Initial reactions to Emma Watson’s #HeForShe launch speech at the UN Conference last week were fairly positive. Then a bunch of 4chan lowlives threatened to leak naked photos of her and made a countdown to her death (whether that was meant as a metaphorical death like the death of her reputation or as a real thing is unclear. Either way it was shamefully horrible, creepy and nasty) and support for Watson and the campaign soared.
For the record, I support the campaign and think it is a positive step in the right direction for achieving gender equality.
Main Point / Argument:
A friend of mine told me she was disappointed because she watched the speech after seeing it hyped up and shared a lot on Facebook but expected more from it. I agree with her assessment – the speech was good but not the most rousing, amazing thing I’ve ever seen. But here’s why I think that’s ok: it didn’t need to be. It wasn’t meant for me. It wasn’t meant for my friend either. It wasn’t a speech for the interested and engaged feminist. It wasn’t really a speech meant for women at all. It was relatively mild and it was measured and it didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. It wasn’t that inspiring to us female-women-lady-folk because it wasn’t aimed at us in the first place. It was a speech for men. It was an introduction to feminism for men, particularly men who are afraid or ignorant of it. It was a baby step for those who cannot yet confidently walk in feminism’s equality based corridors. And it was exactly right to be so.
A lot of people seem to think the campaign sends the wrong message, but we’re painfully naïve if we think everything will change in a day or with one campaign. The message the #HeForShe campaign sends is not that it’s a boys’ club at all, rather that it’s a boy’s way in to a girls’ club – very much a reversal of the stereotypes we’re used to (also check out my navigation of that complex, correct apostrophe usage. All hail good grammar! God I hope I got it right.) Historically, the boy version of a club comes first and the girls are allowed in later via a sometimes patronising, watered down version, e.g. scouts and brownies. This campaign is a magnificent idea. It’s providing an entry point (snigger) for men into feminism.
This is not about giving feminism legitimacy by asking the men to be in it. This is about demystifying feminism so they stop being afraid of it. It’s not a perfect version of the message nor a perfect message, but hey, guys? News just in: it’s not a perfect world. The same aforementioned intelligent, feminist, woman friend of mine who was disappointed by the speech said:
“It shouldn’t be about their mothers and daughters and wives and sisters. They should just understand that we’re equal humans and that should be enough to make them feminists.”
And she’s right. It should be enough that we’re people, and to treat us with anything but equality is mistreatment. But it’s not like that. It has been demonstrated time and again throughout history across the world that it is not enough. And all the “but it should be” in the world doesn’t seem to change that.
So we have to take our strategy back a few steps and think practically.
Perceived gripes / problems / some true things:
*Yes. The campaign is a fair bit behind where a lot of thinking women are today.
*Yes. The campaign is being marketed for men – something that seems counterintuitive for a movement that is about equality for women.
*Yes. It absolutely sucks that we apparently cannot effect the change we want on our own, that for there to be progression we must have male support.
Or we could look at it this way:
*If you’re one of those thinking women then, yay and congratulations, not everyone is as smart as you. You’re a progressive thinker, ahead of the curve, you’re correct and the bloody UN says so! Hooray for you!! You believe we should all be equal because we’re human regardless of gender, race, religion or culture – and so with this knowledge and human understanding and international support, you have the power to educate and do good things. So be active, make a difference and use it wisely.
*The campaign is being marketed for men because they’re behind. They’re the ones who need to catch up. The male marketing isn’t a negative, it’s a positive. We’re making it accessible. It’s being marketed to the feminist minority. Isn’t that kind of amazing? Plus I remember reading about a psychological study years ago (apology for lack of reference – it was in a psychology magazine from maybe 2009, so literally years ago) that posited that if a woman tells her friend that she thinks a man is good looking, the friend won’t necessarily also think this man is attractive. But if a man tells his friend that a woman is good looking, his friend is likely to agree with him and they all go “yeah mate she’s well fit” together. The upshot of this was a conclusion about group mentality and how men are more likely to agree with each other about good ideas and attractive people. So if men are more likely to do that, doesn’t it make sense to get a big group of them into feminism so more of them see it as a good idea and follow suit?
*Political campaigns know full well they need the female vote as well as the male vote to win. This is like that. Feminism is the presidential candidate and so we have to get the male vote as well as the female vote, because men are also people and we need and want them on our side because we’re the good guys and why would we not welcome more good guys? We want to win. So let’s get more good guys on board.
Feminism is not about isolating ourselves or elevating ourselves to so far above men that they feel they cannot reach us. Feminism is about equality. For women. And, by definition of equality, also for men. It’s about equality between the genders / sexes. And we need both of those binary bastards to be on board if it’s going to work.
This is a campaign to raise awareness. It’s not for you – the one who is already aware. It’s not for you because you’re already there. You’re already involved by the virtue of being female and thinking and feminist and we’re not just preaching to the choir now. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t be the minority asking for equality but then complain when we’re treated like the majority. We started this club. And now we’re opening the doors to new members. If you’re already a member there’s no need to reapply.
I’m terrible at maths and I’m slightly scared of it. I couldn’t attend a degree level maths class and I wouldn’t want to. Furthermore, if someone invited me into a beginners maths class and I saw on the sign up sheet that loads of experts were going to be there I’d be terrified and embarrassed by my lack of knowledge and would probably be put off signing up. We learn gradually. We don’t jump in at the deep end of knowledge. We can’t expect to effect change and teach people about feminism if we’re not willing to give them the time to learn. It’s not patronising, it’s understanding. And yes, we may be impatient for them to catch up but we have only just properly, publicly asked them to join. We’re trying to overturn an ingrained mentality that has been present for most of humanity’s existence. Old habits die hard and this – prejudice – is one of the oldest habits around. Give the newbies a chance. Because sadly, it’s not enough that we’re all human and deserve equality.
So here’s what I suggest to my fellow wonderful, intelligent, feminist women: be happy that we’re on an internationally, publicly supported road to achieving gender equality. Realign your expectations of this campaign. Stop thinking about it in terms of what belongs to you. Feminism / equality is for everyone. And in lieu of being able to sign up on the website for yourself, ask a man you know to sign up (link provided below) and educate him. Open the door, welcome a new member to the club, share the knowledge and help the world change to be better.
Gentlemen! Sign up here:
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” – George Bernard Shaw
“Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.” – Charles Dickens
I’m on my phone a lot. I’m on my computer a lot. I’m a writer – I use a lot of screens. I would say I’m fairly close to being a master of electronically communicated comedy. I’ve got the text shouting thing down pat. A well placed capitalised sentence can induce “Actually laughing on my own, in public” from my recipient. Yeah that’s right. I’m good with the written word. And I can type super fast so I never miss a beat or a joke.
But what is this doing to us as human beings? Is it healthy?
Well, all the evidence would suggest no. It isn’t. I say “all the evidence”…I really mean “my reactions to things”.
If, as many people do, you have an iPhone, I know I can contact you in the following ways:
Face time – also FaceTime voice call
Skype instant message or call
Facebook – wall post, tagging in a status or private message
Twitter – public post and DM
Viber message or call (though I don’t have it so that one might be difficult. But in a pinch, I could download it, check to see if you have it and then if the other 9742 ways didn’t work I COULD GET HOLD OF YOU THIS WAY. At the very least I could invite you to use it. That’s what a sane and reasonable human would do, right?)
Off the top of my head I have just listed 16 different ways to contact you. SIXTEEN. WHY DO WE NEED TO BE CONTACTABLE IN SIXTEEN DIFFERENT WAYS?!
I cannot convey strongly enough how much this freaks me out. And how much of a contributing factor I believe this technology and communications phenomenon is to the ever increasingly psychotic behaviour of people in the Western world.
I am not a patient human being. I’m just not. I do try to be, but naturally I’m impatient with anything from replies to messages and emails to adults understanding basic concepts. I don’t do well with slow people. I operate at a high speed and I expect others to keep up. I suspect I have been made much worse by the high speed and higher speed and higher higher speed internet that makes everything so easily available.
Inevitably this brings me to online dating. We get to know people through screens, via websites and messaging services. We want them to text after a date, not call. It used to be that we waited for a phone call. Now we don’t talk, we text. That is a severe communication reduction. I was once in a relationship where we texted all the time but never really said anything. It’s so easy to do that. It’s not easy to phone someone and then not say anything without quickly realising that something is wrong. As a generation, we have become inept at making phone calls when we should. We have lost out on getting to know each other vocally when we aren’t face to face. Of course there are some people who have never been the type to talk on the phone, but more and more we don’t have conversation, we just chat.
It can be argued that people used to communicate through writing, so actually what we have is a throw-back situation to the days of writing letters. Here’s why that is not true – letters take time, thought and care. Occasionally we may choose to write an email over which we spend a lot of time, but I believe that is quite rare. When someone hand-writes a letter to me and I open it, that is all I see. That letter has been written without distraction. I know the letter has not been interspersed with Facebook and twitter and emails and other things. It has been crafted by hand for me to read. Similarly, I give it my full attention. When an email is written it is probably one of many tabs open. There are 9 million other things you can do on that computer screen. It’s not the same and does not elicit the same response as a letter.
Now let’s talk about mental health. There’s a lot of debate about if mental illness is on the rise, or if we’re just less taboo about it than in previous years, so we’re more aware of it. I think it’s perhaps a bit of both. I also think that part of the reason for the increase in young people suffering from depression, is that we don’t have time to process anything anymore. Living in the age of technology is overwhelming. We’re expected to act quickly on everything. Things have to be done immediately, if not sooner. The brain is wonderful – fast moving, adaptable, fascinating. But conversely, we need time to process information and news and ideas. We don’t have the ability to know things immediately. Ironically, we are given the most time to learn and understand new things as children, when our brains are actually at their speediest.
We are fairly immune to emails now. I have been given the advice to make a phone call when applying for a job so my emailed application doesn’t just fade into the blur of so many others. If you want something done by someone, you should call the person or go and see them – emails are much easier to ignore because we don’t see them as important. We are desensitised to them.
I still like to receive phone calls and talk to people. There are already people who are more comfortable with screens than humans, and seek refuge behind their computers. Our real life, person to person communication is suffering because of our dependency on technology. Look around you the next time you’re on a bus or tube or train. How many people are on phones or electronic devices? Are we even more uncomfortable with making eye contact with strangers than we used to be? Our basic receptors to people are not the same as they used to be.
There are positives of course – the wealth of information we can access, the widespread capability of the news and being able to skype or facetime with a relative or friend across the world. Like magic. Technology in itself is neither good nor bad – it is neutral, but we don’t only use it for good. We replace the validation and understanding we crave from the people closest to us with selfies, Facebook likes, retweets. We mistake these things for popularity. We mistake these things for people caring about us and we mistake the tiny gesture of a click for giving attention. We are simultaneously much more callous and more fragile now – we forget that behind each screen is an actual person just like us, and our relationships are suffering.
I do believe that our heavy reliance on technology and the fast pace at which we insist on moving is psychologically damaging. Nervous breakdowns, stress, depression and anxiety are all apparently far more common now than they were, say, fifty years ago. Although public perception and understanding of these conditions is part of it, there is no smoke without fire. The fire here, in my view, is technology. So goodbye conversation. It was nice knowing you.