Letter to Emma Watson – Why not “HeforShe and SheforHe”?


Dear Emma,

I sincerely congratulate you on your courageous and heart-felt speech to the United Nations a few months ago. I was particularly impressed by your even-handed approach and the way in which you highlighted the fact that men, too, experience discrimination. I recently reread the transcript and, filled with optimism and enthusiasm, went to the website ready to sign up. Unfortunately, at the point when I should have been clicking the button, I didn’t feel able to do so. I truly want to join and support a campaign that is genuinely and actively seeking equality for both men and women, so I thought I should tell you why I was so disappointed by the complete lack of any support for men on the HeforShe website.

I am prompted to write this letter now by recent events in Lithuania, which demonstrate the fickle and one-sided nature of feminism. In that country, conscription was abolished around ten years ago. They have just re-introduced it – for men only. Lithuanian feminists have been quite vocal in recent years. Where are they now? Why are they not demonstrating to be conscripted along with the men? I won’t go into the arguments against male-only conscription here as they are set out in another post. Suffice it to say that it is just another case of feminists showing their total lack of commitment to seeking genuine equality. The female president is a supposedly equality-seeking feminist!

We have a European Charter of Human Rights that guarantees freedom from forced labour and gender discrimination for all: unless you have the misfortune to be a young man, that is. Several European countries still have military service for young men, with no similar obligation, of any kind, for young women. This is both forced labour and gender discrimination (but check out Article 4, Section 3b). Where are the feminist demands for equality? Feminists are quick to demand the right to equal opportunities in the armed forces, but slow to demand equal obligations. Norway, bless its equality-driven cotton socks, is the only European country to have military service with exactly the same obligations on both men and women.

In a similar vein, we all know that women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, this is widely publicised and quoted as an example of suppression of women’s rights. What is less widely known is that many states in the US, men are unable to apply for a driving licence without registering for Selective Service (“the draft”). They also face many other draconian sanctions, such as being banned from applying for federal jobs, being liable for massive fines and being refused student grants. The obligation to register for Selective Service does not apply to women. Read the details and remember that these penalties apply only to men: those outside the US will find it difficult to believe that gender discrimination of this magnitude still exists in the Land of the Free. Where are the vocal feminist groups campaigning to end this scandalous gender discrimination? I would suggest that if the army boot of discrimination was on the other foot, this particular anachronism would have been kicked into touch many years ago.

From the content of your speech, I thought that, at last, we may have a movement that would be focused on acting to correct discrimination against both men and women: that would look at both sides. That was the optimistic thought that led me to go to the HeforShe website. I don’t, as you suggested in your speech, hate the word feminism, nor the movement itself. I do not hate feminists. I support many of the aims of feminist groups. However, I reject the notion that feminism is, in any way, a voice raised in the defense of men. It is simply what it says on the box: a movement to end discrimination when the victims are female.

As you so rightly said, men, too, are the victims of discrimination, but this discrimination is rarely discussed, certainly not by politicians and others with a high-profile, who are afraid to stick their head over the parapet and risk a feminist backlash. You mentioned in your speech some examples, such as the much greater rate of suicide among men compared to women, but there are more. I don’t want to labour the point too much, so I will give just three examples where there is an ignored male dimension to a popular cause:

The week before the kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram, with all of the accompanying media outrage and very laudable “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign, 59 boys were burned alive by the same terrorist group, this merited about one column inch on an inside page of my national broadsheet newspaper! Only a short time ago, around 40 boys and young men were kidnapped by Boko Haram to be forced, we assume, to be child soldiers: to kill or be killed. Again, about one column inch on an inside page. Where are the high profile celebrities heading a “Bring Back Our Boys” campaign? I suppose there were only 40 of them and they had the misfortune of being only boys!

We know that FGM is an abhorrent act, and is rightly and widely condemned. It is, quite rightly, the subject of various campaigns and is illegal in many countries. I wholeheartedly support every effort to wipe it out. However, every day thousands of boys, often babies, undergo genital mutilation, often in unhygienic conditions and without anaesthetic. This agonising process (warning – not pleasant!) is legal and unchallenged in most countries. Why do we not campaign to end “Genital Mutilation”, rather than just leave these male babies to their fate?

On International Women’s’ Day last year, the Home Secretary announced Clare’s Law as if it were something that applied only to women. One-third of the victims of domestic violence are men and Clare’s Law allows men, as well as women, to seek information about new partners. You wouldn’t know this from the way it was launched. Male victims must have been left feeling completely unsupported. At least one national newspaper was forced to publish a correction following gender biased reporting of the law.

I am afraid that I do not agree with your basic premise that feminism is the struggle for equality for all. Feminism works towards equality in cases where women are disadvantaged: occasionally men may benefit, but this is by happenchance rather than design. I accept that this is the case, that the feminist movement has a very important role to play, and that there are very many cases throughout the world where woman are severely disadvantaged. My only complaint about feminism is its false claim to be seeking equality for all.

So, Emma, I hoped from your speech that your campaign was going to be genuinely even-handed and I was keen to support it. I have to say that I was hugely disappointed to find that it was just more of the same old story: support the women, forget the men. What a missed opportunity!

Instead of words to the effect of “He for She: I agree to take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls.”, why not “He for She and She for He: I agree to take action against all forms of violence and discrimination ”? It seems to me that this would have reflected much more closely the content and sentiment of your speech.

Yours sincerely

P.S. If you make it “HeforShe and SheforHe”, I will join AND buy the cufflinks AND the pin…

  • Max

    … and sorry for my bad english

  • Max

    I wish to thank you for your articles, and for what you’re doing in this site.
    I live in Italy and also here there’s a lot of discimination agains the men, but reading your articles just gave me the final idea that we are living in a woman world, that we, male: men and boys are the new victims.
    What I hear in tv, qhat I read on news p. what i see on commercial walking in street is some sort of nazi-feminist propaganda, in which the male are portrayed like pigs, demons, the source of all the evil, and the women are the vital force that will bring the light to a superior society, founded by a supirior genre: the woman.
    Sometimes, and in the last 20 yeras, always more often, it seems to me to be like an hebrew living in the Germany in the ’30.
    I don’t know if I have right, but one thing I can say for sure, this kind of world, this form of violence, hurts me, a little more every day, every disclosure a little more.
    Ahead us lie a path of sorrow and blood (i’m thinking about all the men victim of women’s violence), decade of suffering before we can obtain the equality with the women.
    But we must look into the eye of the monster, reporte the truth, and fight back with every inch of ourselves.
    When a man will be able to fight back a woman attacking him, obtaining the child custody over his ex wife, and not be treated like a sex object by the perfume commercials, we will appointed us like a free men.
    thank you for beeing part of this struggles for freedom

  • If you read the whole thing there are many other draconian penalties too, such as huge fines. Men have to inform the state within 10 days of changing address, women do not have to do so. In many states men cannot obtain a driving license if they don’t register.

    Also, the federal jobs issue can come back to bite you later. A 41 year old man lost his federal job after many years because they found out belatedly that he had failed to register as a young man.

    The fact is that it is huge discrimination against men and the fact that it requires Congress to change it does not make it any less discriminatory.

    The test of “constitutionality” was in 1981: equality was at a different stage then. There are new lawsuits going through the courts at the moment, so we will see. The reason the previous case was lost was due entirely to the fact that women were not allowed in direct combat, which has now changed.

  • Pacificweather

    True that it is only men but if you don’t need anything from the federal government then there s no need to register. Nice for the rich kids. Is there, I wondered, a similar scheme for women? The answer is that it is up to Congress. On the registration section of the web site it says:-

    “Selective Service law as it’s written now refers specifically to “male persons” in stating who must register and who would be drafted. For women to be required to register with Selective Service, Congress would have to amend the law.

    The constitutionality of excluding women was tested in the courts. A Supreme Court decision in 1981, Rostker v. Goldberg, held that registering only men did not violate the due process clause of the Constitution.

    Following a unanimous recommendation by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta announced, on January 24, 2013, the end of the direct ground combat exclusion rule for female service members. The service branches continue to move forward with a plan to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service. Ongoing project is still underway.

    The Selective Service System, if given the mission and modest additional resources, is capable of registering and drafting women with its existing infrastructure.”

    The good news is that women are no longer excluded from direct ground combat service.

  • Thank you for pointing this out, I have updated the link. This will take you straight to the penalties page so you can see all the gory details.


  • Pacificweather

    Your link to the details of Selective Service is broken. You also wrote that men are banned from applying for Federal jobs. This doesn’t seem to include the FBI or the Treasury. To what does this refer?

  • Thanks for your comments, Mark. It is a great pity that this opportunity to look at both sides was missed, as “feminism” desperately needs some high profile links with men’s issues if it wants to be thought of as genuinely interested in gender equality.

  • Mark

    Your open letter is fantastic, Steve and I agree with you while heartedly. I only hope that Emma gets to read this with an open mind.

    I too would sign if it were a movement of “he for she, and she for he”.

    If you do see this article, Emma, please do consider it. If you truly want men on board to end gender discrimination, then let’s focus on both sides of the coin, not just one.

    If feminism truly is about gender equality then this should be a no brainer.