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The pro-gender equality speech of Emma Watson at the UN, from a rhetorical viewpoint

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Rhetorical Analysis of Emma Watson’s Speech for the UN

The statement “All men are created equal” draws a line of equality across human race, including differences between sexes. However, some people do not agree and therefore does not practice the implications behind the meaning. Emma Watson, a British actor and activist, delivered a speech for the United Nations for the HeForShe campaign. The purpose of the speech was to promote the importance of gender equality, thus of being a feminist. Watson begins her argument with personal examples and wise reasoning, recalling past experiences and relating to the audience, successfully acquiring the emotional appeals. Additionally, along her speech, Watson uses facts and statistic, as well as highly credible people, to support her points, strengthening her overall persuasion.

In her speech, Watson dives right into the purpose of her campaign and what its main objectives are—to inform people about the issue of gender equality and feminism, thus persuading people to support her campaign. Then, she provides several personal experiences regarding her topic, gender equality. Watson continues to give a reason of why she herself decided to become a feminist, and the importance of its implications. The issue, Watson points out, is not local, but universal. After catering a few examples, Watson brings up men as a group who needs to be a feminist as well, and be aware of the gender equality issues among all the cultures in the world. Possible solutions to the controversy, Watson suggests, includes recognition of gender equality is a real issue within the society and the willingness to act on being a feminist as a duty to reconstruct people’s sentiments towards both genders. Watson’s direct audience is the United Nations (UN), but her overall campaign is aimed for everyone. This can be proven by her introduction, in which she said, “I am reaching out to you because I need your help. We want to end gender inequality—and to do that we need everyone to be involved.”

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Throughout her campaign, Watson mentions a lot of references that solidifies her credibility and appeal to ethos, thus strengthening her argument. These include mentioning “I was appointed six months ago…”, “Hillary Clinton made a famous speech in Beijing about women’s rights”, and “English Statesman, Edmund Burke, said: “All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for enough good men and women to do nothing.” The first statement suggests how she wasn’t giving the speech as a way of publicity or endorsement, but that she was chosen by highly credible people to do so. This strengthens her argument in a way that she is personally involved in what she is advertising, instead of merely being a cover. Secondly, she includes Hillary Clinton, a powerful woman in the nation, as a way to promote her campaign. She is able to demonstrate how the issue is, in fact, universal and recognized by a higher authority, and within her reference, she establishes her own credibility by citing the right sources. Finally, Edmund Burke’s quote is used by Watson to enhance her speech as a whole. The real meaning behind the quote might be something else, but it certainly can be seen through the context of Watson’s speech. By using the quote, Watson implies that the “forces of evil” is the issue of gender equality, and the audience plays as the “good men and women.” In a way, she is trying to make the audience feel guilty about letting “evil” win, if they do not contribute to eliminate the issue and solve the problem. This is Watson’s form of encouraging the audience to act the way she wants them to. Aside from pointing out other people, Watson also uses examples from her personal life to signify the issue, showing that she has a first-had experience with gender equality, in spite of being an actress.

Unusually for an academic speech, Watson doesn’t use logos as much as she uses pathos. Watson begins with a personal account of her childhood impressions of being a lady, and continues to express her concerns of gender equality based on her personal life as well as other people’s she personally knows. This narration establishes a personal bond with the audience. As it is a delicate topic, she makes sure the audience acknowledges that she understands well what she is speaking of and dealing with. She points out past memories about hers and others’ rights based on gender in the society:

“I started questioning gender-based assumptions a long time ago—when at eight I was confused at being called “bossy,” because I wanted to direct the plays we would put on for our parents—but the boys were not. When at fourteen I started being sexualized by certain elements of the press. When at fifteen my girlfriends started dropping out of their sports teams because they didn’t want to appear “muscly.” When at eighteen my male friends were unable to express their feelings.”

The image she evokes is of the vulnerabilities of being a child within a discriminating society, as well as how other children looked up at figures of authority who were showing wrong perspectives of how to view people. Her goal is to make the direct audience think about their children—the future children who will be the new leaders of the world. Watson wants the audience to vision ahead and weigh the long-term consequences that would result from gender inequality. Watson uses her childhood as an example because people’s feelings are often easier to reach out to with the mention of kids, as they are innocent and undeserving of the bad side of the world. As opposed to children, Watson adds to the role of parents as she said, “I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society, despite my needing his presence as a child as much as my mother’s.” This statement reaches out more to her direct audience who are more likely to be parents. By recognizing the struggle of a father, Watson is able to reach out more to parents, even though she is not one. Although most gender discriminations are passed on through generations, there must be parents out there who feel isolated in their role in their children’s lives—for example, fathers who are not regarded important for a baby and mothers who are not allowed to work and provide for the family—which raises Watson’s emotional attachment to the audience. Adding to the idea is her usage of diction, such as, “imprisoned”, “less”, “fear”, “distorted”, “secondary” (Watson). All of these words induce negative feelings created by gender inequality. The utilization of the diction is able to receive sympathy from the audience with people, including children, who feel “imprisoned” and “less”. Another appeal to pathos is reinforced by Watson through humility. Watson repetitively addresses her timidity, for example, “Who is this Harry Potter girl? And what is she doing up on stage at the UN?”, “I don’t know if I’m qualified to be here”, “In my nervousness for this speech and in my moments of doubt, …” The humility might merely be a way to not come off as arrogant or demanding, but it might also be implying how years of discrimination—being called “bossy” and sexualized—can build a big insecurity in one’s life.

Additional to the campaign, Watson facilitates, although minimally, the logos appeal. Watson uses only a small portion of numerical facts and statistics, but the present ones include, “15.5 million girls will be married in the next 6 years as children”, “…at current rates it won’t be until 2086 before all rural African girls will be able to receive a secondary education”, and “…in the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20-49 years of age.” Even though the statements are of numerical data and statistics, they are not eligible facts. Most of them are calculations and speculations that are not yet true today. Moreover, Watson did not cite her sources on where she received the data from, thus weakening the argument. However, the logical examples evidently appeal more to pathos. Watson’s goal is to arouse the idea that these statistics are not merely numbers on a sheet or dots on a graph, but rather real human beings with real emotions. “15.5 million” is not a small number and “child” is not the appropriate age group of getting married; 2086 is a very, very long time to improve education for the African girls, and to think about all the days they spend their lives struggling; “the biggest killer of men” is not an animal or other humans but himself is an extremely controversial reason to die. The outcome of the notice on these data is emotional. The first statement evokes pity for the girls who are forced to get married during their childhood years when instead they should be pursuing their dreams. The second statement evokes shame for taking advantage of proper education. The third statement evokes grief for all the people who took their own lives as a result of gender inequality, which promoted self-doubt and a “distorted constitution of male success” within men. The logos appeal to Watson’s speech aims to arouse the emotion of indignation towards the issue.

The organization of Watson’s speech is very well-structured. She has the simple introduction, body, and conclusion order. The introduction was straightforward and the body contains her arguments and evidences. However, Watson did not offer a lot of counter arguments during her speech. In her brief conclusion, Watson restated her introduction, supporting her meaning in being solid. The overall tone of her speech is bound and determined. It was clear that Watson does not take the issue lightly, and she projects the impression how she is serious about making a change in the world. Even so, Watson does not seem preachy and she maintains her humility, while still being knowledge on the right level. The language Watson uses mainly revolves around daily conversational words, yet a few words are weighty and strong.

To conclude, Emma Watson’s speech to the UN is a success. Through her emotional, ethical, and logical appeals, Watson attracts millions of viewers. By sharing her emotional experiences, Watson is able to wrap her speech in lively and inviting words, and delivers with a passion is beyond her celebrity background. Additionally, Watson clearly took the time to research her statistical data and information. Watson transforms an issue which used to be viewed with skepticism into something as noble as a fight for humankind. In the image as the genius from Harry Potter, Watson is able to reinvent herself as nothing less of what she acted out in the movie—intelligent and wise. As the ambassador of the HeForShe campaign, Watson has captured victory in the battle of gender equality with her speech.

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