Emma Watson, Feminism, and Spirituality

Emma WatsonEarlier this week, Emma Watson spoke as a Goodwill Ambassador at the UN for a new campaign, HeForShe, a righteous attempt to make gender equality a universal dialogue by bringing men into the discourse.

For many reasons, we could break down that speech for  the so many ways it was problematic. I don’t agree that Emma should have called out women for man-hating, and put the solution on women to be more open to men coming into the circle of feminist dialogue.

I also think for many of the reasons people praise it, we can also criticize it–like when she acknowledged her own privilege as being one of the few women in this world who can appreciate that level of economic, social, and professional success because of the resources she had readily available to her, claiming that the forces of sexism were never present in her life. And yes, we could make the case that that would have been an amazing moment to highlight all the women in the world who make far less than 78% of men, of women who have to rely on being sex workers to survive while privileged women criticize their choices, of a world of feminism that continually marginalize the experiences of black, brown, and poor voices.

All of these points can be debated to great lengths. But I also think that when you only focus on these points, you’re missing how beautiful the speech really is. It wasn’t until  the end of her speech that it really hit home with me:

“Men, I would like to give this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue, too….Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either.

We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that they are. When they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.

It’s about freedom. I want men to take up this mantle so that their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too, reclaim parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so, be a more true and complete version of themselves.”

Being a member of the Baha’i Faith, the concept of true Gender equality has never been a foreign topic, but rather one of the cores of my religious beliefs. There was a spiritual component that resonated with me when I heard this, and that is what made this so refreshing. As I was listening to her speak, I was reminded of the Baha’i Writings:

“ The world of humanity has two wings—one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible. Not until the world of women becomes equal to the world of men in the acquisition of virtues and perfections, can success and prosperity be attained as they ought to be.”

When we speak about eliminating patriarchy, we aren’t just talking about getting rid of prejudices, ending rape culture, or tearing down the walls of misogyny. we are talking about humanity’s–particularly men’s–spiritual salvation.

The older I get, and the more speeches like these I hear, the more I am becoming aware of the role that I have–as a man–in fostering the world that I want to live in, as well as a better understanding towards these Baha’i Principles I hold so close to me. It was men who made patriarchy what it is today, and so men play a crucial role in breaking down those barriers. Currently, the stakes are too high to do nothing and to sit idly.

When we allow ourselves to live in a world that lets patriarchy go unquestioned, we aren’t doing anyone any favors. We aren’t giving men the chance to be great, to raise them up as compassionate role models, to see women as equals, to go against the norms of what is or isn’t masculinity–of what makes a man a man. What we are doing is crippling their souls. Materially, patriarchy puts men ahead of women, but because of this, it puts us behind spiritually, and it makes us monsters because of it.

In an ideal world where women and men were equals, there are a lot things we wouldn’t see. We probably wouldn’t see Ray Rice dragging his fiance out of an elevator, or an institution like the NFL deem it a sufficient punishment to only suspend him for two games. We wouldn’t see men killing innocent people because they felt entitled to women’s bodies. We wouldn’t see a culture of rape dominate every sphere of our lives, and that sympathizes the perpetrators. Maybe Chris Brown would never have hit Rihanna . But even if he did, maybe we wouldn’t continue to support his music. We wouldn’t accept a government run almost entirely by men, and then allow them to dictate what women could, or could not, do to their bodies. In a world where women and men were equals, this post would be have been obsolete, because there would be no need.

Emma may not be the first to say what she is saying, but she is saying it. And for that, thank you.