By now, most of us have seen Emma Watson's United Nations speech trending on Facebook. In her speech, Watson calls on men to join the fight for gender equality, launching the "HeForShe" movement as an outlet for male feminist voices. Her talk has prompted me to write what I should have done years ago.
I am a feminist. And I am proud to join the HeForShe movement.
As a kid, I was overweight. This always made me self-conscious. But never did it make me question my worth as an individual. Even in the social gauntlet that was middle school, I knew my body was only one small aspect of how others judged me.
My sister, on the other hand, has always been beautiful. Growing up, she was the popular one, charming audiences and befriending strangers wherever we went. And yet she suffered from crippling body image insecurities, struggling with an eating disorder for most of the last seven years. She now speaks out about this illness and writes music to destigmatize others facing the same. Her sincerity is heartening in the face of a society that all too often judges women -- especially those, like my sister, pursuing careers in the public spotlight -- in callously superficial ways.
Which is why it's long past due for me to say: I've had enough.
Enough of women doubting themselves because as girls they were taught to be circumspect and self-critical while their brothers were praised for confidence and assertiveness.
Enough of girls looking in the mirror and hating what they see because plastered on every magazine is a photoshopped, impossible standard of female beauty. Enough of society telling girls that their body and their worth are one and the same.
Enough of women around the world being blamed and ostracized for being raped.
Enough of the persecution and violence against individuals with non-conforming gender identities, in the U.S. and abroad.
Enough of the child marriages, genital mutilation and sex trafficking of females. Enough of domestic abuse against women, the single largest source of violence in the world.
And, as Emma Watson emphasized in her speech, enough of the injustices against men that result from the weight of gender norms -- including the millions of male victims of eating disorders and intimate partner violence deterred from seeking help due to distorted notions of masculinity.
Emma Watson is right that men need to join the fight for gender equality. But if HeForShe is to make waves, it needs to move beyond a Twitter trend to a concerted shift in social norms. Growing up, my male friends and I were exposed to a culture in which women were objectified, sexual consent was not taken seriously, and female assertiveness was too often construed as bitchiness. I am lucky to have a mother who taught me what respect for women looks like, and a father who never hesitated to express affection. But I realize that despite this, I often failed to challenge sexist norms when they arose.
Those who believe we have moved past these problems are deluding themselves. Even within the undergraduate student community at Princeton, the double standards against women were evident. When a friend was a frontrunner for student government president, students launched a slew of anonymous sexist attacks against her online, mocking her as a "pretty face" and posting ugly personal insults regarding her feminist views. Needless to say, her male opponent saw no such treatment. It is not hard to see why there has been only one female president of Princeton's undergraduate student government since 1994. This episode mirrors a pernicious trend in political races across the U.S., and deterring women from pursuing public leadership is only the first of its many consequences.
So let's talk about what HeForShe should look like in practice. It means contesting the slurs and abusive language against women that perpetuate sexist attitudes, even if the speaker is not aware of their implications. It means refusing to purchase products marketed with disproportionately photoshopped female bodies. It means insisting that our friends seek enthusiastic consent before sex -- and confronting those who do not rather than encouraging them. It means speaking out against harassment in the workplace, refusing unequal pay, exposing biased hiring practices, and proactively initiating dialogue around these issues. It means demanding increased efforts to protect women from sexual assault, and denouncing attempts to blame victims. And it should also mean offering unprejudiced support to male victims of depression, eating disorders, domestic abuse, and rape.
Confronting sexism at home is a critical step in the fight for gender equality. But the most vile gendered crimes occur in the developing world, and herein lies the defining gender equity test of our time. Perhaps no place exhibits these cruelties to a greater extent than the Democratic Republic of the Congo, sometimes referred to as the "rape capital" of the world. While much of the country has seen progress in recent years, in eastern DRC a decades-old conflict persists in which the sexual brutalization of females has been systematized as a weapon of war.
The experience of Rebecca Masika, an activist in the region, epitomizes these horrors. The first time Masika was raped, she was fifteen years old. The second time, her daughters were raped as well, and her husband murdered. She later founded a rescue center to support victims of sexual assault -- but was subsequently targeted for further violence, and raped three more times. These atrocities have not deterred her from fighting for rape survivors in her community, although the crimes continue.
The near absence of these evils from the mainstream U.S. news cycle -- and the fact that hundreds of millions of Western dollars have inadvertently funded the guilty parties through conflict minerals trade -- ranks among the most devastating moral failures of our generation.
Enough is enough.
The crimes committed against women in the DRC are on an entirely different scale from the inequalities most of us observe in the U.S. These injustices, however, are linked to an enduring global legacy of gender norms that demean us all.
When I have children of my own, I hope my daughters will feel comfortable taking risks and being assertive, and I hope my sons will feel comfortable expressing vulnerability and emotional intimacy. I hope my children will not be judged by their gender identity and sexual orientation. And I hope they will one day see a world where humanity's most heinous gendered crimes are finally a thing of the past.
That is a dream all men should be proud to stand behind.