The United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign had a fantastic launch, with Emma Watson’s impassioned speech deservedly going viral. She stood up and described how everyday sexism continues to discourage girls and women from being strong, physical, and outspoken. And she defended the “feminist” label as a simple demand for sexual equality. But most importantly, she called for solidarity between men and women in achieving it.
And then this video came out:
On the surface, it looks like a group of men from all walks of life answering Watson’s call. But dive deeper, and it becomes problematic. For me, anyway.
I’m a man, and I consider myself a feminist. But when I think about working toward an end to sexism, the last thing I would do is get a group of men to discuss the issue isolated from women. And yet that’s what this video seems to be trying to do.
It feels like a male encounter group, but obviously highly scripted. The different men describe their commitment to #HeForShe in terms of protective paternalistic stereotypes (“I can’t let my daughters, or my wife, suffer because I didn’t do my job”) and entitlement (“If we don’t change it, it’s never gonna change.”)
I realize that men have to be part of the solution, but this video feels like it is saying that men are the solution. As if a bunch of bros getting together to share their feelings are going to solve sexism, with no reference to how sisters have been doing it for themselves for over 200 years. They don’t need a heroic male takeover of the women’s movement that helps us all feel proud of ourselves because we are “#NotAllMen.” They need real understanding and support.
Am I being too harsh? Maybe. But when the one man says, “Understand that it’s not only speaking out for women, but with women” to a sausage fest, the irony speaks volumes to me.
I think #HeForShe is a great idea, “a solidarity movement for gender equality that brings together one half of humanity in support of the other of humanity, for the entirety of humanity.”
So why can’t we do it together? Are men considered to be so sexist already that we need to find a “manly” way to be feminist?
Here’s an idea: Talk to women about the issue. But more importantly, listen to them about what they experience. There is far more work for us to do together.