Over the past couple of days I’ve seen a particular video pop up again and again in my newsfeed: the one about Emma Watson’s UN speech, promoting HeForShe. Many of these people have never given any indication that they have the slightest interest in feminism; some might even have made caustic or condescending remarks about things that I had posted or feminists in the news. Emma Watson, with her name recognition as the clever witch Hermione Granger, seems to have accomplished in one speech what I was unable to do in months. People, non-feminist people, are talking about feminism in a positive way.
What I’m worried about is that people will talk about it for a few days and then it’ll be forgotten again; that’s why I think it’s important to have some concrete things that everyone can commit to doing. There were three statements that Emma made which give insight into the type of things the campaign is trying to accomplish.
The first: “I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body.” Take the time to think about what that means for a second. Other than being against things like slavery and enforced labor (which ARE a problem in the world today), believing that women have bodily autonomy means letting them make their own decisions regarding birth control and pregnancy. It means not criticizing or obstructing women from making eating or lifestyle decisions that you may disagree with. It may even mean giving a woman the option to terminate a pregnancy, a hard thing to accept if you believe that life begins before birth (as many of us do), but you simply cannot claim that you support a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body and then deny her the right to make decisions about her own body.
The second statement: “I think it is right that women should be involved in the policies and decisions that affect my life.” Currently, women hold just 18.5% of the seats in the U.S. Congress and 24.2% of state legislatures nationwide (16.3% in Utah). Only 4 of the 56 states and U.S. territories currently have a female governor. In fact, in the year 2014, the U.S. ranked 84th in worldwide female leadership. In the private sector we ranked even worse; only 5% of the Fortune 500 CEOs were women. If we really want women to be involved in the policies and decisions that affect women’s’ lives, we need to encourage more women to go into politics and business, and better yet, treat the ones who are already there with respect and not give them twice the scrutiny we give their male counterparts. Quit acting like it is okay to judge a powerful woman by her marital status, age, looks, or anything that you wouldn’t judge a man on. Don’t call a man assertive while calling a woman who does the same thing bitchy or bossy.
And finally: “I think it is right that socially I am afforded the same respect as men.” Another statement that is easy to agree with but more difficult to put into practice, especially when you realize how insidious and far-reaching the inequality goes. Women are shown less respect than men in nearly every aspect of our lives, from being given less attention in school (especially in the higher grades and university level) to being sexualized in the media to all the major sports being focused on male athletes. Women who work outside the home are disrespected by being paid less than their male counterparts for doing the same work, and the work of stay-at-home mothers is devalued and often seen as less important than work that brings home a paycheck. Nearly all of us, conservative or liberal, male or female, are guilty of devaluing women in some aspects of our lives. Think for a moment about ways that you inadvertently promote sexism, and things you personally can do to combat it, be it something big or simply living more mindful of the things you say and do.
I was of course extrapolating from these three statements; the UN speech was sparse (read: nonexistent) on specifically how it was going to bring about gender equality, but then a 12-minute introductory speech can’t really be expected to delve into specifics. Eager for some UN-sponsored suggestions, I visited the HeForShe website (http://www.heforshe.org), which unfortunately was very vague. If you click on the “Take Action” tab, the only action you can take is clicking a button saying you agree with this statement: “Gender equality is not only a women’s issue, it is a human rights issue that requires my participation. I commit to take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls.” No specifics.
Luckily, the YMF facebook group was very gracious in helping me on short notice to come up with a list of things any one of us can do. If you are serious about making a change for gender inequality, start by implementing a few of these (note: many are male-specific and one is female-specific):
Call women women, not girls.
Don’t interrupt women when they talk.
Don’t ever add “…for a girl” at the end of a compliment.
Men are often socialized to expect women to do things for them; learn to ask women for things.
See women as whole human beings, not just extensions of yourself (mothers, daughters, sisters, etc.).
Stop speaking at women, actually listen
If someone confides in you claiming they’ve been abused or mistreated in any way, don’t tell them they’re wrong or criticize them for it. Even if you don’t necessarily like or believe them
“Take interest in the lives of the women that are not attached to you. Like literally men are trained to not listen to women unless they have reason to. Half of the population finds the narrative and the lives of the other half too boring to even care.”
If a woman is complaining about something a man did, don’t use the excuse #notallmen.
Put other people’s feelings first, especially if you are a man and they are a woman (women are already socialized to do this for men).
“Learn how to talk to women about things that don’t involve their attachment to other men. I can’t tell you how many people only know how to talk to me by asking ‘How’s your boyfriend?'”
“If you are a dude, you do NOT get to define who is a woman. Some women have penises. Some have vaginas. Some dress in pants. Some don’t. If you are a dude, you don’t get to vote on who is a woman or not.”
Feminism must be intersectional. All oppression is connected.
Classism is a feminist issue.
Racism is a feminist issue as well.
Don’t use ableist, racist, classist, etc. language.
“Most of all, I’d say be good at what you do and don’t be ashamed of that. Just being a skilled, confident woman shatters so many stereotypes. And being prominent in whatever sphere you’re in will make you 1) a counter-example to harmful gender stereotypes, and 2) an inspiration to the other women/girls who interact with you.”