#HeForShe: Why Men Need to Join the Conversation
HeForShe is a solidarity campaign initiated by UN Women. Its goal is to engage men and boys as agents of change by encouraging them to take action against discrimination faced by women and girls. For many people, it was UN Ambassador Emma Watson’s speech in September 2014 that brought their attention to the campaign. The actress essentially invited men to join the conversation on equality.
Yet while the campaign has gained traction thanks in part to celebrities like Ms Watson, it has also been heavily criticised. Some claim that the campaign side-lines men, only empowering women and not focusing on true gender equality. Whilst others state the campaign defines men as the ‘strong protectors of women’, where women are consequently presented as ‘victims'. However, in my opinion, people are missing the point about why this movement was necessary in the first place.
The reason women are the focal point in the debate on gender equality is because they have traditionally and categorically suffered more disempowerment and inequality on account of their gender. Much in the same way, minority and persecuted races are usually focused on when we discuss racism. It makes sense that, when you are trying to create equality, be it gender or racial, you focus on helping the side that has been downtrodden.
It’s important to clarify at this point that the campaign isn’t about incriminating men’s actions in the past. Men and boys aren’t being invited to the conversation to ‘save women’ because women are ‘victims’ of male tyranny, or to apologise for the lack of equality over the years. After all, they are also victims of gender stereotyping in a world that forces them to repress their feminine side.
Sadly though, it’s still the case that many men believe gender equality is synonymous with feminism, which they see as a movement for women that doesn’t involve them. But as Madden Golley so eloquently puts, “HeForShe isn’t about women’s issues, HeForShe is about human issues, and gender equality isn’t a woman’s right, it’s a human right. We all have a crucial role to play”.
Men need to join the conversation of gender equality. If men can stand up and become agents of change working towards gender equality, this makes the campaign inclusive. If men do not get involved with HeForShe, it becomes a ‘women for women’ campaign, which alienates mainstream thinkers.
Men need to join the pursuit of feminism and gender equality simply because it is the right thing to do. It is easy to paint the campaign with the brush of ‘men-hating enlightened self-interest’ but, at the core of it, this is a matter of human rights – which involves everyone. The success of the HeForShe campaign relies on men and women both being engaged in the process. Women have dealt with the struggle, now it’s men’s turn to play catch up. As Watson put it, “How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?”
Charlotte Anderson is a marketing enthusiast with a First Class Degree in Business from the University of Sussex. Currently she is working as a digital marketer for an engineering company involved heavily with social media marketing and content creation, and hoping to gain further knowledge in coding and website development. Having written many essays around the subject of gender equality and representation in the media, she hopes to convey the passion for the subject through her blog posts with SheCanCode.