Emma Watson and Malala Yousafzai Want to Take the Fear out of Identifying as a Feminist
While fans of Harry Potter might geek out should they ever encounter actor and activist Emma Watson, celebrities also have their own upper echelon of renowned public figures. For Watson, one of those people is Malala Yousafzai.
Despite being clearly in awe of the Nobel laureate, Watson kept her cool long enough to interview Yousafzai at a screening for the documentary film He Named Me Malala at the Into Film Festival on Wednesday. (Disclosure: He Named Me Malala was produced in part by TakePart’s parent company, Participant Media.)
In the roughly 20-minute interview, there’s a great deal of mutual admiration between the two activists. They also discuss shared goals, including an end to gender-based discrimination and rebranding the word "feminism," although Watson had planned to stay away from the topic.
“I had initially planned to ask Malala whether or not she was a feminist but then researched to see whether she had used this word to describe herself. Having seen that she hadn’t, I decided to take the question out before the day of our interview,” Watson wrote in a Facebook post accompanying the interview.
Into Film Festival opening Q&A
Today I met Malala. She was giving, utterly graceful, compelling and intelligent. That might sound obvious but I was struck by this even more in person. There are lots of NGOs out there in the world doing great things... But if there were one I would put my money on to succeed and make change on this planet, it would be hers. (The Malala Fund). Malala isn't messing around or mincing her words (one of the many reasons I love her). She has the strength of her convictions coupled with the kind of determination I rarely encounter... And it doesn't seem to have been diminished by the success she has already had. And lastly…She has a sense of peace around her. I leave this for last because it is perhaps the most important. Maybe as a result of what she has been through? I personally think it is just who she is…Perhaps the most moving moment of today for me was when Malala addressed the issue of feminism. To give you some background, I had initially planned to ask Malala whether or not she was a feminist but then researched to see whether she had used this word to describe herself. Having seen that she hadn't, I decided to take the question out before the day of our interview. To my utter shock Malala put the question back into one of her own answers and identified herself. Maybe feminist isn't the easiest word to use... But she did it ANYWAY. You can probably see in the interview how I felt about this. She also gave me time at the end of the Q&A to speak about some of my own work, which she most certainly didn't need to do, I was there to interview her. I think this gesture is so emblematic of what Malala and I went on to discuss. I've spoken before on what a controversial word feminism is currently. More recently, I am learning what a factionalized movement it is too. We are all moving towards the same goal. 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. With love, Emma x#HeNamedMeMalala #notjustamovieamovement Malala Fund Into FilmPosted by Emma Watson on Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Yousafzai didn’t need to be prompted because it turns out that Watson—a U.N. Women goodwill ambassador—inspired Yousafzai to identify as a feminist during a speech Watson delivered last year at U.N. headquarters in New York.
“After hearing your speech, when you said, ’If not now, when? If not me, who?’ I decided there’s no way and there’s nothing wrong by calling yourself a feminist,” Yousafzai told Watson. “So I am a feminist, and we all should be feminist, because feminism is another word for equality.”
Celebrities such as Meryl Streep, Kelly Clarkson, and Sarah Jessica Parker have hemmed and hawed over using the fraught term, often choosing to refer to themselves as humanists rather than feminists. Yousafzai and Watson agree that people seem to have forgotten the meaning of the word: equal rights between the sexes.
Both advocates have worked to encourage men and women to join the fight for equality. After being targeted by the Taliban for advocating for women’s rights, Yousafzai continues to advocate for universal education, focusing on the 62 million girls across the globe that are not in school. Watson’s "He for She" campaign asks men to pledge their support for women’s rights. Their activism has earned them support from prominent figures including President Barack Obama, Bill Gates, and Angelina Jolie. But Watson feels that the global movement for equality gets torn apart by advocates afraid to identify with feminism.
“Let’s not make it scary to say you’re a feminist. I want to make it a welcoming and inclusive movement,” Watson wrote on Facebook. “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.”