I finally just had the opportunity to watch all of the speech by Emma Watson given to the UN. I won’t link it here as it’s easy to find on YouTube and elsewhere.
She was articulate, passionate, and correct in my opinion. Without the help of men, without the process of gender changes and attitudes associated with maleness, women worldwide don’t stand a chance when it comes to achieving the ability to be recognized not only as equals, but as individual human beings and not just an appendage to someone owning a penis.
Attitudes and stereotypes associated with a socially constructed ideal that defines the meaning of masculine or feminine in binary terms are not only wrong, they are ludicrous. Gender is a term that relates to traits and characteristics assigned by cultural and social organizations which then create correct or expected behaviors and actions for the individual labels. Gender does not mean male or female. Gender is not biology. Gender is telling me, you, everyone who defines themselves as male or female, how they are supposed to be, and behave, according to the rules of society.
In fact, in our world today, gender is arbitrary. Gender is in flux. Gender definitions are being re-defined. Yet we still have the ideal shoved into our faces that to be a true woman, or a true man, we must behave in very specific ways.
Watson noted that gender stereotypes and expectations must be addressed from the male perspective. Men must be given permission by both cultural systems and societal systems to formulate new ways of being male. Women must also be given societal and cultural permission to behave in non-stereotypical ways. The big thing here, and I don’t think that Watson is implying that it is all up to men only to change, is that without change in masculine definition and action, women don’t stand a chance to be anything other than second, to be always just a few steps behind, to be led rather than to lead.
Watson’s speech brought to mind some of the research findings I collected in my Capstone on rape. Time after time, in article after article on male rape attitudes, studies would show clear data that many men rape because they were in a situation whereby it was expected of them. Interviews recalled stories of young adults, normal non-misogynistic guys, who in there everyday life would most likely never rape a woman. Yet in a setting (often college campus parties) where a gang rape begins, taunting to be “one of the guys” and fear of being labeled as anything less than masculine or god forbid, as gay, led these men to rape. The awesome power of masculine norms won out over common sense, human decency and personal values.
This is a social and cultural problem, not a male problem. Watson was speaking on a global level, however to change globally, we must change locally as a start.
Is it possible?