#HeForShe- Turning hashtag into practical reality

 

I think it’s important not to lose sight of one fundamental in the #HeForShe campaign- that the desire to achieve gender equality did not start this week with Emma Watson’s speech to the UN. The reality is gender inequality (to its varying degrees across the globe) has always existed in human societies. We shouldn’t overlook or forget the work of important advocates throughout the centuries, many of whom dedicated their lives to the achievement of fairer and more equal societies where people are not discriminated against according to gender. Their efforts should be heralded as a platform to continue to build fairer societies for all.

That’s not to downplay Emma Watson’s role in being an important proponent of creating a society which isn’t defined by gender roles or stereotypes. It is important to recognise that her speech was a catalyst to create change and encourage those who might not have considered gender inequality ‘their problem’ to arise to the reality of the situation.

The campaign direction, led through social media has certainly generated a huge amount of coverage through online channels. Anyone who follows Emma Watson will have seen an explosion of posts and tweets generated, the majority professing support to her speech and, more importantly, the content contained within it.

I feel like this poses an important point for reflection. Perhaps this is a broader social question as technologically advanced societies spend more and more time online, but how do we apply this ‘internet sentiment’ to our everyday lives? How do we ensure #HeForShe translates into something meaningful when people interact in the real world? How do we ensure the hashtag is not simply ‘trending’ on Facebook for the next few weeks but actually enables change?

I liked that Emma Watson’s speech to the UN encouraged self-reflection and that particularly men should evaluate their own position. As Emma said “I want men to take up this mantle so their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human, too and in doing so, be a more true and complete version of themselves.”

Let’s take one particular example where I think she is right and that gender ‘perceptions’ (or the notion of how a man or a woman should behave) have become entrenched in many forms. The music industry. There are numerous musical examples I could choose from, but I’m going to stick to one. By all accounts, will.i.am is a prolific producer of music with a whole array of side-businesses from fast cars to watches. As a judge on the BBC’s ‘The Voice’ he has the respect of being a leading industry talent, but also the credibility of being deemed a suitable judge on a programme with a prime-time audience.

So is it really OK that someone seen as worthy for an audience of all ages is also able to simultaneously release songs about walking around with a “Hunny on my wrist, couple karats on my neck” or about how wearing Givenchy (a luxury fashion brand) “Keep the chickens in check” or how this all culminates in “Banging hoes in the continental.” ?

That’s not to mention the featuring artists on the very same track. Wiz Khalifa appears to offer the wonderful insight of “Women of your dreams sleep in my bed, so I don't need your brains I need my ass kissed” whilst French Montana casually fans himself with a vast swab of dollar bills to drop “I love bad bitches that's my fuckin' problem.” Whilst these lyrics are demeaning and clearly objectify women, what do they also say about how men should behave? They set up a ludicrous world where men have to conform to a ‘bad-boy’ image to appear, in the words of Will.i.am ‘super fresh, what a dope styling. ’

It’s these sort of examples where I think Emma Watson’s speech was spot-on. Gender equality must encompass men as much as it encompasses women. If not, we may end up with a society where male aspirations are, in the words of Wiz Khalifa in the very same song,

"The bigger the bill,

the bigger you ball

The bigger the watch,

the bigger the car, the bigger the star

The bigger the chain,

the farther you go,

you already know

The bigger the bank

that's more hoes,"

If you ask me, that’s a dangerous and disturbing prospect. For #HeForShe to take shape in the real-world we really must see that it is implemented across all aspects of culture and society.

 

‘Flashbulb Feminism’- The lights are very much switched on. They must remain that way.

 

#HeForShe

You know, I’d be the first to say I was cynical about writing a blog. Any love I held for the expression of language and thought was allayed by doubts over a blog’s purpose, who’d read it, would it be kept up to date, was it merely be an exercise of self-congratulation? Essentially to start blogging it would have to be an issue or subject that really captivated my attention.

If you’d have told me last week such inspiration would be disseminated via Emma Watson I’m not sure I would have believed you. Sure, I’ve enjoyed most of her films and she’s a good actor but that’s probably as far as it stretches.

That was until I watched her speech to the UN. I experienced what I can only describe as complete understanding, a moment of ‘flashbulb feminism’ if I can use such a term. It was the culmination of a lot of individual ideas I’d had suddenly presented in a manner that was not only engaging and endearing but also emphatic and any other ‘e’-based superlative that might also fit the bill.

It was not just the content (which I will come on to) which rightly earned Emma Watson such a storm of applause but it was also the manner of her presentation which I found so captivating. A touch of nerves at the beginning and slight shakiness (quite understandable if you ask me in the grandeur of your UN) was quickly offset through the medium of a speech that was heartfelt, courageous and entirely genuine. I was surprised, if not disturbed, at the number of media channels that simply tried to dismiss Emma’s speech as PR spin. I was even more alarmed to see those that took more interest in the clothes she was wearing. Had anyone taken notice of the fundamental message she had so well expressed?

Why am I so animated about the HeForShe campaign? It’s because fundamentally (and incredibly) there is not one society on the planet that has attained gender equality. Sometimes the nature of inequality may seem subtle and sometimes it may get lost in the brash commotion of western city life but as soon as you scratch away the surface, as Emma did, it’s pretty obvious to see. In the vast majority of career industries women are paid less than men, progress less far up the career ladder than men, yet they are equal human beings fulfilling the same role. Why should this be? Why should their gender somehow dictate they should receive less? This of course is just one example. Why are there not more female political leaders? Why should anyone, regardless of their sex, feel the need to conform to an entirely artificial notion of how someone should behave or act based purely upon their gender?

In recent years there has been so much important progress across social issues such as homophobia and racism. Don’t get me wrong, there is a long, long way to go on both of these subjects, but surely more must now be dedicated to feminism and the achievement of gender equality. It literally affects everyone! It must be given a bigger platform than it currently receives.

I should point out; I’ve decided to direct this blog from my personal website. I could have started up a separate webpage specifically for this, but I honestly thought that would be to miss the point. Gender equality should be a feature of everyday life- no more no less. As that’s what I’m going to strive for, I want it to be a part of my everyday life and that’s why it will feature from my writing website. My coverage of this social issue will stand side-by-side my everyday life and work.

I should also point out I’m in no way motivated by writing this to meet Emma Watson, see Emma Watson or somehow make myself appealing to Emma Watson. I’m writing this purely because Emma Watson through the UN has rightly asked for men to take up the mantra of achieving gender equality and be advocates for change. This is my way, albeit small of contributing to its achievement.