The Greatest Speeches of the 21st Century – Episode 8. Actress and activist Emma Watson fights for gender equality. In this speech of September 20, 2014, she insists on the fact that this problem is also that of men.
Emma Watson is an icon, especially for generations Y and Z who grew up with the adventures of Harry Potter. Today, her notoriety is no longer solely due to her role as Hermione Granger in the planetary saga. The 30-year-old Briton has been committed for several years to equality between women and men, such as on September 20, 2014, the date on which she officially launched her HeforShe movement at the UN.
Why is this speech historic?
Of course, this is not the first committed speech that calls for gender equality. Moreover, in her speech, Emma Watson recalls the famous speech delivered by Hillary Clinton in 1997 in Beijing. But this September 20, 2014 is the first campaign of its kind launched by the UN.
Two months earlier, she had been named a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. Aged 24 at the time, she was already aware of her influence with millions of people around the world. Today, she continues to express herself regularly, notably on Twitter and Instagram where she has more than 87 million subscribers, in favor of causes such as those of transsexuals or the #BlackLivesMatter movement,
The main points of the speech
The HeforShe movement aims to promote the commitment of men, a sine qua non for achieving gender equality according to Emma Watson. The orator seeks above all to convince men. “Gender equality is your [men’s] problem too,” she said. This is the main message of his speech.
To achieve this, she deploys a rich and very well-structured argument. The actress begins by defining the terms of her subject and in particular that of “feminism”, a term subject today to multiple interpretations. She does not hesitate to name the problem by challenging the public directly with a rhetorical question: “Why does the word [feminist] make people so uncomfortable? »
To answer this question, Emma Watson emphasizes in particular that she owes her success, her self-confidence and the fact that she considers herself the equal of men to all those who have encouraged her since her childhood. This short development allows her not to lock herself into an otherwise sterile debate around feminism. In effect, therefore, she can say: “And we need more of these people [those who promote gender equality]. And if you still hate the word [feminist], it is not the word that is important but the idea and the ambition behind it. I appreciate here the way in which the speaker takes into account the potential reluctance of her audience and the innuendoes that the term “feminism” could fall victim to in order to better overcome them.
Once this context is set, Emma Watson formally invites men to join this fight because “gender equality is your problem [that of men] too”. Shared exactly in the middle of the speech, this sentence is THE big message to remember. And to measure its importance, the speaker highlights the gender stereotypes of which men are victims, the latter often being forced to to adopt the figure of the macho or to hide their emotions in society. Emma Watson here reverses the usual argument on equality between men and women by showing that men are also prisoners of a social role which, in the end, turns out to be harmful for women. By taking this angle, she makes a new voice heard, a voice that challenges and makes you want to take an interest in the subject.
Finally, to encourage the audience to act as soon as possible, the speaker ends her intervention by describing our world if nothing were done in favor of gender equality. The accumulation of figures makes it possible to grasp the magnitude of the challenge, as this example shows: “If we do nothing, […] 15.5 million girls will be forced into marriage over the next 16 years. »
What we can learn from it
If this speech manages to convince, it is for me thanks to the perfect alchemy between the argument that we have just detailed and its enhancement thanks to numerous rhetorical artifices. The arguments are in fact varied with, for example, a logical argument (men must commit themselves to hope to change the course of things), an argument based on experience (in this case that of Emma Watson who , through her life demonstrates that her reasoning from the rostrum works) or an argument from authority (quoting for example the Irish philosopher Edmund Burke).
But far from making a long and off-putting list, Emma Watson uses many figures of speech to put forward her point. We can cite rhetorical questions that invite the public to question their ideas and behaviors, in particular: “If it is not me, who will it be? If not now, when will it be? These questions are also repeated twice, once when Emma Watson asks them and once when she puts them to the audience. Note also the antithesis, “If men do not have to control [women], women will not have to be controlled”, which recalls that of John Fitzgerald Kennedy: “Do not ask what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country. This process allows, by an effect of contrast and symmetry, to perfectly highlight the shared idea.
Finally, I find her use of self-mockery perfectly successful when she poses the question, “’You might be thinking, ‘Who is that girl from Harry Potter?’ This touch of humor creates both a bond of complicity with her audience and dispels any doubts that might arise as to her legitimacy as a spokesperson. Moreover, admitting that she asked herself this question and that she had doubts before launching this initiative, she demonstrates the sincerity of her approach (whether we subscribe to it or not).
What does this discourse say about our time?
In recent years, the battles for equality have been less and less formulated and led by politicians. More and more personalities are getting into it. To hope to convince new generations, Greta Thunberg, one of whose most famous speeches I will analyze in the next episode, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Emma Watson must appeal to new arguments, less time-worn and more l’air du temps… men’s commitment to gender equality is one of them!