If you have been on the internet at all in the past week, you have likely caught wind of the fact that Emma Watson delivered a speech regarding feminism, and the “He for She” campaign that she’s fronting, to the UN. And, if you have ever been exposed to topics regarding gender identity and power, you might’ve thought that Watson was really skirting around the edges of a much more complicated cultural truth. Though Watson is able to clearly and simply articulate some of the male/female gender dynamics that occur when talking about gender identity, the overall impression is, “Ho-hum. Now let’s get into the meaty stuff.”
That’s where I went wrong. I had to check myself, because here I am on the far left of an issue that I see running unchecked like a current through society, and for some reason I deigned to cast judgment on Watson for simply bringing the issue to the table. The fact is that on the bell-curve of society, the majority sit somewhere in the middle. Gender equality apologists, skeptics, or denialists. For the most part, everyone thinks they are feminists (even if they hate the word), because they’re not “woman hating”. Of course, gender equality is something that is often institutionalized, or that disappears under layers of bureaucracy (e.g. a woman is not hired because the hiring manager perceives her male counterpart as have an untenable, more “professional” quality. And then life goes on.).
The fact is that Watson touched on the topic of feminism in a way that, as her intentions stated, invited new voices to the table. This wasn’t about preaching to the converted, but trying to reach an audience who does not relate to or has a blatantly negative impression of the term “feminist.” To that end, the fact that she represents a culturally elite class, is cisgendered, and dresses in a demure, feminine way, are actually integral to her performance. Even the fact that she employs self-effacing language (apologizing for her opinions, laughing at herself, referring to herself as “that Harry Potter girl”, and employing “I feel” statements) is part of a style of presentation that is likely to touch the minds and hearts of a more conservative (small “c”) populace.
A lot can be said about celebrity endorsements of charitable campaigns, but don’t be fooled: This is performance. From speech to dress, to the celebrity herself, to the treatment of that performance by the media; there is plenty to talk and think about here. The performative elements of political and social campaigns falls under the auspices of “performance studies”–that is, the interdisciplinary study that blends sociology, psychology, anthropology, and theatrical semiotics.
If you deign to look at the comment sections of any article regarding gender equality, you might be shocked to see that actually the practical application of feminism makes people very, very angry. Even when we identify ourselves as a feminist, it is feminism in a bubble.
On September 22, the Ottawa Citizen posted a link on their Facebook page that is a great example of feminism vs. feminism in a bubble. The article, “Liberal MP’s bill would make anthem gender-neutral”, garnered the rapt attention of a group of people–male and female–who were blatantly offended by the idea of applying a feminist lens to the fluid document that is our national anthem. Even though, historically, the anthem was originally not only gender neutral, but actually secular, the idea of changing the anthem (specifically, “in all our sons command”) was met with a mob-like, pitchfork-wielding reaction.
For your consideration:
Debbi Burnie It’s the National Anthem. I am a woman and I do not want it changed, I do not feel insulted or omitted or offended by it. I am a proud Canadian … My great grandparents sang it, My grandparents sang it (my grandfathers fought in the War(s)) and sang it. My parents sing it. My children sing it. My grandchildren sing it. It is part of our heritage and being Canadian. I proudly stand up and sing it at every hockey game, or anytime it is played. Do not change it !! Who are the idiots who want it changed? Obviously not proud Canadians ….Makes me sick ! […] Also the last time I checked if Canada went to war and they drafted Canadians to fight it would be males between the ages of 18 to 45? hence “Sons Command” not daughters. Just saying. Unless that has changed to
And another (I wonder belabor the point, I promise):
Ashley Martyn Since, in Canada, we have both men and women and people of all different or no religious beliefs, they should make the anthem gender neutral AND void of any mention of a ‘god’. Let’s include all Canadians and not just male Christians.
Like looking into a mirror, starring into the words that others publicly shore up around these kinds of pop-cultural “issue memes” allows us to actually see the limits of our own perceptions. Being able to see and understand the larger context is actually really useful. In this case, how uncomfortable are you willing to be to enact gender equality? How does gender equality and your nationalistic sentiments intertwine? What militaristic notions are tied to your perceptions of gender equality? And on and on….
These people have shown their hand, and in doing so, we can learn an important lesson about ourselves. Feminism is not an isolated discussion: It is interwoven to our relationship with nationalism, to government (i.e. “they just want to spend hard-earned tax payer money”), militarism, and is closely tied to freedom of religious expression.
The point is this: We can’t change anything unless we change ourselves. The only change in this world comes from a change in our own hearts and minds. And the truth is, it’s a life-long pursuit.