University News

Watson ’14 urges men to support feminism

Groups across campus unite to watch livestream of Q&A session promoting HeForShe campaign

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 10, 2015

“Males are ready to get on board, but now they’re asking ‘How do I help?’” said Emma Watson ’14 in a question-and-answer session promoting the HeForShe campaign, an initiative that encourages men to join the movement toward gender equality. A live stream of the event, which was held in Wilson 301 on International Women’s Day Sunday, was sponsored by multiple student groups, including Women in Science and Engineering, Feminists at Brown and Alpha Epsilon Pi.

“International Women’s Day is an important time to raise awareness that gender equality is still very much an issue,” said Nicole Shimer ’16, co-president of Brown’s Socially Responsible Investment Fund and former Herald general manager, another sponsor of the event.

The majority of the Q&A focused on the importance of men’s roles in the feminist movement. Watson unpacked the definition of feminism — a word people have come to associate with “man hate.”

“I don’t think that’s what feminism is about at all. I think it’s something that’s actually incredibly positive,” she said, adding that people have recently returned back to the true meaning of feminism, “which is equality economically, politically, socially.”

“I think men think it’s a women’s word, but it really just means that you believe in equality. And if you stand for equality, you’re a feminist, I’m sorry to tell you,” Watson said.

Watson, a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, first launched the HeForShe campaign in a speech delivered to the United Nations Sept. 20. The video of her speech went viral, and has accumulated over 6 million views worldwide on YouTube since September.

“It felt like one of the most surreal moments of my life,” Watson said. “I remember at the end of it seeing people start to stand up. I felt like I could die happy. I felt like I’d done the most important thing I could possibly do,” she added.

Watson said she has felt pulled toward the feminist movement since she was young. “I was clearing out my room a while ago, and I was going through diary entries I’d written when I was 15, and I saw that my speech to the UN had been gestating in my head for years.”

“She’s clearly a very intelligent woman who has a clear idea of what her goals are. Since she happens to be a role model in the eyes of many men and women … that puts her in a position to really raise awareness,” Shimer said.

Watson said she has received a positive response from many of her fans since giving her speech at the UN.

“I got a lot of emails from my peer group, guys I was at university with,” she said, eliciting whispers of “That’s us!” throughout the live stream room.

Watson added that she has also gathered support from various corporations and institutions, such as Tupperware and the University of Oxford, which she said have vowed to support the campaign.

During the speech, Watson encouraged men specifically to sign the petition on her site,, which has already garnered 200,000 signatures from men across the globe.

“I really believe in equality for everybody,” said Jordan Shaw ’16, a member of AEPi. “Men and women aren’t treated as equally as they should be.”

Shaw said that AEPi decided to support the event to create a space where “interaction between men and women” could occur and men could feel safe to “participate in discussion,” though he added that he was not surprised by the small number of men in attendance.

Though Watson repeatedly encouraged men to sign the petition throughout the live broadcast, students were confused about the campaign’s practical efforts to end gender inequality.

“I didn’t really get what HeForShe was about and what it’s doing to achieve the change she was talking about,” said Patris Pustina ’18, adding that the Q&A session “seemed pretty watered down, pretty mellow.”

Despite her campaign’s success, Watson said she has encountered setbacks. “Some of the harshest criticism I’ve had have been comments from other women,” she said. “It’s not enough to ask men to come and support us — we really need to support each other.”

Watson added that certain people have tried to undermine her role as a feminist spokesperson. Shortly after Watson’s UN speech was posted online, someone launched a website with a countdown to the release of naked photos of her, even though she “knew the pictures didn’t exist,” she said.

Many people think that gender inequality is a thing of the past, but “the moment I stepped up to talk about women’s rights, they saw that I was immediately threatened,” Watson said. “It was a wake-up call.”

The hoax website did not tame Watson’s feminist fire, but rather ignited it. “I was raging. I thought, ‘This is why I have to do this,’” she said.

Some of the female students in attendance said they felt similarly incited by backlash from peers and family members and regard Watson’s work as a model for their own. Caroline Carper ’17 said some of her family members do not believe the gender gap exists in the modern age.

“I obviously am one day going to be in the workforce. I don’t want to be left behind,” she said. “I want to know if (the gender gap) is a thing or isn’t, and if it is, how I can change that and encourage people to partake in that change as well.”

“Not only do I agree with the movement, but I wanted to understand it better,” said Kate Ferguson ’18, a member of Feminists at Brown. “I also want to be able to relay information to people who can’t be here from back home. … I come from a place where feminism isn’t widely known about, where people aren’t widely versed in the issues.”

In her September speech, Watson discussed the pressure put on men to express masculine qualities. She was disturbed by the idea that men shouldn’t cry or express emotion, she said.

“What you feel — being passionate, being emotional — it’s not what makes you a girl. It’s what makes you human,” she said.

She also stressed the importance of young women’s right to defy gendered stereotypes. “Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do, or can or cannot achieve. Be whatever you want to be.”

One audience member at the Q&A asked about the discrepancy in pay between Watson and her co-stars Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint from the Harry Potter series. Watson chose not to single out her castmates, choosing instead to address gender inequality problems within the film industry more broadly.

Currently, women comprise 7 percent of directors, 7 percent of writers and 13 percent of film executives, she added. “Why are we not telling women’s story? Why are women not telling their own stories?” she asked.

Watson also prepared facts that emphasize current gender discrimination in the United Kingdom: About 85,000 women are raped in the U.K. each year; there exists a 16 percent gender pay gap; the parliament is 77 percent male.

“We’re meant to be one of the biggest, most progressive democracies in the world. We should be at the forefront of this. We should be leading the way, and yet we’re straggling behind,” she said.

Watson said that at the current rate of progress, she does not expect to see gender discrimination eradicated in her lifetime. “But I think I will just refuse to die (until that happens),” she added.

  • rick131

    Until males are treated the same by courts, tribunals, family courts, etc, they should not embrace this garbage. Males are always guilty until proven innocent, and women’s words are accepted as truth. You rarely see a women convicted of anything.