Emma Watson’s galvanizing United Nations speech on gender equality started a viral campaign that brought the term HeForShe to international prominence. Why? Is it because gender equality is long overdue? Well, yes. Is it because Emma Watson’s speech eloquently explained that gender equality is not just a women’s issue, but a human rights issue? Yes, again. Is it because Ms. Watson took the unusual–though why should it be?–tact of calling men to join the fight for gender equality? Calling them out directly? All that, yes and yes.
But the real reason Emma Watson’s speech had the impact it did wasn’t because her ideas are new. (The American activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton might have given a similar speech–without the benefit of hashtags, of course–and she died in 1902.) Nor was the penetration of Watson’s speech due to her incisive descriptions either, though she was surely eloquent. The success of Watson’s plea has to do with her celebrity–and celebrity used for good is something everybody can get behind. In fact, Watson’s beliefs even seem to be influencing her choices as an actress. She just signed on to star in Colonia, a thriller based in 1970s Chile, where she fights to free her husband from abduction by Pinochet’s secret police. (Pinochet was a human rights offender of the first order.) Seems the admirable Emma Watson is all about liberty, personally and professionally.