A new face for feminism

Lavish living rooms, petite terraces, whitewashed bedrooms and massive, white-and-black tiled kitchens.

This is her home — her element.

But the home would be incomplete without the high-heeled woman adorned in pearls, vacuuming away. It’s her job — and her only job — to make the home comfortable for the breadwinner of the family: her husband.

She does nothing more than fill her role as homemaker. Dust the lamps. Prepare dinner for her family. Be Mrs. Mom.

In the 1950’s, the sitcoms of the day — popular television shows such as Leave it to Beaver, or I Love Lucy — all had the same sets.

Fast-forward a decade, to the era of Mad Men.

Now, they are secretaries and assistants to professionals. Bit by bit, women gain rights, proving their abilities and asserting themselves in a man’s world.

But they’re still perceived as physically, mentally and socially inferior. Half a century later, the horrid mistakes of the past are almost imperceptible — but the prejudices still linger.

You fight like a girl. You sound like a girl. You’re being like a little girl.

Like a girl. 

Even here, in the halls of 10600 Preston Road, sexist comments are unavoidable: in the locker room. In the classroom. Everywhere.

But in an effort to make the transition from a sexist past to an equal future, UN Women, a United Nations organization dedicated to gender equality and women empowerment, has launched the HeForShe campaign to bring one half of humanity to support the other half—bridging the gap in gender inequality to promote a world of solidarity.

As a spokesperson for the campaign, actress Emma Watson delivered a call-to-action speech to the United Nations—a speech designed to bring men into the feminist movement. A speech to show the sexes—long combatants in the battle for rights and equality—are indeed, just that— they’re equal.

Watson’s speech aims to free feminism from the “man-hating” label it’s so often associated with. And in order to do so, she challenges men with a simple question.

How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feels welcome to participate in the conversation?

An international perspective

The HeForShe movement is not the typical feminist movement. For the first time, the conversation isn’t just about women, and it’s not just led by women.

“We would like to create a solidarity movement for gender equality that addresses the issue from a humanity standpoint," Executive Director of UN Women and leader of the campaign Elizabeth Nyamayaro said in an interview with The ReMarker.

Even though the movement is barely a month old, thousands of supporters, men and women, have already joined the campaign. The movement gained worldwide attention when Emma Watson launched the campaign in her speech to the U.N. Sept. 20.    

“Within three days we had reached more than 100,000 men, but that was not the most impressive thing for us,” Nyamayaro said. “All of a sudden, within three days, the whole world lit up. In every country on earth, for the most part, at least one man had heard about the campaigned and activated their country.”

The wave of support has extended across continents and has ignited a change in the way people think about feminism.

“So HeForShe movement is an open call to action and sharing the space of feminist movement and creating a robust dialogue to action,” Founder and CEO of the World Women Global Council Dilshad Dayani said. “The World Women Global Council supports this solidarity movement for gender equality. The message is the same: to be allies and supporters for human rights, which is inclusive of genders."

It’s not just about raising awareness, though. HeForShe is implementing a seven principle guide to show how people can strive to achieve gender equality in everyday life.

“Right now we are really working with gender experts, with men organizations, to come up with concrete actions of how do we move the HeForShe campaign from just raising awareness to where we are able to create impact through policy and legislation,” Nyamayaro said.

According to Director of Counseling and gender issues expert Barbara Van Drie, change happens when people build their empathy skills and are able to take the perspective of another group of people.

"There are still many issues our society is dealing with in achieving gender equality," Van Drie said. "Whether it's violence against women and girls or what they're dealing with at a more subtle level. There's the legal threshold of change and then there's the day-to-day interaction."

From the subtlest gestures to sweeping legislation, HeForShe plans to change not only the inequality in the world, but also how feminists are perceived.

“This has been a woman’s struggle for a very long time and we’ve come to the recognition that the issue of gender inequality can no longer be associated with just women,” Nyamayaro said. “Men have sometimes been the perpetrators, but we also know that they can be the solution.”

What is feminism?

As society has progressed, the United Nations realized that it needed clarify its definition of feminism, given modern society’s gender stereotypes and the negative connotation that the word has come to acquire.

“Feminism is simply a movement to protect our rights as humans and that does not exclude men,” Dayani said. “Modern feminists believe that both men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.”

In a similar vein, the campaign stresses that the feminist movement is not just about giving women more rights, but also about working towards equality for both men and women of all walks of life.

“Feminism isn’t about the hatred of men, or about promoting women above men” Lower Grades Counselor Gabriela Reed said.“Feminists highlight the ways in which women are equal to men and promote the ways women uniquely contribute to society.”

According to Dayani, it takes a courageous man to dismantle his patriarchal jurisdiction, especially since men have time and again ignored the rights of women.

“The HeForShe movement is different in that it is an open call to action—sharing the space of the feminist movement and creating a robust dialogue to action,” Dayani said. “The feminist movement is about human rights.”

Most importantly, however, the success of the campaign depends on male participation. The male population must identify as feminist for society to truly progress. And in reality, the success of the campaign depends on men’s impression of human rights. Any male believing in gender equality is a feminist.

“Can men be feminists? Of course,” she said. “The action is now being witnessed, and they need to be feminists in order to make the right progress, in order for the right social justice, in order to bring the right development into the families, communities and nations. HeForShe is a call to action.”

What’s our role?

According to senior Avita Anand, an outspoken leader on the issue of feminism at our sister school Hockaday, Marksmen’s flawed idea of feminism not only permeates thought, but also action.

“I think St. Mark boys talk down to Hockaday girls a lot,” she said. “There’s a common thread of debasing our education system or the work we put out and whether or not they mean it in a sexist manner, it definitely comes across as so.”

Anand, who chairs Hockaday’s Junior World Affairs Council and Model UN and has served as a co-President for Youth Initiatives for Women Leadership, a program hosted by the World Women Global Council, believes that feminism must be central to the male identity.

“If you’re not a feminist, then what are you?” she said. ”Identifying as feminists would be a huge step [forward]. By not wanting to call yourself a feminist because it has feminine in it, is like perpetuating the notion that being like a girl, or girly, is a bad thing.”

For centuries, women have stereotypically received a less fruitful education, keeping many of them from succeeding at the highest societal standards and reaching their full potentials.

It is this notion that modern schools, including Hockaday, have tried to dispel. In fact, Anand believes that gender roles can creep into the education setting in coed environments.

“Hockaday allowed us to grow into the people that we are," Anand said. "Other schools shape girls into a mold. But at Hockaday, we are fully allowed to be who we are, and in that sense, it’s empowering. Because so many other girls in the world are deprived of this education, it’s our job to serve as ambassadors and fully embrace the feminist ideology.”

At the same time, boys and young men also benefit in a similar way from the same sex-education. And it’s escaping these gender stereotypes that allows both sexes to realize their full potentials.

“As a new faculty member at St. Mark’s, I value that this is a place where boys can be themselves,” Reed said. “I’ve seen boys be more introspective and open with their feelings than I believe they would allow themselves to be if there were a girl sitting at the next desk.”

Reed suggests that embracing manhood is just as important as recognizing female empowerment.

“Challenging our assumptions about women and their intellectual abilities and strengths is a really good way to combat our stereotypes,” Reed said. “Students need to be exposed to women leaders and thinkers in order to help them see that there is nothing a woman can’t do in this world.”

Students in the community also try to combat these stereotypes with clubs that discuss global issues.

“One of the things we do at the Amnesty International Club is that we talk about human rights or issues such as gender equality,” senior Rishi Kshatriya, president of the Amnesty International Club said. “Feminism is certainly one of the issues that we have and one that we will continue to talk about over the course of the year. So, I think that the members gain a better perspective on what gender equality truly is. These sorts of educational seminars, such as ‘Peacemakers’ in Lower School, are necessary in order to raise awareness for such an issue.”

Similarly, students must realize that the perspectives they develop at the school carry forward in their adult lives.

“At St. Mark’s, where the community is all male apart from the faculty and staff, it’s very important to refrain from making degrading comments.” Kshatriya said. “It’s important that we, as a community, emphasize gender equality when we step out of the bubble. We know it’s a big issue — comments that you overhear in the locker room or the field are generally R-rated and can be highly punishable outside of the St. Mark’s community.”

The feminist movement strives to blend gender roles, removing social obligations to fit a specific role in a relationship. According to Anand, in an ideal situation, men wouldn’t be obliged to hold open the door or pay for dinner.

And in the same way, women, if they were to do the same, would not be seen as aggressive. Any such interactions would be seen as acts of kindness.

“I don’t think St. Mark’s boys will go out in the world and do anything that will put down women,” Anand said, “but I do believe that a person can be sexist without actively repressing women. It can be present in their subconscious and attitude, affecting smaller everyday behaviors.”

In essence, the male population must strive for balance in approaching gender stereotypes, realizing that there truly are two sides to the coin.

Open conversation with the opposite gender is the most productive way to eliminate sexist ideologies. But more importantly, the most important thing men can do to help the movement is raise awareness.

“On the pendulum of gender roles, society is still skewed towards male dominance,” Anand said. “So, people who are in the complete center, feminists, are still seen as extremists. Our generation has been raised to think that girls should be nicer, not always express their opinions—society is still such that both genders have things to work on.”