In a speech about gender inequality at the United Nations, actress Emma Watson delivered an undeniably important message.
The Harry Potter actress was there, she explained, to introduce the HeForShe campaign, a solidarity initiative aimed at galvanizing as many men and boys as possible to be advocates for change — to stand up alongside women and speak out against gender inequality.
The statistics on this front are unsettling, at best.
“The reality is it will take 75 years — or for me to be nearly 100 — before women can expect to be paid the same as men, for the same work. 15.5 million girls will be married in the next 16 years, as children. And at current rates, it won’t be until 2086 before all rural African girls can have a secondary education,” Watson said.
In her six months so far as the Women’s Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N., Watson has been shocked to discover the stigma surrounding the word feminism. It has “too often become synonymous with man-hating.”
But why? Why has the word “feminist” become so uncomfortable? “I think it is right I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decisions that will affect my life. I think it is right that socially, I am afforded the same respect as men,” she said.
And so on this first day of fall, I want to talk about Emma Watson. I want other people to want to talk about her, too. It’s ironic, then, that many headlines this morning are still dominated by football.
Like the continuing drama surrounding Florida State University “superstar” Jameis Winston, who was last year accused of rape and who last week endured a one-game suspension for making “offensive and vulgar” comments on campus about women.
Or the ongoing conversation about Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s domestic violence case and the NFL’s lackluster response to it.
Sadly, these headlines are not novelties in the world of collegiate and professional football. Seemingly every season at least one or two players are mired in controversy — often centered on domestic or sexual assault against women.
‘Tis not a community that takes a strong stance against gender inequality.
And that proves true on many levels. Today there are more female sideline reporters than there have ever been — talented sportscasters like Mrs. Harry Johnson, Jane Chastain and Lesley Visser paved the way for women in this line of work.
However, women were often (and arguably are still, to some degree) hired partly to add femininity. To fill a quota. To offset the fact that the field is so male-dominated.
And even though legislation granting women equal playing time as men was passed three decades ago, coverage of women’s sports remains paltry. Often, the female athletes who do receive media attention receive it only insomuch as it meets stereotypical mores — she became a mother; she’s physically attractive; and so on.
Perhaps the gross disparity exists because, as Watson points out in her speech, the idea of feminism has been tainted as a one-sided, often aggressive movement. “Men,” she said, “I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue, too.”
How quick we all are to live-tweet our thoughts on the latest football game. How easily we fall into back-and-forth arguments about who has the better team.
It’s my hope that as my daughter gets older, she will be surrounded by both men and women who are just as quick to talk about the injustice of gender inequality as they are to talk about the Ray Rices and the Jameis Winstons of the world — to join the ranks of the outward feminists like Emma Watson, as well as the “inadvertent feminists” like Slate’s Phil Plait who pushes for gender equality through his writing.
Will my social media feeds still be flooded with talk about the rivalry between my home state’s Clemson and Carolina or about the Ravens game on Sunday after I write this article? Sure. Probably.
I choose to contribute to a different conversation, though. Because, as Watson said, “If not me, then who?”