What is HeForShe?
On September 20th, 2014 UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson, gave a rousing speech at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
Watson said, “If we stop defining each other by what we are not, and start defining ourselves by who we are, then we can all be freer.” She pointed out that men are also harmed by gender inequality, and issued an invitation to all men and boys to join a new campaign as agents of change.
UN Women are campaigning so we can all be our own best self in a happier, more equal world for everyone? Well, sign me up.
I support HeForShe because I feel it is the right thing to do. Gender equality is so simple and obvious, I’m amazed we even have to talk about it in the 21st Century.
As Canada’s recently-elected PM Justin Trudeau said when explaining why he made choosing a gender-balanced cabinet a priority: “Because it’s 2015.”
It’s about time.
What kind of men join HeForShe?
Quite a few apparently. Barack Obama for one. Matt Damon, Tom Hanks, Russell Crowe, Tom Hiddleston, Harry Styles, author Neil Gaiman for a few more.
You can find lists of celebrities who have signed up to show support on the internet. Here are just two examples:
In the first 3 days of the HeForShe campaign, the goal of 100,000 men signing up was easily reached (1). That number included men from every country on earth. Good news and a great start.
I support HeForShe because I have a daughter. And a son.
And I want both of them to have the chance to be their best possible selves in this world. The same fair chances, respect, and a full range of choices and opportunities. I have always hoped for this and believed it was paramount.
When my daughter, aged five, expressed an interest in boxing, I bought pads and mini gloves and showed her how to punch. Her interest fizzled out after a while, but it was fun while it lasted. Did this childhood experience help her progress towards her ultimate chosen career as a portrait artist? I hope in some way it has – sport is a critical part of wellbeing.
And boxing is an excellent form of fitness, builds confidence and teaches discipline, all of which are important life skills, no matter one’s gender. I didn’t want my daughter to miss out.
I’ve also been an equal son/daughter hugger, encouraging my kids to show their emotions. Grieving, for example, can be cathartic. Men and boys need to be encouraged to express emotions too, rather than forced to hide behind stiff upper lips.
My son has grown up to be a caring and generous young man. I hope knowing he was unconditionally loved had something to do with it.
By contrast, I was raised (a while ago) in a nearly all male world. I was one of three brothers, and went to all-boys elementary and high schools. My college at Oxford only accepted men at the time. I started my career in finance. I boxed. In my first quarter century, there were not a lot of opportunities to interact with women, develop friendships, to learn about and understand alternate points of view. A real loss, as I look back on it.
I am still learning what the other half of the world experiences, what this all means and what my part in helping create a more equal world might be. Inevitably I will not get it right the first time. But I am trying.
What’s a HeForShe Author?
Here’s a way I hope I am supporting these goals today: through my writing.
Themes, characters, worlds. Positive plot arcs that showcase powerful women (and men) who are leading actors and problem resolvers in their own lives. An equal number of female and male characters. Roles that challenge stereotypes.
A HeForShe author is anyone whose writing supports concepts of gender equality.
Women make up half the world. I worry about where they are in our literature, our media, our films – it seems to me they are too often absent or sidelined. The upside of this current imbalance is that there is so much opportunity to develop fascinating female characters. It’s an exciting time to be an author.
When the hero of my first full-length novel showed up nearly fully-formed in my brain and turned out to be a woman – I knew I would have a lot of learning to do. And this hero was not just any woman, but Teal, an ambitious journalist, who wanted to tell her own story from her own point of view. Telling a story from a woman’s point of view…me?
Fortunately, I was very lucky that my outstanding editor turned out to be a woman and that all my beta-readers have been outstanding women as well. Strong ones. Who tell me exactly where I went wrong. Kind too, as they suggest ways to get my hero ‘telling her own story from her own point of view’ again, and back on track.
Do you support Gender Equality?
Are you comfortable with the word feminist? Beyoncé is.
At the 2014 MTV Music Video Awards, she performed her song Flawless in front of a giant screen illuminated with the F word (Feminism) in capital letters. And accompanied it with Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s definition of feminism: “social, political and economic equality of the sexes”.
Yet a lot of people I know don’t feel comfortable with the word feminism. It has been smeared, misused and negatively caricatured by voices with more power and a personal stake in maintaining current social structures.
As an unfortunate result, too many men and women I know begin sentences with: “I’m not a feminist, but…” and end these sentences with resounding support for women’s equality.
Do you believe women should be able to vote? Own property in their own name? Open a bank account without their husband’s permission?
If you believe
If you believe any of the above, then you are in fact a radical feminist. Not too long ago of course, women couldn’t vote (not until 1920 in the US (2), 1928 in the UK (3) and 1971 in Switzerland (4) ), and could not control their own money or property completely – until 1974 in the US, women could not sign any kind of credit application without a man to co-sign.(5) More examples in a timeline of women’s legal rights can be found at Wikipedia (6).
If you say yes to any of the above questions, you are a radical feminist today. There are still too many countries where, for women, all of the above remain a distant dream.
But if you aren’t comfortable with the word “feminism”, I hope you could instead stand with me to support “gender equality”. For you, me, my kids and yours.
How to show your support
At heforshe.org you can find a link where everyone is invited – both men and women – to sign up to show their support.
There are lots of ideas for other ways to show your support and fascinating facts at this website too.
I believe achieving gender equality is a critical part of creating the best possible world for all of us. And that it’s the right thing to do.
Having a world where both my daughter and son can become their best possible selves, having a chance for both men and women to be equally recognized as parents, and being able to express emotion without censure are just a few personal reasons for my supporting gender equality.
What are yours?