You are a classy lady and I have nothing but respect for you. Despite becoming a movie star at a very young age, you’ve avoided child star stereotypes, graduated from Brown University, and even got certified to teach yoga and meditation.
So, it is not my intent to discredit you in any way, I just want to express my views about your speech as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. Hopefully, some constructive public discourse will come out of it.
In that speech you declared yourself to be a feminist, because you believe that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. Nothing to object here. Overall, you gave a good speech, and I’m all for giving rural African girls access to secondary education.
But asking why feminism has become such an uncomfortable word, and then not exploring this question any further, is not very helpful.
In my view, there are two problems with modern-day feminism, at least in the Western world.
The first is a misuse of the term gender equality, which should mean solely that a discrimination on account of sex is prohibited. Men and women should have equal rights and opportunities, but that does not mean that the social outcome should always be exactly the same for both sexes. Some feminists would disagree strongly, because they believe all gender roles are socially imposed. They do not consider a possibility that some differences between men and women are innate. What a typical girl wants or desires may be different from what a typical guy does, not only because of the culture, but because she was born with different drives as well. Recognizing the fact that men and women are not identical has some implications on what a public policy should be. As Steven Pinker puts it in a chapter on gender:
“Eliminating discrimination against women is important, but believing that women and men are born with indistinguishable minds is not. Freedom of choice is important, but ensuring that women make up exactly 50 percent of all professions is not.”
The second problem with feminism is that it perpetuates “us vs. them” mentality in women who become strongly identified with it. This may or may not be the case for the majority of self-proclaimed feminists, but there are extremists who definitely have this mentality. How does this happen?
Feminism aims for equal rights and opportunities, but it also presupposes that it’s women who are being systematically oppressed by the patriarchy. While this assumption is historically correct, and still pretty much the case in a large part of the world, it’s becoming increasingly counterproductive to think in those terms. A feminist’s identity is defined in part by belonging to a group that is being oppressed, and on a deep subconscious level, people want their identity to be validated at all times. When evidence of actual oppression of women becomes scarce, a confirmation bias will kick in, and the mind will manufacture false evidence of oppression in order to confirm this view of the world. Thus, the less gender inequality that there is in a society, the crazier the movement will become to justify its existence.
I think that this movement cannot reach its end goal intact. It will either have to transform itself into something that’s impartial (gender egalitarianism), or it will become ever more counterproductive and possibly disintegrate.
The above is my personal opinion and I don’t claim to have any expertise in this field. You could easily dismiss it as a psychobabble.
However, Emma, you said it yourself that your research has shown you that feminism has become an unpopular word. I think that it is essential that you investigate this further and find out why. Maybe you will be able to reject my writing with an alternative explanation. If so, I will be honoured to lose an argument to an Ivy League graduate – I won’t feel humiliated to be defeated by a woman.
Ultimately, though, we can both agree that the idea of having equal rights and opportunities for men and women is the most important thing here. Your speech clearly was a step in that direction. So, I wish you plenty of success working as a Goodwill Ambassador, and may the Force be with you.
Oh shit, wrong movie.
Matej (Matt) P.
References and further reading:
- Emma Watson to United Nations: I’m a feminist: http://youtu.be/c9SUAcNlVQ4
- Steven Pinker, 2002. The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (Chapter 18: Gender)
Original copy of this letter: http://thechangingways.com/2014/12/02/open-letter-to-emma-watson/