Figureheads vs. Opinion Leaders

If honor be your clothing, the suit will last a lifetime;
but if clothing be your honor, it will soon be worn threadbare.
William Arnot

If you want publicity, an easy thing to get is to get a famous person to speak for you. For example, you can give that person a prize. Or you declare a person an ambassador of your organization.

The person does not really have to have done anything for that cause in the first place — just being famous is enough. Fame is universally applicable, it’s the ultimate currency (well, if you exclude money, which can get you all the others). But yeah, qualifications are irrelevant, as its the fame of the person that draws attention to the movement, association, club, etc.

But while it can give your movement exposure, it does not really improve it if it’s goals are biased or rotten. And at times, a famous speaker can expose what is wrong with your movement. I’m not talking about a speaker deliberately doing so … that would be a sight to see. No, it can happen quite accidentally just by what the famous person says. Because this person draws attention. Critical attention.

Emma Watson (Herminone in “Harry Potter”) recently spoke for a movement supported by the UN — ostensibly for equality. While she did mention a couple of problems men face (e.g., high suicide rates), the overall goal was simply to get men to sacrifice themselves for women. Yup. The speech was for the HeForShe campaign, which is lead by UN Women. And while Emma Watson spoke — at times — for equality by also mentioning the challenges men and boys face, the pledge on that site reads:

Pledge from the HeForShe website, note the last five words.

or as text:

Gender equality is not only a women’s issue, it’s a human rights issue that requires my participation. I commit to take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls.

Yup — a movement called “He For She” and a pledge to “take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls“. Really?

As has been pointed out in multiple blog postings (e.g., “An Open Letter to Emma Watson” by Naughty Nerdess, or “The five little words that betrayed Emma Watson” by Ally Fogg) and articles (even, hey, on “Sorry, Emma Watson, but HeForShe Is Rotten for Men” by Cathy Young) that hardly makes the world a better place, nor does it speak for equality. I mean, sure, “faced by women and girls” does not mean that you cannot take action against all forms of violence and discrimination, including when men and boys are the victims. Although by that logic, you could say that screaming “White Power!” does not exclude “Black Power!” — and vice versa.

It’s a shame, looking at the site, it’s clear that this is another attempt to frame women/girls as the sole victims and get men/boys to step in and protect them. It ignores that in places where women suffer, men usually do suffer as well. For example, there was a #bringbackourgirls “campaign”, but none for the boys. Well, you couldn’t bring them back anyway. In at least two incidents prior to the abduction of the girls, when Boko Haram attacked schools, they killed the boys (see here and here, and usually let the girls untouched). BTW, Boko Haram actually means “Western education is forbidden/sinful”, without a gender qualifier. It’s a sad day when a terrorist organization understands equality better than a campaign by the UN.

So this “Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality” is not really for gender equality. It’s either a re-heating of traditional values (pre-equality movements) or the wish to keep old bureaucratic/funding structures  in place, which were establish to protect and promote women only (and, of course, the people funded by these structures). Otherwise the use of “HeForShe” doesn’t make sense. Also, sarcastically speaking, I thought the UN was against the use of human shields. Apparently only against certain kinds of human shields. So next time a rouge state wants to use human shields to protect a military installation, just use male civilians as “shields”. Nah, thinking about it, it wouldn’t work. Nobody would really give a damn if you blew these civilians to hell if they were all male.

The sad thing is that well-known people like Emma Watson would likely have the social capital to speak for actual equality. To become more than a figurehead of an organization that has a strong agenda and a serve blind spot. She could have become an opinion leader. A person who points out that the problem is not that feminism is seen by many as man-hating and self-defeating (by men and women). But that feminism is in current public practice at best indifferent to the problems faced by men/boys, and frequently, it actually is man-hating. Unless, of course, men can be made useful to women and girls, as with the “HeForShe” pledge. I don’t know what’s going through her mind, she likely is rich enough to not care about an UN organization and she does mention issues boys and men face, so she seems to be able to think for herself (provided she wrote at least part of the speech herself, she’s an actress after all). So yeah, the material was (and still is) there for a campaign for actual equality. Instead of a “HeForShe” sexist campaign a egalitarian “She and he for us.” campaign (as Cathy Young writes in her time article).

Personally, if it’s about equality, I like the “WeForWe” slogan better that cropped up on Twitter (#weforwe). But it’s a bit … nondescript. I’d go with a line from a famous book:

Un pour tous, tous pour un.
(One for all. All for one.)
“The Three Musketeers” by Alexandre Dumas

I mean, screw it, why should gender even be mentioned in a slogan? Why not ignore it and pull together, no social loafing, no special privileges. A real unifying movement which requires quid pro quo.

There are more than enough capable women who actually want equality, but if this “HeForShe” campaign represents feminism, then it actually damages equality. And as for Emma Watson … well, unfortunately, she represents today’s feminism quite accurately: Speaking of one thing (using a dictionary definition of feminism in the speech), but campaigning only for women and girls (pledge). It’s the now-common “yes, boys and men suffer, but let’s pledge to help only women and girls”. Very self-serving, very politically correct, but is has nothing to do with actual equality.

You know, equality in the sense of treating humans as equal, and not using sex/gender to define the roles people can or should take.