Emma Watson, HeForShe and Colluding with Capital


I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if you’re going to take your political cues from a pop-star, then you can’t sit with us.

Emma Watson makes a blah-blah UN speech, becomes the face of a blah-blah man-friendly campaign called #HeForShe and now, suddenly, she’s a #PowerFeminist, you’re a feminist and we’re all living in #PowerFeministsTogether land.

Can we take a moment to stop and think, ‘somblief?

I’ve unpacked the problems with celebrity feminism in some detail when I outlined why feminism isn’t for everybody, with specific references to literature that can help us think through when we can call ourselves and the work we do feminist in its orientation.

So I’ve aggregated, for us, some useful pop-links (since we’re doing the pop-feminism thing) outlining why #EmmaWatsonFeminism (because #HashtagFeminism) and the #HeForShe campaign are inherently problematic for the feminist movement in that they are:

  1. premised on benevolent sexism* where men must loudly and visibly defend womyn from their misogyny and be admitted into feminist spaces on their own terms instead of quietly talking to their bro-friends about how the patriarchy is harmful to them and why they should, therefore, stop it for their own sake;
  2. ostensibly only informed by and, therefore, concerned with equality principles as they affect white womyn in the global North and don’t particularly demonstrate any engagement with the structural or even daily struggles of poor Black womyn in the global South;
  3. so deeply imbricated in the capitalist cultural economy of sloppily stitching up more white celebrity with the social-justice-flavour-of-the-month, and packaging it as a product to be sold and consumed and shat out in the toilet of pop-culture has-beens.

So here it is –  some pop-feminism for the thinking feminist:

  1. In which Black Girl Dangerous, Mia McKenziepretty much outlines why #HeForShe panders to the “but I’m a nice guy” derailment we get from the patriarchy and those who benefit from it without seeking to elevate the structural analysis around why we actually need feminism and how we take it forward.
  2. In which Amy McCarthy says to privileged white womyn readers of the Huffington Post why Emma Watson isn’t a game-changer for feminism.
  3. In which the Feministing Mychal Denzel Smith outlines why Feminism isn’t there and should’t be positioned to make men feel comfortable about engaging with their role in perpetuating the patriarchy.

The long and the short of it is that in #HeForShe and #CelebrityFeminism, we have a serious problem of the co-option, consumption and excretion of an important political movement that’s only just becoming by an ideological project in whose interests it is against to advance the feminist project. I know it’s really cool when our thing becomes the new “it” thing, and what we’ve been saying and doing for decades as feminists is finally vindicated by its growing traction in the popular imagination. But we also need to remember that there are no free lunches. Most especially where the patriarchy’s best friend, capitalism, is involved.

Instead of looking to celebrities for our political direction, we need to be asking ourselves why, celebrity alone is suddenly become so instrumental in advancing a project that has managed to sustain itself for centuries through sisterhood, critical reflection, constant learning, and its proponents rigorously holding one-another accountable. We need to be deeply suspicious of this movement’s sudden celebrity when things have and continue to remain largely the same. We need to keep returning to the first-principles that inform this project, and measure ourselves and all those who claim this identity as their own against them.

*And, as though to prove my point, here’s a Time piece by Cathy Young demonstrating the derailment of the feminist project by “but I’m nice guy” and “men get discriminated against too” types. Urgh!


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