Further promoting the #HeForShe campaign as a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN, Emma Watson delivered a speech focussing on the experience of female students at university during the General Assembly on 20th September in New York City.
Emma has been working with the UN since 2014 as the voice to bring light to issues that disproportionately affect women, but also to encourage people to unite and work towards gender equality in a variety of ways.
Emma’s speech also appears to be in direct response to the increasing number of reports of sexual assaults that have been occurring on university campuses (particularly in the US) throughout the year. One case in particular, the Brock Turner case, sent shockwaves worldwide after the victim wrote an open letter describing her ordeal after the attack.
This story went viral not only because of the extremely sinister circumstances in which the assault took place, but also the media coverage that portrayed Brock as an up and coming sports star and a victim of circumstance. This case not only propelled the discussion on consent, but also heightened pressure on universities to address the problem of sexual violence on campus.
Emma’s speech added to this pressure, calling for universities to create a greater sense of community amongst students and to actively change attitudes regarding consent.
Despite the majority of reactions to Emma’s speech being greatly positive and supportive, there have also been a select few that have chosen to attack her for campaigning against social injustices. One notable example of this has come from a column written by Rod Liddle in The Sun newspaper on 23rd September, referring to Emma’s speech as ‘whining leftie PC crap’.
Understandably, this caused quite the uproar on social media, with hundreds of comments and posts criticising the journalist and defending Emma. The main problem with Rod’s article is that it focuses on Emma’s status as an actress, rather than her as a Brown University alumnus, drawing on her own experience as a student.
Emma is by no means the first celebrity to move away from the big screen to work with the UN or a charity and promote humanitarian causes. Angelina Jolie, Katy Perry, Nicole Kidman, Geri Halliwell and Serena Williams (to name a few) have all dedicated their time to aiding campaigns around the world.
Whilst some may criticise these celebs as using the opportunity as a clever marketing ploy, surely it’s clear to see that they also use their privilege to do some good in the world. These are causes that the general public may not have known much about if there was not a celebrity ambassador to promote it.
In turn, despite the work bringing greatly positive media coverage for the celebrity, it also provides ample air time for the campaign itself. Celebrities who get involved with the likes of Comic Relief and Children in Need do not seem to receive the same backlash as celebs who choose to commit even more time to humanitarian work, which is quite a bizarre double standard.
Liddle’s column proves that some people believe that because these celebs are high profile, they relinquish all rights to form a valid and well educated opinion on current affairs or politics. This has happened countless times before, with the likes of Russell Brand, Ellie Goulding and Charlotte Church being criticised for expressing their political views over social media or joining demonstrations.
It appears that it becomes an issue of ‘them and us’, where celebs opinions are invalidated because they can never understand what it’s like to be an ‘average person’. Whereas really, we need to learn that celebrities are not just here for our entertainment, but that they are individuals who have their own passions and opinions, and they are entitled to them just like anyone else.
Arguably, they have even more of a social responsibility to bring light to these issues as they hold the platform that can raise the voices of the people who otherwise are rarely heard. Why is it that we live in a world where an actress can be attacked for campaigning for gender equality, but a footballer is not criticised for earning more than £100k a week and blowing it on yachts, extravagant cars, mansions, and women?
We need to stop looking for an ulterior motive in the actions of these celebrities, and start supporting them in order to encourage others to do the same.