Emma Watson has taken the helm at one of the most talked about initiatives for gender equality. Her U.N. speech in September, where she launched the community #HeforShe, encouraging men and boys to stand up their sisters, drew worldwide interest. The video of her speech was watched over 11 million times. And the website of UN Women, of which Watson is a Goodwill Ambassador, experienced so much traffic that it crashed. It was that kind of response which encouraged her to introduce IMPACT 10x10x10, a one-year pilot effort that aims to engage governments, corporations and universities as instruments of change for gender equality. Watson has not backed down from the attention or her role as the face of feminism, despite receiving flack from people saying she is misrepresenting feminism, or that they disagree with her “brand of feminism,” or wondering why this movie star is aligning herself with that word at all.
She has also received an overwhelming amount of support; everyone from Desmond Tutu to Hillary Clinton to Yoko Ono to Prince Harry have have given issued support or contacted the #HeforShe coalition. The hashtag itself has been used over 1.2 billion times on Twitter. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 23rd, in front of world leaders and press, Watson announced IMPACT 10x10x10 as the next phase in the #HeforShe campaign. She said, “One of the biggest pieces of feedback I’ve had since my speech is that men and women want to help but they aren’t sure how best to do it. Men say they’ve signed the petition. ‘What now?’ What can we practically do to end gender inequality? As feminists, what do we actually do?”
Feminism is such a contentious word that many celebrities have declined to be associated with it, or labeled a feminist. Kelly Clarkson has said she doesn’t consider herself a feminist; “No…that’s too strong. I think when people hear feminist, it’s like, ‘Get out of my way, I don’t need anyone.'” Other celebrities who have rejected the feminist label include Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Madonna. In her UN speech last fall, Watson tried to level out the definition of “feminism,” so that it simply means the equalization of the sexes – 50/50 – and in a world where women still do not have nearly half the share of economic or political power, it is a word that still needs attention.
“It’s about engaging governments, businesses and universities and having them make concrete commitments to gender equality,” the actress said. “But I want to hear from the human beings that are behind these organizations….What are your stories?” Watson shared a story she heard that took her breath away: “A fan told me that since watching my speech, she has stopped herself being beaten up by her father.” A hashtag doesn’t just get passed around on Twitter; it can have real power, and as Watson said, “the ground is fertile” for change.
One phrase from the IMPACT 10x10x10 mission statement is that it aims to create change “within some of the communities that most need it.” Recently, Maisie Williams has come out against Watson’s feminism. Williams calls herself a feminist, and is a 17-year-old star of Game of Thrones, playing a girl who learns to fight and who could be a poster child for feminism, but she said that Watson endorses a “first world” type of feminism, and that there are so many more terrible things going on in the world that need to be addressed first. This is true, but these issues would be more easily addressed with a “united front,” as Watson has said. The community focus of IMPACT 10x10x10 is what could really make a difference in the gender inequality issue. Hopefully, it will be inclusive enough to accept and engage with detractors like Maisie Williams and Kelly Clarkson, so that gender equality doesn’t remain an “issue,” but becomes a reality.