My goal to learn something new every day
Yesterday was International Women’s Day. Admittedly, I knew it was coming up, but probably couldn’t have told you when last week. I remember it from last year, but perhaps didn’t pay as much attention to it as I perhaps could have done. Anyway, yesterday, Twitter was ablaze with talk about the day, and various articles were published in the media drawing attention to the day.
I grew up in a single-parent family for quite a lot of my childhood, and being the only boy, with four sisters, I learned a lot about the power of women. In the third module of my MA, which was sociolinguistics and discourse analysis, I decided to focus on gender and language. I found the topic much more interesting than I initially thought I would have, and it really helped open up my mind from the academic perspective.
But women’s rights is something that I have been paying particular attention to over the last few months. I have a one-to-one student—a very successful doctor—who, in the next couple of years, will become the head of an international women’s rights organization. I’ll refrain from mentioning the organization, but it is big in the US as well as Korea (not as well known in the UK, however). Over the last few months we have been focussing on general English, to help her improve to a satisfactory level, but more recently we’ve begun to make the transition to more authentic materials now that she’s ready. While she has an excellent vocabulary and understanding, she struggles mainly with listening in general, and expressing herself on the topic that matters to her most: women’s rights.
Typically, every week, I’ll scour the internet for articles and useful resources and then take them in for our lesson to bolster her vocabulary/expressions and provide her with the chance to talk about the topics. Obviously, this weekend past has provided lots of material that will be useful for class.
Perhaps the thing that I’m most excited about is Emma Watson’s live Q&A at the Facebook HQ in London.
Emma Watson, for anyone who doesn’t know/realise, rose to fame after playing the character Hermione in the Harry Potter film franchise. Last year, she gave a speech at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, where she launched the HeForShe campaign. I remember hearing about it at the time, but to be honest, wasn’t quite sure what it was.
Earlier this year, in January, she gave another short speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
This was one that had slipped under my radar and I was not aware of.
But still, today, despite hearing lots about HeForShe on the weekend, I was unable to explain what it was exactly (beyond a campaign for women’s rights of course). So, I felt it was time to find out. The website itself is perhaps not that helpful at first, although it does look good. When you first get to the site, the front page flashes the message A Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality. Scroll down a little further, and you’ll see:
The top message says: The movement for gender equality was originally conceived as a struggle led only by women for women. The one below that adds: In recent years men have begun to stand-up in addressing inequalities and discrimination faced by women and girls. A strong message, even if the punctuation could do with a little tweaking!
So poking around the site, I was able to garner a little more information about the campaign. But I didn’t feel as if I fully understood after my visit to the site, so it was back to our old friend, Wikipedia. The Wikipedia entry says:
[The HeForShe campaign] aims to engage men and boys as agents of change for the achievement of gender equality and women’s rights, by encouraging them to take action against inequalities faced by women and girls.
And by now, I’m beginning to get a better sense of what it is all about, and perhaps feeling rather guilty about not knowing more about before, seeing as it is, after all, aimed at people just like me. Looking around the internet for more about the campaign, there is a lot of information, much of it from Emma Watson herself. One of the main issues that she is attempting to bring up is the notion of feminism, and how it does not mean ‘man-hating’, despite what some people might believe. In her speech at the UN headquarters in New York last year, she had this to say:
For the record, feminism, by definition, is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.
Fortunately, ever since doing that module on sociolinguistics and discourse analysis a few years ago, I learned the true meaning of feminism back then. But perhaps I haven’t done as much as I could do. What is it that I can do? I’m not sure… yet. Being a teacher sometimes does bring with it the opportunity to influence the opinions of others, sometimes for good, and other times not. While I have no doubt that I don’t need to influence my doctor student’s opinions in any way on this matter, I still have around 500 other students, many of whom male, whose minds I may be able to open, just that little bit. And now that I’m more familiar with the HeForShe campaign, it should provide a springboard for future discussions.