Whether you're on a university campus or perusing social media, feminism is the current buzz word -- especially following Emma Watson's endorsement of the movement as the United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for Women and the spokesperson for the "HeForShe" campaign.
Emma Watson has proven her power, intelligence, and strength, but I felt that her speech did not live up to its surrounding hype. Yes, she took a strong stance for equality and women, and even addressed the fact that equality should work both ways for men and women, but there was a glaring issue for me, which lies clearly both in the concept and title of a "HeForShe" campaign.
To take a step back, let's address how Watson uses the term "feminism." Some find the word aggressive or irrelevant -- but for me, her definition is lacking. To quote Watson, "feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities." Whether or not this definition is universally agreed upon, Watson's definition implies an exclusion of others; to label oneself a feminist could be interpreted as excluding the fight for the rights of those who have not achieved equality in our society.
This implied omission is evident in Emma Watson's speech and the "HeForShe" campaign's application of feminism, which dichotomizes the gender spectrum into "man" and "woman." The problem is that those are not the only gender identities that exist. What about people who don't fit into these two categories -- those who identify as "they"? Or those who don't really label themselves anything at all -- are they included? Does everyone have to choose a side to identify with in order to participate in this movement for equality? Finally, does the fight for equality extend to other, sometimes ambiguous, gender identities as well? As blogger Zoe Samudzi points out, "without explicit mention, we cannot assume [agender and genderqueer individuals] are being included in feminist advocacy as there is an unfortunate strain of feminists who insist that trans women are not women at all."
Similarly, as friends and I looked at the "HeForShe" website, we realized that the sole question that pops up before signing asks: "Are you a man who is going to stand up for women's rights?" -- an obviously exclusionary requirement to those who cannot answer "yes," but would still like to participate in the movement. We were shocked considering that the many student organizations and faculty orientations here at McGill University prioritize familiarizing students with the various pronouns our peers identify with, and yet, these supposedly landmark and globally significant campaigns ignore this issue entirely in favor of forcing selection within a gender binary.
One might say that there are different movements fighting for the rights of other groups, and that those who identify as "they" or have ambiguous gender identities are already represented by the LGBTQ community. While this argument is valid, it similarly emphasizes the use and issue of divisive labels.
I believe that the use of labels is generally detrimental to the fight for equality, particularly with such an exclusive and narrowly defined label as in Watson's use of feminism. Labels splinter groups, and in fact, conceptualize the borders themselves. Without labels and borders, people can unite together under this common umbrella of equal rights for all, with no exclusion of any. The fact that we separate ourselves into different groups in the battle for equality demonstrates that even we don't see ourselves all as equal. If the fighters can't unite as equals, how can we expect the opposition to treat us the same?
There is no difference between the fight for women's equal rights than that of minorities, the queer community, or any other group that is disenfranchised. So, as an organization with a mandate to promote human rights for all, when will the UN expand campaigns like "HeForShe" to encompass the queer community, minorities, and other repressed groups?
Emma Watson's speech and "HeForShe" campaign only fights for equality of the poles of the gender spectrum -- this is not equality for all.