Starting Out Your Life As a Woman
Emma Watson's speech to the UN, delivered with such grace beyond her tender years, is filled with laudable sentiments and noble intentions. She beautifully describes a theoretical ideal of women and men treating each other with the deepest respect and reverence, a far cry from her experience thus far in her short life of being demeaned as bossy, sexualised and not taken seriously.
Her faltering, child-like voice and couture double breasted men's suit jacket (admittedly in shiny ivory and perfectly tailored) tell a different story to what she is saying. She wants women to be taken seriously and yet her impression of what a woman is is not based on who she is, but what she thinks she is supposed to be. The mismatch between her projection and the content of her words undermine the very authority she talks about wanting and not having.
How much more powerful the impact of this occasion might be if she had perhaps started like this:
"Look at me, here I am a young woman just starting out on my life, here because I am famous for playing at being a girl growing up who isn't me, dressed up in these designer clothes which I choose because they appeared to me this morning to best represent what a woman is, and yet I feel so uncomfortable in them, and talking to you about something I dream about, something that I see as the only way forward for humans to live together in peace and harmony: for men and women to treat each other with respect for who they are not for what they do.
"The honest truth is though that I don't have a clue what it is to be a woman. I look around and I don't see any role models of women who inspire me to want to be me, to want to be a woman in my own right. Right now, I feel as if I am being asked to play another role but no one can tell me how to do it. Hermione, my alter ego of Harry Potter fame, might say ""just wave your magic wand"". But I know that life really isn't that easy.
"Like you, I see women being women is a state worthy of respect. That is indeed a noble theoretical ideal. Yet, how do we achieve that? How do we make it a practical reality that women are respected? I want to earn that respect. Through my being someone I'm not I've earned a lot of money and it simply hasn't satisfied my desire. Respect is not something that can be bought. Respect is earned. Yes, I'm respected for my acting skills and for my courage as a young girl to dedicate my life to a career. But I want more: I want to be respected as a woman because I behave like a woman. I want your daughters to be respected as a woman. And I am now dedicating my life to leading the way by example.
"I look around and see women being called bossy. I know how that feels: I was described as bossy when I was eight and producing a play. Actually it was a fair description of me. I didn't know how to behave differently to get things done. I lacked the authority to command. I didn't have any examples to follow. I didn't learn what it is to be a woman.
"I look around and see women being sexualised in the media. I know how that feels: photographs of me circulate around the internet portraying me in a very sexual way which makes me feel very uncomfortable. The media and social media love that I'm pretty. But that's only skin deep. I want to be known for my presence. That's when I know that I'll be respected.
"I look around and see women behaving disrespectfully and then wondering why, when they copy some soap opera star shouting and screaming, they end up playing out dramas in their own lives which get out of hand.
"I look around and see women being treated badly. I know how that feels too. I see men treating women in a way which I know we all agree is deplorable. But where did they learn that from? Why don't these men respect their own mothers? Is it because their mothers simply don't know how to be women and simply have not earned the respect of their own children?
"I look around and see women accepting being treated badly. Why? Why do they lack the authority to stop this behaviour? Is it because their fathers failed to love their mothers and to treat their daughters with the respect that they would expect any man in their daughter's lives to show?
"How do we educate and inspire the men and women of the world to create a generation based on respect? What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? "
And suppose Emma Watson had finished her speech like this, just imagine what an impact she makes.
"Here I am, at the start of my adult career, just graduated from University and about to enter the world of grown-ups, leaving behind the world of make believe. I am in the most privileged position of being sought after by the film industry to play roles in movies which I know influence the world.
"I pledge to you, now, that I dedicate my life to accepting roles only where I learn what it is to be a woman, that I may play roles which are role models for your daughters to look up to and be inspired by. I recognise that I have been given a great opportunity to play my part in the world, as me, to create change by being the change I want to see, as Mahatma Gandhi so wisely advocated.
"I have been so lucky to work on Harry Potter with some of the greatest actors and actresses of our time. From them I have learned how powerful it is to become ourselves, as men and women, in order to act. Now I know that, as I embark on my future, I need to learn from women how to be a woman in my own right. From my acting career I have learned how important it is to have discipline, it's what gets you to the set on time each morning. Now I need to take the next step and put my commitment into becoming a dependable, consistent and decent human being.
"All I ask now is that you support me on this, and that you support all those young men and women like me who seek to create a world based on self-respect and respect. Let us all now lead by example, treat others as we would wish to be treated ourselves. Let us not tolerate injustice and learn to stand up as who we are, man or woman, for a decent society in which to live."