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The Male Gaze: European Men Reflect on Feminism

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On September 19thEmma Watson addressed the United Nations about the He For She campaign that promotes gender equality. As she focuses on the role of men, cafébabel asked men for their opinion on the speech, feminism and the relationship between the sexes.

A courageous woman addressed the United Nations headquarters in New York City about one of the most pressing yet enduring issues: gender equality. Emma Watson, a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and actress, most famous for the Harry Potter series, gave a speech about the He For She campaign. The movement focuses on the important role men play in the ongoing struggle for gender equality, calling upon men to take their place beside women to ensure a fairer world for their daughters, partners, mothers, sisters, friends and women everywhere. The lashback against her was expected, complete with the usual tactics used to shame women who express themselves. Ignoring the cacaphony of troll voices, what do men actually think about her speech? 

Adrien from France: My opinion on Emma Watson's speech is…Finally! Yes, finally, men are brought into the fight. I agree a hundred percent with what she says. I’m convinced that, especially in France, the old macho country, it is hard to raise our voices for feminism, because we’re often mocked by our peers. Because it is not manly to speak in favour of women, and especially, if you say that they are our equals. I agree that you cannot speak about equality without inviting everyone to speak his or her mind. Everyone should have access to the exact same things: an education, a salary, responsibilities, rights and duties and it should be the goal of both sexes to make that happen. 

Ovidiu from Romania: Gender equality is not a women issue...but a men's issue. Feminism is not about hysterical women. It is about rights. Equity and equality. Martin Luther King had to shout loud so a nation/world could hear him. Feminism is not a castration process, either. I hope and wish that my daughter will be a feminist, but more than that I also hope that she won't need to be one.

Tullio from Italy: When a man comments this issue, he could be embarassed, instinctive or even false. Sometimes he refuses to comment, too…The young Emma Watson has a strong personality, despite the shaky but incredibly true and authentic tone of her voice. None of her speech was pointless. She (or her spin doctor) has raised two very important points: first, is the aim of the campaign HeForShe. For the first time, it’s not "She for herself', but it tries to involve him, the man. It’s time that men accept without shame or fear that, despite the human development of our society, there is still a great black hole, no doubt the greatest: the gender issue. Human beings, science and culture have evolved, but society remains anchored to a model that perpetuates gender inequality through education that it gives to her children, or the model that it preserves. The time has come for men to do something that goes beyond the rituals that claim eternal (and sometimes religious) and, the worst, « natural ». Do something for her. Second point: Feminism is “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” Emma was right to precise it. Why was it perceived as negative? For many reasons, but also because we made the mistake of imposing this change by force (the pink quota in politics); to make it like revenge, like in the movies where the women who hate men and of Emma’s speech; to stress the equalities and inequalities, we are different and complementary, that is the eternal secret of life. The change - it’s deep, it’s cultural, it’s now, we can’t wait. Now it’s time to do something true for her.

Maciek from Poland-Canada: It’s a good speech in terms of emotional engagement. It’s an important and very good point she makes about reaching out to men and boys. And in that vein, it’s a particularly good strategy to insist that men are also trapped by gender stereotypes. I can only speak for the male experience, but a lot of the attitudes she mentions (aggression, dominance, etc.) are indeed very real, but mostly subconscious, for many men. It’s a peer pressure thing that starts in adolescence. There is, for many boys, a negative value of shame attached to being kind, tolerant, open or vulnerable. It’s a fundamentally humanist speech and she makes many good points, but in the end it’s really a speech about gender relations in ‘the West’ – she does of course refer to conditions elsewhere, but the kind of change that’s needed where it’s most needed for women depends requires much deeper structural changes than the level of attitude changes she talks about.

Diethelm from Germany: I think it's great if there's gender equality between women and men, but it's obvious that we are all raised to fit certain social roles and I can't just put them away. I often got the impression that sometimes women don't even want full equality, because with equality comes also more responsibility. Between my wife and me this never has been a problem and I don't feel discriminated by women at all. But some feminists really go too far and are too radical. I think sometimes discussions like that are used to follow certain interests that have nothing to do with the main topic they're about. Like interests of economy or power. After all, I think personally for me this topic is overrated, because in my daily life I'm not confronted with sexual discrimination.

Pieter from the Netherlands: It's an attempt to de-radicalise feminist movements, to reinvent or to reposition what feminism means and to reposition it in the debate of gender equality. I think she nails some of these essential points. I think it's a good way to reinvent the discussion and the problems around gender equality even if it might concern women more than men. In social theory, it's never the discriminated or the minority that can change things; it's the majority that needs to take the step from a tactical point of view. It's very interesting majority/dominant discourse you need to make the majority/ dominant discourse aware about the fact that there is discrimination make them believe they are concerned too and it's also their problem and then make change happen from the source that created it.

Tomas from Slovakia: I think it raised several important issues. One is that 'feminism' as a theory is misunderstood. Maybe it needs rebranding. For me, the most significant part was how she tried to explain that we should see one another as humans, not as men or women. Of course, there are physiological and mental differences but they certainly don't justify different treatment. If I were an employer, I would never think of paying women less just because they are women. In fact, I think that our society wastes talent of many women by undervaluing and underpaying them.

Federico from Italy: I don't think that the word 'feminism' is negatively perceived; on the contrary, the fact that celebrities like Beyoncé or Emma Watson are speaking about it shows that the word is much more popular than it was in the past. Women are the reserve army of capitalism. They should be independent, that they consume more, that they hit on men more, that they compete with men to increase competition to raise profits. Now, we use heroines for young girls so that one must be a feminist to be cool!

For more information about He For She, check out their website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter, @HeForShe or #HeForShe.