Altie, french woman, artist as a hobby, physicist, feminist, idealist, geek, dreamer, mother...
I mostly reblog art and fanart I love, and sometimes I post some art of my own, too.
And also feminism. And James McAvoy. For obvious reasons :)
Let’s engage in a critical analysis of Emma Watson speech given at the UN to raise awareness of the HeforShe Campaign.
I want to start of by saying that I think it is WONDERFUL that her speech has gained so much support and love internationally; it is also so wonderful that her speech has inspired so many, particularly those who were on the fence about feminism; not to mention that it might have made a large number of people to think twice or start considering how they can support gender equality. Pragmatically it is a good thing. It was a speech targeted towards men, which the HeforShe campaign represents. Please do not confuse this as an attack on Emma Watson, but rather a critique of a politicized, pre-packaged, delivery of a feminist speech.
But this space, The Middle Eastern Feminist, is a critical space for women of colour who face oppression across racial, class, gender, and religious boundaries- none of which Emma Watson represents or lives on a daily basis. By being critical and highlighting the problematic nature of Emma Watson’s speech and her as a political agent, white feminists on the page can gain more insight of the ways in which women of colour feel silenced and misrepresented by such powerful feminist figures who speak for them. As such, Emma Watson does not speak to me, for me or represent me!
As a woman of colour the speech was VERY problematic for a number of reasons:
1) Emma made no effort to acknowledge her IMMENSE privileges. For instance, she is a very young, VERY attractive, VERY successful, White, able bodied, cis gendered, heterosexual, thin privileged woman whose net worth exceeds 60 MILLION DOLLARS!!!
2) She spoke of and about women of colour in a detrimental way. For instance, she spoke of her disappointment at being called bossy when she wanted to lead and direct plays when she was 8. We acknowledge the negative impacts of such social values on young girls and their self-worth. But for MILLIONS of other 8 year olds across the world, they face the prospect of being forced into child marriages or giving birth, going hungry so that the boys in the family can be fed, having to become carers and carry the burden of supporting and helping their mothers and essentially never experiencing a childhood. This is not to say that white women’s experiences are not relevant or important. Feminism is important everywhere, but it is too often white privileged feminists who are given a voice to express their values; and it is too often the 8 year old child brides whose voices are lost. Instead, it is the stunningly beautiful, poised, well-spoken actress who speaks about her experience as if merely speaking of the child brides experiences is enough to give justice to the experiences of a child. Too often it is privileged women who speak of cultural practices that they have little awareness or experience of.
3) I want feminist leaders to be women who have lived the lives of the most oppressed, most marginalized elements of society. I am sorry to say, but Emma Watson is a deeply privileged woman who is a member of the global social elite. Her privileges allowed her the opportunity to have the privilege of speaking at the UN forum. Her privileges continue to demarcate her from the deeply oppressed- those she speaks for and about, but who remain unseen and unheard. This hardly helps to humanize the silent victims.
4) Her presentation and delivery was widely deemed to be wonderful, ground-breaking, passionate and concerned. And no doubt she felt those words deeply. Yet, her quivering voice, her ultra-femininity, her stunning looks, her exceptionally groomed appearances served to cater to male audiences and gaze, by appeasing them that here is a stunning, fragile, young feminist who is not a lesbian, not hairy, not ugly, not a spinster, not loud and angry and threatening- making a heartfelt, feminine, genuine, empathetic and non-aggressive request, a plea almost, to the male audiences. This defeats EVERYTHING that we have been trying to do by saying that we do not owe society to be pretty, to be soft spoken, to gently request in a feminine quivering voice, rather than demand power, demand liberation, demand human rights! It caters to everything that the patriarchy has conditioned us to believe, that we can have a voice so long as we aren’t too loud; or that we will be taken more seriously if we are conventionally attractive. Emma Watson is inadvertently and unwittingly reforging the mould that we have worked so hard as feminists to break and challenge; THIS is why it is essential that feminist leaders are aware of the long, proud and incredibly successful history of feminist work, activism and academia- she failed to realize that she was standing on the shoulders of giants.
5) Following the above, the speech and the presentation, the political agent that is Emma Watson delivered a very bubblegummy, hollywoody, male gaze catering, soft, liberal feminist ideal, one that was not challenging or threatening to the patriarchy.
6) I find it disturbing that as a woman of colour we are expected to display a high degree of deference and gratitude to Emma Watson, a white privileged woman- a woman whose life and experiences bears ZERO resemblance to our lives.
7) What would have been “ground-breaking”, “mind-blowing” and “revolutionary”, was having a child bride from Myanmar, or a women who might have escaped an honour killing or a woman who has been maimed by acid attacks because she refused a suitor, or a woman of colour, a woman who had legitimacy by virtue of her long commitment to feminism as opposed to just her popularity as an actress, or her level of attractiveness or enunciation skills, speak at the UN forum instead. I want a woman who grew up in Africa, who speaks with a broken English but speaks of the need to help stop child marriages because she has seen too many of her sisters forced into marriage at the age of 8,9 or 10 when many girls like her should be challenging her peers to lead and direct a play. I want a polyglot that learned to speak several languages because she was a refugee and a child of war. I am not interested in beautiful women who speak to me about the need to save a million girls in that continent over there, about a life and experiences she could only be paid to imagine in her movie roles. I wanted a woman to speak to me with a quivering voice born of carrying an unheard story and of injustices that can never be unseen.
8) there was also a vague passing comment about challenging the gender binary, there was little to no effort to challenge the cis gendered, heteronormative structure. Ignoring some of the most marginalized groups in the world is hardly revolutionary or ground-breaking.
I get where you are coming from and I appreciate presenting a different POV, but I cannot disagree more with some of your points, as a fellow person who isn’t “white”:
edit: And I’m pretty sure she did acknowledge her privilege. She said she was fortunate to have parents who didn’t care about her gender and that she was “lucky” to have the upbringing she did.
1. This world is not perfect.
"I want feminist leaders to be women who have lived the lives of the most oppressed, most marginalized elements of society. I am sorry to say, but Emma Watson is a deeply privileged woman who is a member of the global social elite."
- That’s…just wrong. The practical realities of the world are that people like Emma, has a gigantic megaphone precisely because she’s privileged. It helps that she can speak fluent English. Nobody pays attention to us if we can’t communicate in one of the most-widely spoken language. It helps that she’s famous. Whatever she says or tweets would be seen by more people than whatever I write on my blog. People think she’s beautiful and brilliant, so they pay attention to her. Yes, she may not be able to understand EVERYTHING others go through, but I am GLAD she is using the soft power her popularity and fame has granted her to speak out for worthy causes and to describe the experiences of others. Obviously, it would be best if they could describe it themselves but they usually don’t get to precisely because they’re oppressed. At least a few more people know about it because Emma talked about them.
- I am glad we have people like Malala. More people like Malala would be great. But I am also glad we have people like Emma- who, by speaking about feminism, are also saying, "just because I’m privileged and it protects me from the worst of gender inequality doesn’t mean I can not care or bother about feminism.”
- It’s fine if you’re not interested in listening to a beautiful, privileged young woman speak because you feel she doesn’t understand everything you’ve gone through. But you don’t need to be converted. You’re already a feminist. You don’t need to feel “grateful” to her specifically. Shouldn’t we just be glad other people who might be “psh feminists are man-haters” are sitting up and paying attention because it’s Emma? That’s one way we get more support. I’ve never seen us as having the luxury to reject support from high-profile advocates. As long as Emma doesn’t hijack the movement I am fine with her using her position to advocate for feminism.
2. Feminism is not about rejecting traditional ideas of femininity like being well-groomed, wearing dresses or speaking with a quivering voice.
"Yet, her quivering voice, her ultra-femininity, her stunning looks, her exceptionally groomed appearances served to cater to male audiences and gaze, by appeasing them that here is a stunning, fragile, young feminist who is not a lesbian, not hairy, not ugly, not a spinster, not loud and angry and threatening- making a heartfelt, feminine, genuine, empathetic and non-aggressive request, a plea almost, to the male audiences."
Feminism is about saying THAT’S not the only way you have to behave to be considered “feminine”. You can wear dresses and still be a woman. You can hate dresses and wear pants and you’re still a woman. That women- and men, by extension, don’t have to adhere to a set of rigidly-defined behaviour or mannerisms to pass some sort of test to prove their gender credentials. It’s a tad ironic you’re criticising Emma for this, when I’m guessing she’s well-groomed and the way she speaks is just WHO she is! I don’t think is very valid, because it’s not as though let’s say some Muslim feminist or Somali feminist who normally wears her headscarf or traditional African dress completely changed her appearance and mannerisms to be more “Western” to speak before this audience.
- If we’re going to think activism has to be synonymous with not being soft-spoken, being aggressive, loud and not caring if you sound threatening, aren’t you subscribing to the patriarchy’s ideas- which thinks THAT is the only form power exists in? That is the root of the reason we have so much violence in this world, where a black American president is called “effete” and derided as being “weak” just because he favoured diplomacy with Iran instead of joining the mindless cheerleading for war? Where female politicians feel they need to be hawkish and ruthless and not appear empathetic lest they get accused of being emotional or weak? That only loudness and by extension, militancy, are seen as “power”?
3. Oppression isn’t a contest. I do not deny Emma cannot understand what child brides face, but that is not a good reason to say she shouldn’t speak at the forum. She is a woman. There are certainly other perspectives she brings which are very relevant-she, as an actress, is in a position to affect how women are portrayed by choosing to take well-written roles for women. She has a good idea of how the Western movie industry works- that same, immensely powerful industry that perpetuates sexism all over the world but has the potential to change minds if they change how they portray women.
- Emma speaking doesn’t mean people like Malala or other women who are actually more severely marginalised don’t get to speak. They do. Malala has addressed the UN herself. I am glad we have all of them. Yes, her perspective is limited by her privilege, but I don’t think she “Set back” the movement because what she did was to reach a few more people who might not have listened. And slowly, these people will be open to other ideas because Emma provided an assessible voice who they felt comfortable listening to. They will listen eventually, perhaps, to others who less embody the traditional ideas of femininity.
- I’m all for allowing a fierce, unapologetic speech from a lesbian woman, from a woman who isn’t conventionally attractive like Emma, who isn’t white, who isn’t cis for speaking. They shouldn’t have to change their appearance. But Emma too shouldn’t have to change who she is and how she presents herself to have feminist credentials. That’s…just going back to patriarchy which feels power can only be bound up with aggression.
Young Loki; green-eyed, mist-born
ice-spear in one hand
stag-hunting come dawn
streak of shade on a bone-pale land.