It Took Emma Watson For Malala To Identify As ‘Feminist’
The Debrief: Even though she was campaigning for girls’ education for years…
Malala Yousafzai, the girls’ rights campaigner who was shot in the head at point-blank range by the Taliban when she was just 14, has spoken about her difficulty identifying as a feminist.
You see, despite doing feminism for ages, she felt a bit of hesitation in identifying as a feminist. ‘It has been a tricky word. When I heard it the first time I heard some negative responses and some positive ones. I hesitated in saying am I feminist or not?’ she said.
She made these comments during an interview with Emma Watson, the actress and UN spokesperson for the #HeForShe campaign, which Malala says changed her mind on the word ‘feminist’.
‘Then after hearing your speech, I decided there’s no way and there’s nothing wrong by calling yourself a feminist. So I’m a feminist and we all should be a feminist because feminism is another word for equality.’
While we wholeheartedly agree, in some ways, it’s kind of ridiculous that for Malala, who’s done so much for women and girls’ rights, could only come round to applying the word ‘feminist’ to herself after it’s been greenlit as male-friendly. It’s also ridiculous that it took a white woman in the public eye to re-adjust Malala’s way of thinking, as if she was somehow backward before glossy Emma Watson took to the stage to speak on equality.
But on the other hand, who cares if she calls herself a feminist or not? Dapper Laughs has this week called himself a feminist, which just goes to show how little it now means to simply label yourself as one. Malala, meanwhile, has done so much for women and continues to do so much, proving that the label is somewhat secondary.
In 2013, a YouGov survey found that only 19% of the UK population identified as a feminist. But 81% of people believe men and women should be treated equally. Yes, equal treatment isn’t quite what people need (women need a little extra help sometimes, we’re having to work against thousands of years of patriarchy and internal biases here). But still, 81%’s a start, right?
Emma wants more people to ally with feminism, telling fans on Facebook, where she posted a video of her Malala interview: ‘Let’s not make it scary to say you’re a feminist. I want to make it a welcoming and inclusive movement. Let’s join our hands and move together so we can make real change. Malala and I are pretty serious about it but we need you.’
And while we’d never advocate slagging someone off for using the word ‘feminist’ to describe themselves, and it’s great that Malala ‘gets’ it, and perhaps Dapper Laughs is on his way to do some very scintillating comedy that doesn’t trickle down to street harassment of women, we’d hope Emma's speech doesn’t fortify those who constantly require female actresses/singers/activists or, well, anyone in the public eye to identify as a feminist.
It’s sadly become yet another yardstick to judge women by, and that in itself is, yep, sexist! As Adele said in a recent interview: ‘I don’t think many men in interviews get asked if they’re feminist.’
It’s worth remembering that feminism, away from the buzzword that’s being used to sell everything from Chanel catwalk shows to shampoo, is about making the world a better place, not just saying it’s a better place.
David Cameron might have also declared that he’s a feminist (after famously refusing to wear a T-shirt that says ‘this is what a feminist looks like’, but should we hold him up to what he labels himself as, or his record on what his policies have and will do to women?
The Suffragettes might have existed 100 years ago and had no way of predicting where the fight for equality would be right now. But their motto ‘deeds not words’ still holds true. Feminism is about choice and if we constantly judge women’s truly harmless choices, where on earth will we get in the quest for equality?
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