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.