Emma Watson UN gender equality speech resonates with San Ramon students


Shilpa Rao and Brandon Garnsey

A speech to the United Nations by actress Emma Watson about the virtues of gender equality resonated with students at San Ramon Valley High School.

Watson, who appeared in all nine Harry Potter movies, spoke to the United Nations on Sept. 21 about feminism and its importance to men and women.

Watson dismissed the idea that feminists are “man-haters,” saying that feminism is the “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities” and represents “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.”

The movement deals with issues such as equal pay, the sexualization of women, and other discriminatory actions towards women.  Men benefit from feminism too, Watson says, as it aims to counteract “macho” culture and the notion that men need to be aggressive.

She points out that men have been noticeably absent in the discussion about gender equality. This is why she invites individuals of both sexes to join HeForShe, a campaign for gender equality. She envisions a society in which men and women can be both strong and sensitive, where “we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by what we are.”

Students at San Ramon agreed with many of Watson’s points about feminism. Junior Hannah Ramies described feminism as “an idea meant to bring political and religious equality for women.” She added that women have traditionally been housewives because of societal beliefs that men were stronger and smarter — better able to provide for families, a stereotype that feminism hopes to eliminate.

Senior Harry Gardiner described feminism as “an idea that promotes and works towards balancing the gender equality between men and women.”

San Ramon has some gender discrimination, though Gardiner noted the situation for women has improved considerably over the past 100 years. Ramies said teachers are generally fair in their treatment of both sexes, but students tend to have double standards. “For example,” she said, “some boys think it is OK to objectify women, but when a girl objectifies a boy, she deserves a scarlet A” – a reference to the symbol for adultery in the book “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Sophomore Sheridan Steele has experienced gender discrimination firsthand. “Just last week,” she said, “I was sitting with one of my best friends at lunch on the SRVHS campus, when a guy we barely know walked up to us. Because we were sitting next to each other and I was giving her a hug, his first response was to say, ‘Oh look, lesbians!’, pull out his phone, and begin taking pictures of us. When I asked him to stop, he ignored my request and continued taking photos, and when he was finished, he refused to delete them, assuring me that he ‘wouldn’t post them’. This would never happen to two friends that were male.”

It is for such situations that we need the HeForShe campaign, she concluded.

San Ramon students differ about whether society can achieve gender parity. Ramies thinks society is too “set in its ways” for equality to take shape, while Steele is confident that with some time and hard work, women will have equal rights. All said there has been progress.

For more information, check out:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkjW9PZBRfk (Watson’s speech)

http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2014/9/emma-watson-gender-equality-is-your-issue-too (transcript of speech)

http://www.heforshe.org (HeForShe campaign website)