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The Failures of Emma Watson’s UN Speech



Let’s engage in a critical analysis of Emma Watson speech given at the UN to raise awareness of the HeforShe Campaign.  

I want to start of by saying that I think it is WONDERFUL that her speech has gained so much support and love internationally; it is also so wonderful that her speech has inspired so many, particularly those who were on the fence about feminism; not to mention that it might have made a large number of people to think twice or start considering how they can support gender equality. Pragmatically it is a good thing. It was a speech targeted towards men, which the HeforShe  campaign represents.  Please do not confuse this as an attack on Emma Watson, but rather a critique of a politicized, pre-packaged, delivery of a feminist speech.

But this space, The Middle Eastern Feminist, is a critical space for women of colour who face oppression across racial, class, gender, and religious boundaries- none of which Emma Watson represents or lives on a daily basis. By being critical and highlighting the problematic nature of Emma Watson’s speech and her as a political agent, white feminists on the page can gain more insight of the ways in which women of colour feel silenced and misrepresented by such powerful feminist figures who speak for them. As such, Emma Watson does not speak to me, for me or represent me!

As a woman of colour the speech was VERY problematic for a number of reasons:

1)      Emma made no effort to acknowledge her IMMENSE privileges. For instance, she is a very young, VERY attractive, VERY successful, White, able bodied, cis gendered, heterosexual, thin privileged woman whose net worth exceeds 60 MILLION DOLLARS!!!

2)      She spoke of and about women of colour in a detrimental way. For instance, she spoke of her disappointment at being called bossy when she wanted to lead and direct plays when she was 8. We acknowledge the negative impacts of such social values on young girls and their self-worth. But for MILLIONS of other 8 year olds across the world, they face the prospect of being forced into child marriages or giving birth, going hungry so that the boys in the family can be fed, having to become carers and carry the burden of supporting and helping their mothers and essentially never experiencing a childhood. This is not to say that white women’s experiences are not relevant or important. Feminism is important everywhere, but it is too often white privileged feminists who are given a voice to express their values; and it is too often the 8 year old child brides whose voices are lost.  Instead, it is the stunningly beautiful, poised, well-spoken actress who speaks about her experience as if merely speaking of the child brides experiences is enough to give justice to the experiences of a child. Too often it is privileged women who speak of cultural practices that they have little awareness or experience of.

3)      I want feminist leaders to be women who have lived the lives of the most oppressed, most marginalized elements of society. I am sorry to say, but Emma Watson is a deeply privileged woman who is a member of the global social elite. Her privileges allowed her the opportunity to have the privilege of speaking at the UN forum. Her privileges continue to demarcate her from the deeply oppressed- those she speaks for and about, but who remain unseen and unheard.  This hardly helps to humanize the silent victims.

4)      Her presentation and delivery was widely deemed to be wonderful, ground-breaking, passionate and concerned. And no doubt she felt those words deeply. Yet, her quivering voice, her ultra-femininity, her stunning looks, her exceptionally groomed appearances served to cater to male audiences and gaze, by appeasing them that here is a stunning, fragile, young feminist who is not a lesbian, not hairy, not ugly, not a spinster, not loud and angry and threatening-  making a heartfelt, feminine, genuine, empathetic and non-aggressive request, a plea almost, to the male audiences.  This defeats EVERYTHING that we have been trying to do by saying that we do not owe society to be pretty, to be soft spoken, to gently request in a feminine quivering voice, rather than demand power, demand liberation, demand human rights! It caters to everything that the patriarchy has conditioned us to believe, that we can have a voice so long as we aren’t too loud; or that we will be taken more seriously if we are conventionally attractive. Emma Watson is inadvertently and unwittingly reforging the mould that we have worked so hard as feminists to break and challenge; THIS is why it is essential that feminist leaders are aware of the long, proud and incredibly successful history of feminist work, activism and academia- she failed to realize that she was standing on the shoulders of giants.

5)      Following the above, the speech and the presentation, the political agent that is Emma Watson delivered a very bubblegummy, hollywoody, male gaze catering, soft, liberal feminist ideal, one that was not challenging or threatening to the patriarchy.  

6)      I find it disturbing that as a woman of colour we are expected to display a high degree of deference and gratitude to Emma Watson, a white privileged woman- a woman whose life and experiences bears ZERO resemblance to our lives.

7)      What would have been “ground-breaking”, “mind-blowing” and “revolutionary”, was having a child bride from Myanmar, or a women who might have escaped an honour killing or a woman who has been maimed by acid attacks because she refused a suitor, or a woman of colour, a woman who had legitimacy by virtue of her long commitment to feminism as opposed to just her popularity as an actress, or her level of attractiveness or enunciation skills, speak at the UN forum instead.  I want a woman who grew up in Africa, who speaks with a broken English but speaks of the need to help stop child marriages because she has seen too many of her sisters forced into marriage at the age of 8,9 or 10 when many girls like her should be challenging her peers to lead and direct a play. I want a polyglot that learned to speak several languages because she was a refugee and a child of war. I am not interested in beautiful women who speak to me about the need to save a million girls in that continent over there, about a life and experiences she could only be paid to imagine in her movie roles. I wanted a woman to speak to me with a quivering voice born of carrying an unheard story and of injustices that can never be unseen. 

8) there was also a vague passing comment about challenging the gender binary, there was little to no effort to challenge the cis gendered, heteronormative structure. Ignoring some of the most marginalized groups in the world is hardly revolutionary or ground-breaking.

Also the most important factor: Emma Watson is privileged and white enough to even be heard at the UN.

But the things she’s been saying have been falling on deaf ears when WOC have been saying them for decades before her.


Ashish SS 15




I have never hit reblog so fast in my LIFE.


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