Written in the late eighteenth century, the statement “All men are equal…” originally set the tone for societal standards by acknowledging that the human race, specifically its differences between sexes, were to be grounded by a uniform identity. However, despite the longevity of the feminist movement and its contributing sentiments, the modern definition of feminism holds a negative connotation and often persuades individuals to act out of ignorance and disregard the practicality of such implications. Feminism, by definition, is the theory or belief of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes; therefore, the objective of the feminist movement and its actions should be deemed as righteous as its intentions truly are. Furthermore, as a consequence resulting from the lack of female empowerment, modern-day feminists are chastised for their roles in the broad pursuit of justice and face harsh stereotypes that portray them as both “man-hating” and “anti-men.”
Emma Watson, an English actress and activist, contradicts these philosophies in her HeForShe campaign by utilizing her celebrity status in order to discuss the contribution of stereotypical gender roles in the creation and preservation of gender inequality and advocate for the recruitment of men in the war against inequality, stating “gender inequality is your issue too.” By utilizing rhetorical strategies, Watson’s speech successfully reignites the movement for gender equality through appealing emotionally to the members of the audience, establishing credibility with personal experiences, and bolstering her argument using statistics and facts.
Throughout her speech, Watson emphasizes the purpose of her campaign and its main objectives — to inform the public of the issues regarding gender inequality and feminism, then persuade and recruit individuals to join the cause. She addresses women’s participation in the feminist movement as having been popularized without a reasonable need and underlines the intense endurance of scrutiny both men and women have endured in order to convey her message more effectively. She establishes her personal reasons as to becoming a feminist, specifically citing the individual effects gender inequality had on her, and describes the importance of its implications, evoking a sense that we, as humans, must take action. In order to engage the audience, Watson recalls her experience growing up in the public eye and details her initial encounter with gender-influenced inequalities at the age of eight, where she faced the subordinate expectations of young women when she was “called ‘bossy’ for wanting to direct the school plays… but the boys were not.” Following that, at the age of fourteen, she experienced “being sexualized by certain elements of the press,” at the age of fifteen, her “girlfriends started dropping out of their sports teams… didn’t want to appear too ‘muscly,’” and by the time she turned eighteen, her “male friends were unable to express their feelings.” Watson describes in this moment that she understood her role as a feminist, but because feminism was an unpopular word, she was synonymously labeled as “too strong, too aggressive, isolating, and unattractive.” Despite this, however, she regards the treatment of women and her role in the movement as what she “thinks is right,” a phrase that inspires individuals to support her cause and ensure the significant role that each individual maintains. In addition, Watson illustrates these occurrences to allow the audience to recognize the genuine emotions and features of someone who has been subjected to gender inequality, as she desires for them to feel as she has felt.
By representing one of the most prestigious organizations in the UN, the celebrity-fronted campaign headed by Watson may result in the audience questioning the integrity of the movement’s cause and misinterpreting the motivation behind the campaign, as it is often believed that celebrities are selected for high-title positions resulting from their fame and ability to advertise to audiences efficiently. However, due to her background as a child celebrity icon and personal experiences, Watson’s role as UN Goodwill Ambassador establishes a fine line of credibility as she firmly commands the attention of the audience with a fierce sense of recognition for the affinity that will bring humanity closer together as equals. She makes it clear within her speech that she is passionate and dedicated to this cause and is clearly motivated by the worth of the end result, a reward one could not simply gain from stardom. Her influence on fans immediately raises awareness, making her the perfect candidate to reach out to the world: “I am reaching out to you because I need your help. We need to end gender inequality — and to do that we need everyone involved.” Most individuals desire fame for the sake of financial reward and individual benefit, but Watson is earnest in her support for the HeForShe campaign, as she acknowledges her primary source of recognition from her well-known portrayal as Hermione Granger — “You might be thinking, who is this Harry Potter girl?” — a role for which individuals may not take her seriously, but does not interfere in her quest to bring about social change and gender equality in the feminist movement.
The HeForShe campaign that inspires Watson’s speech not only provides compelling information to her audience regarding the use of emotional and ethical appeals to positively capture the effects of feminism, but also focuses on the necessary use of concrete evidence in order to solidify her call to action within the campaign. As a prime example, she identifies men as the main group that is vital to the process of feminism and gender equality, but notes that mental illness and the disability to ask for help as factors in their choice would “make men look less ‘macho’” and, therefore, hesitant and or unlikely to join the movement. She cites Hillary Clinton’s 1995 speech, as a result, in order to convey that the individuals the movement need the most did not make up Clinton’s audience, only 30% of whom were male. In her speech, Watson continues to urge that men join in advocating for women’s rights, for, without them, “how can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?” The campaign also takes the time to specifically address the gender-inequality issues among cultures throughout the world, emphasizing that the spectrum of gender is global, not just local. She describes the reality of the situation as one that will inevitably delay the heroic efforts of the feminist movement, stating that it will take “75 years… to be paid the same as men for the same work. 15.5 million girls… years as children. And, at current rates, it won’t be until 2086… receive a secondary education” if the world’s view on feminism and its movement is not altered to align with the early idea that “all men are equal.” There are still major gains and obstacles to be conquered before women are able to witness equality within the social, political, and economic spheres of their lifetime, but Watson’s attentiveness to detail allows for the audience to gain access to a greater insight on global feminism issues.
Ultimately, Emma Watson’s speech on the issue of feminism features emotional attributes of her past, overwhelming credibility beyond her professional background, and provides facts and statistics that vindicate her argument. With her speech, she takes on a modern-day issue that has fluctuated over the course of centuries, replacing the traditional “values” and ideas with modern concepts that promote empowerment and equality. Watson recognizes that this is not just a fight for women, but a fight for the equality of mankind, and reinvents her identity as an individual who supports the idea that “all men are equal.” Although this is not the end to the war surrounding gender inequality, for now, a battle has been won as a result of one woman’s courageous will and incredible motivation to do what she “thinks is right.”
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