“I’m a little nervous, but I’m very excited,” said Emma Watson.
Best known as the virtuous Hermione Granger in the immensely popular Harry Potter film series, the British actress has emerged as a prominent ambassador for women’s rights. In July 2014, the 24-year-old graduate of Brown University was appointed as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, later visiting several impoverished countries in Africa to promote education for girls.
But her big moment came on September 20 of last year when Watson delivered a rousing address at the United Nations, announcing the UN Women campaign HeForShe—a program calling on men across the world to stand beside women in advocating for gender equality. The candid, powerful speech, wherein she shared anecdotes about being “sexualized” by the press at an early age and promoted the core tenets of feminism (“that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities”), was rapturously received, and viewed over 17 million times on YouTube (and counting).
On International Women’s Day Sunday, Watson sat down for a wide-ranging hour-long Q&A at Facebook HQ in Central London to spread the message of HeForShe.
In the wake of her rousing UN speech, as well as “The Fappening”—the awful, anti-women crusade that leaked hundreds of stolen private nude photos of A-list women online—Watson was targeted by misogynists who set up a website with a countdown clock, threatening to release nude photos of the actress when it hit zero. It was presumably meant to discourage Watson from pursuing her HeForShe duties, but it had the opposite effect.
“After I gave my speech in September, there was a website set up threatening to release naked photographs of me with a countdown,” Watson said. “I knew it was a hoax—I knew the pictures didn’t exist—but I think a lot of people close to me knew gender equality was an issue, but they didn’t really think it was that urgent.”She added, “When they saw that the minute I stepped up and talked about women’s rights I was immediately threatened—in less than 12 hours I was receiving threats—I think [men] were really shocked. One of my brothers was very upset. So, I think it was a wake-up call of, ‘Oh, this is a real thing that’s really happening now. Women are receiving threats in all sorts of different forms—that was just one specific one.’ And I was upset that the media immediately reported it as fact without any evidence to the contrary. It really just publicized something that was really, really negative. It’s funny because people went, ‘Oh, she’s going to be disheartened by this.’ If anything, it made me so much more determined. I was just raging. It made me so angry that I was just like, ‘This is why I have to be doing this!’”
When asked why people are so reluctant to label themselves a “feminist,” Watson said, “Because I think people associate it with hate—with man-hate—and that’s really negative. I don’t think that’s what feminism is about at all. I think it’s something incredibly positive… I’m aware of a lot more male feminists now than I was a few years ago, and it’s really heartening. People have come back to what the actual definition means, which is ‘equality politically, culturally, socially, economically.’ That’s it. That simple.”
Watson said that her goal with HeForShe over the next few months is to get more men to sign up for the petition (there are currently 200,000 pledges), and her work on IMPACT 10x10x10, which is a one-year pilot initiative to engage corporations, governments, universities, and private citizens in supporting HeForShe.
The humanitarian also opened up about the emotional restrictions placed on men, and the deleterious effects of said restrictions.
“I’m really, genuinely disturbed by this idea that men can’t cry; that they just can’t express themselves, and can’t talk about how they actually feel,” she said. “That’s the saddest thing in the world. It’s what makes you human—how you feel, being able to express yourself, being passionate, being emotional. It’s what makes you human, it’s not what makes you a girl.” Things got a tad awkward when an audience member in the crowd asked if Watson could substantiate a rumor that she earned less for the Harry Potter films than her male co-stars Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint, tying this into the issue of unequal pay between men and women. Watson, ever the pro, brushed off the first part—instead focusing on the larger issue at hand.
“I don’t think I would ever even dream of complaining about my personal circumstances, but yes, there is a big problem in my industry—in the film industry, and the industry in which I work,” Watson said. “Currently, females comprise 7 percent of directors, 7 percent of writers, 2.2 percent of producers, and 13 percent of executives. And you know when you have a female writer or a female director, there’s a higher representation of women. So that’s a pretty huge problem which needs to be addressed.”
One of the more humorous tidbits during the talk concerned the thin line between chivalry and sexism. How do old social mores like men holding the door for women and picking up the bill at dinner clash with modern-day feminist ideals? In response, Watson shared an interesting personal anecdote about a date she went on recently where she was the one in the driver's seat.
“I actually took a man out for dinner and I chose the restaurant and I offered to pay, and it was really awkward and uncomfortable,” recalled Watson. “It was not going down well. I’m sure he would say he’s a feminist, but he was like, ‘Oh, I’m not really sure about this.’ It made him feel a bit tetchy. But the cool thing about it was we were both willing to have the conversation about why it was awkward, or why it was uncomfortable.” She paused. “The key is that chivalry should be consensual.”