09/25/2014 05:44 pm ET Updated Nov 25, 2014

Why Emma Watson's Words to the UN on Feminism Weren't Game-Changing


On Saturday, British actress Emma Watson gave a speech launching the U.N. Movement for Gender Equality campaign called HeForShe, an indisputably worthy cause. And Watson summed up feminism's key issues well. She delivered them with passion and strength, but the acclaim went beyond that.

It started with a thunderous standing ovation. Then came Vanity Fair's claim that Watson's speech was a "game-changer," which spread far and wide through social media channels.

I was surprised by the hype. I hadn't considered any one of Watson's scripted statements to be new, let alone groundbreaking. They were simply a helpful reminder of what battles still need to be fought upon the field of modern feminism. Or was I missing something?

Let's look at the points she makes:

1. Feminists should not be labeled man-haters

Jenny Slate, Obvious Child star, actress and Saturday Night Live alumna made a similar point to MTV News as recently as June, "I think that unfortunately people who are maybe threatened by feminism think that it's about setting your bra on fire and being aggressive, and I think that's really wrong and really dangerous."

Admittedly, there was a time when feminists like Gloria Steinem spoke about men with disdain: "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle." But even she went onto say: "A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men." And this is exactly where Watson heads.

2. We need equal rights and opportunities

Watson calls for political, economic and social equality, such as equal respect and equal pay.

This has been the cry of feminism since its inception. Watson even refers to the famous speech made by Hilary Clinton nearly 20 years ago, at the 1995 U.N. 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing. Clinton declared back then that, "women's rights are human rights," and she called for the full and equal participation of women.

Other powerful women joined her cry. Sheryl Sandberg, in her highly acclaimed TED talk, 'Why we have too few women leaders,' discussed how we can address the fact that women are not making it to the top of any profession anywhere in the world.

And young, modern cultural icons have reinforced this need for equality. Girls star Lena Dunham, in an interview with Metro,gave us this challenge: "Do you believe that women should be paid the same for doing the same jobs? Do you believe that women should be allowed to leave the house? Do you think that women and men both deserve equal rights? Great, then you're a feminist."

Even Beyoncé, who was initially hesitant to describe herself as a feminist to British Vogue in April 2013 said, "I guess I am a modern-day feminist. I do believe in equality."

3. The sexualization of women is problematic

This became particularly poignant when, just days after Watson's speech, 4Chan users allegedly threatened to lead naked photos of her (it was later proven to be a hoax). The exact words Watson used were: "I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body." And that statement met with the most applause.

Still, this isn't the first example of the havoc that can be caused by the sexualization of women, nor is it the first attempt to bring about change. The Spark Movement is one example. It is a girl-fueled activist movement aiming to eradicate the sexualization of women and girls in the media.

4. Women need to be involved in policies and decision-making

To give just one recent example of this point have been already made, look at Hilary Clinton's appearance in Chicago's Harris Theater with Mayor Rahm Emanuel in June. She said, "[W]omen and girls... [are] central to our foreign policy," then explained that when nations support women, they are more stable and "less likely to breed extremism."

5. Violence against women must stop

This is a no-brainer. To give some examples of existing movements see End Violence Against Women International and the UN Secretary-General's own campaign called UNiTE to End Violence against Women.

6. Men should be welcomed into the feminist movement

Watson extends a formal invitation to men to take up the HeForShe mantle. She speaks of men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes and needing to be free to be vulnerable, to deviate from the expectations of being aggressive and controlling; to be valued as fathers.

Prominent men have been making similar pleas of late. Just last month, James Brown, Network Broadcaster for CBS Sports and News, spoke out on behalf of A Call to Men, which aims to end domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls. He said: "If we are to end violence against women, men must become part of the solution." And he went onto say that solution involves the creation of a world where "all men and boys are loving and respectful and all women and girls are valued and safe."

A Call to Men's co-founder, Tony Porter, in his speech at TEDWomen, broke it down further, saying: "Don't act like a man." He talks of the destructive expectations that men be tough, strong, courageous, dominating, strong, fearless and superior. He leaves listeners with a powerful thought: "My liberation as a man is tied to your liberation as a woman."

7. Inadvertent feminists should unite and act

Watson notes that no country has even close to achieved gender equality; that more momentum is required.

And from that perspective, Watson's speech may go down in history as a turning point. Because with her appointment as U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador at the tender age of 24, despite her extraordinary life, and perhaps because of it, Watson has the potential to appeal to a generation that doesn't yet have a feminist spokesperson.

Many young men aren't yet facing the fatherhood dilemmas that James Brown and Tony Porter allude to. And most young women can't relate to Hilary Clinton or Cheryl Sandburg's anecdotes.

Enter Emma Watson, an elegant, eloquent, passionate, talented, successful young lady, who is ever-so-wise for her years, and showed us on Saturday both incredible strength and vulnerability all rolled into one.