Emma Watson and HeForShe: Points to flaws in man-hating

Emma Watson recently asked men to join the United Nation's HeForShe gender equality campaign, and she spoke out against feminist rhetoric that often supports man-hating. 

Carlo Allegri/Reuters
Actress Emma Watson (L) and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon are shown together promoting the HeForShe campaign in New York September 20, 2014.

Actress Emma Watson gave a powerful speech to the United Nations in promotion of the new HeForShe campaign for gender equality.

In so doing she may have revealed just how far the feminist movement, perceived by some as “man-hating,” has to go to get back into the good graces of the mothers of boys.

“The more I have spoken about feminism, the more I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating,” UN Women's goodwill ambassador, Ms. Watson, said as she launched the United Nation's HeForShe campaign.  

The campaign, identified as a “solidarity movement for gender equality” invites men to take part in the global fight for equality by signing a pledge. 

Watson added, “If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop. For the record, feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.”

Having once considered myself a hard-core feminist, I agree with the message delivered by Ms. Watson.

Yet, I still can’t feel good about feminism or being allied with the word because, as the mother of boys, I still feel like the word conjures a negative image of the judgmental “man-haters” Watson described in her speech.

I should know. I was one of them for a very long time.

Nothing has changed my views on feminism like giving birth to four sons.

Yet, after decades of what Watson aptly defined as “man-hating,” the feminist movement is now, in the form of Watson, offering an olive branch in order to get men to support the cause of eliminating inequality and violence against women.

I want to give this campaign my full support, however much I believe that the extreme feminist movement is responsible for so much of the prejudice my own sons face today.

On the HeForShe web site, male visitors are asked to take the pledge that reads: “Gender equality is not only a women’s issue, it is 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.”

However, as a woman raised in a house with domestic abuse caused by my father, backing this campaign requires more than agreeing with the pledge.

Because of my father’s abuse, my mom and I became “man-haters” ourselves. To this day, my younger brother says that the way we approached men poisoned our relationship with him.

As the mom of boys, I had to un-learn all my man-hate, prejudice, and reverse gender-bias and force myself to stop being that woman who always rants about “men do this” and “men never understand that.”

As a mother, I had to alter the language and phrasing I had made my staple, just as Watson and others are asking men to do about girls and women.

We want men to stop saying “women can’t understand...” and “women are incapable of…”

In that same spirit, I want those women supporting HeForShe to consider how they might falsely categorize boys as younger versions of sexist men.

This is a vicious cycle that can be broken at the parenting level by moms like me who have seen the error of once adopting a blanketed, man-hating approach to feminism.

I have seen empowerment turn to entitlement in girls and women, making it often excused and accepted for girls to strike boys with no correction coming from a parent or teacher.

When one little girl routinely hit one of my sons as hard as she could, I went to speak to her mother and father.

They both laughed at me, even after I told them he had come home bleeding twice because of their daughter. He was two years younger than she was.

Had the situation been reversed, I believe it would have been a headline.

My son could have defended himself, but he was raised not to hit people – of any gender.

This is the legacy feminism must overcome, not only to get men to sign on in favor of the movement, but to also prevent the resentment of inequality in childhood from feeding into a seemingly endless cycle of gender abuse on both sides.

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