worry that they, too, will struggle with the inevitable choices all women have to make. Will they make enough money to support themselves, or will they have to rely on a man to help them? Will they get passed over for promotions, receive less opportunities, and be given fewer chances to further their careers?
Citing Hillary Clinton's 1997 speech in Beijing about women's rights, Emma states that "...less than 30% of the audience were male." Reminding us that feminism is a male issue as well, she talks about how her father's role as a father was just as important as her mother's, but not given equal value. She goes on to say:
"We don't often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes, but I can see that they are, and when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence."
"Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong. It is time we all perceive gender on a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals."
"If we stop defining each other by what we are not, and start defining ourselves by who 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 that their daughters, sisters, and mothers can be free from prejudice, but also, so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human, too."
Towards the end of her speech, she makes light of who she is. But she is exactly the type of person who should be saying this. She has the ability to influence a new generation of both men and women to help them rethink what history has taught them.
" Statesmen Edmund Burke said, 'All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.'" "If not me, who? If not now, when?"
"You might be one of those inadvertent feminists that I spoke of earlier and for this, I applaud you. We are struggling for a uniting word, but the good news is we have a uniting movement. It is called "HeForShe"."
I count Emma Watson among one of today's role models I actually want my girls to listen to.
And I am proud to call myself a feminist.
Please listen to her entire speech here. And visit the HeForShe website.
Photo: Emma Watson and U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon - justjared.com