Emma Watson Tells Men, “Gender Equality Is Your Issue Too”
“Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.” As Emma Watson delivered her UN speech for the HeforShe campaign, she sought to enjoin men in raising awareness and changing societal beliefs about gender discrimination. As the Goodwill Ambassador for UN women, Watson’s words have stirred not only excitement and inspiration, but also criticism.
As I watched Watson deliver her heartfelt speech, I couldn’t help but feel as though her request was devoid of inviting affirmative action. The twelve-minute speech focused on securing men in the fight for gender equality, and Watson spoke about her own experiences involving gender stereotyping. She described the connotative tone that the word “feminism” has come to embody; explaining that feminism is often associated with “man-hating” and harsh ideals that can be unwelcoming. The HeforShe campaign is designed to reach the tangible goal of gender equality, but some people are calling it a window dressing for a major on-going societal problem. 
While Watson’s speech was undoubtedly brave and inspiring, many people were left wondering how exactly the HeforShe campaign is designed to implement gender equality changes. The HeforShe website invites those who are interested to take a pledge by providing the UN with an email address. However, it’s unlikely that taking a pledge and providing an email address will make a sizable dent in this worldwide societal issue.
The issue of gender equality has overlapping sub-issues involving strongly rooted cultural complexities and legal prelation. Watson’s speech made me wonder just how gender equality can be further developed. In reviewing the pathways that gender equality has taken to date, it’s evident that something more than awareness is required. Women’s rights have made steady strides since the mid-1800’s, when the first women’s rights convention was held in New York. As a result, 68 women and 32 men calling for equal gender treatment under the law signed the Declaration of Sentiments in 1848. The Declaration of Sentiments, modeled after the Declaration of Independence, called for women’s voting rights during a time when women were seen as inferior to men in many regards. 
Other significant gender equality advancements include landmark decisions by the United States Supreme Court like Roe v. Wade, significantly extending women’s rights through the law.  Women dedicated to enlarging women’s rights engaged in numerous legal suits throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s in order to set precedent for their daughters and granddaughters to enjoy equal rights in the future. Other forms of change were affected through the development of organizations such as the American Birth Control League (now known as Planned Parenthood Federation). The 1960’s proved to be a fruitful period for women’s rights, as Congress passed the Equal Pay Act, making it illegal for employers to pay women less than men in identical employment positions.
As we move forward in the 21st century, women are now fully engaged in powerful employment positions and barriers continue to be broken. Women are now no longer banned from serving in military combat roles, and federal statutes, like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, directly address discrimination in the workplace.
However, Watson’s speech brings up some debatable topics. For one, suggesting that breaking the male gender stereotype will bring about change for women as a natural consequence seems to have stirred up the most controversy. Women’s rights advocates are upset that Watson has placed men in the gender discrimination pool. As one blogger explains, “[gender discrimination] won’t disappear ‘naturally’ when men are empowered to be sensitive. [It] exist[s] because patriarchal power hinges on the subjugation of women, and anything that distracts from that is a liability to the cause.”  Others are upset that Watson reasoned men should be involved because gender inequality affects their daughters, mothers, sisters, and wives. “[Men] should care for those people because they are people, not because it could potentially be a woman they know,”  writes another blogger. Finally, the fact that Watson suggests this worldwide issue is significantly due to the fact that men haven’t had a formal invitation to become involved is being called absurd. 
After watching the speech a couple of times, I gather that Watson and HeforShe is focused on simply raising awareness about gender inequality, and although changing attitudes and beliefs about feminism is an important part of advancing feminist ideals, it doesn’t quite pack the punch needed for major change. One of the problems that gender inequality presents is that there is a long list of theories and perspectives about causes and effects, so it’s difficult to address gender inequity comprehensively.
While inequity is difficult to address, the framework for gender equality is already in existence. The implementation just needs to be strengthened. In fact, the Council of Europe Gender Equality Strategy for 2014-2017 names specific goals like the promotion, monitoring, coordination, and evaluation of the process of gender mainstreaming in all policies and programs.  Organizations here in the U.S. should follow suit, and do more to target low socioeconomic areas and educate women about their rights and available options, as women in this group are often less aware of their rights . The Obama administration has made great efforts to promote gender equality on a worldwide basis. President Obama has even made promoting gender equality and advancing the status of women and girls central to the nation’s security strategy and foreign policy. 
On a more local front, women (and men) who are inspired by Watson’s speech and want to make a difference in gender equality have several options available. As many simply aren’t sure about state and local governance structures that allow for effective participation and empowerment of women, becoming involved in a non-profit organization that focuses on empowering and promoting success in women is a great start for those who wish to become involved in actual change.
Whether gender equity is being addressed through an employment lens or through the fight against human trafficking, expanding services and legal assistance is the kind of affirmative action needed for the progression and evolution of gender equality. Watson has gained significant media attention, and now has the platform to promote major changes in gender equality. Only time will tell if the HeforShe campaign will evolve from awareness to affirmative action.