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When I heard this speech, my first thoughts were to marvel at how optimistically powerful she was. You don’t get that much — powerful and optimistic. Most of the time powerful speeches are dramatic and hard hitting. Or they are on the other side, being funny and pointedly humorous. A commonality found in most powerful speeches is the direction of force — toward you, the listener — which doesn’t hold the energy of optimism without discord and degradation.
“Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
…is a line from a powerful speech, which demonstrates what I’m talking about with the idea of Direction of Force. It’s all on you. You can change the world. You can make this country great. You have the power. You rise up and face the challenges because you are what this country needs.
These claims might sound optimistic, but in fact they are closer to cheerleading. This is the rhetoric of building false structures. What is imbued feels powerful, but the power does not endure under stress. In our world examples of this abound. Face it, if all you need to be motivated to change our world is a “What you can do for your country” speech, then your problems are fairly shallow. Don’t twist this, I’m not putting Kennedy’s speech down. I like that speech. Unlike many of its kind, it has a brilliance which few have matched. But it has no optimism, only power and motivation.
So what is optimism, since I am wilfully calling out distinctions…
You may disagree, but I understand confidence to be a quality, which can not be directed at you. Confidence can not be injected. Confidence is a quality, which is derived from experience. And experience is what you acquire roughly five seconds after you needed it. In other words, experience is acquired through the survival of failure, and the tenacity to solve afterward. The attribute of experience is formidable because of this — not because of that sentiment given by Nietzsche, “whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,” but more from the confidence of “whatever doesn’t kill me, had better start running…” Confidence is a quality, therefore, of realism. When someone cheerleads you into a sense of motivation and confidence, it never feels whole. That’s because it never is.
This is actually the point of brilliance with Kennedy’s speech. He’s not bolstering his nation up, he’s making them take stock, and to alter their perspective. He’s putting the power in their hands, but not offering a false sense of ability. He’s asking you to ask, “what can you do for your country?” He’s directing his nation to take inventory. Times were rough, the problems were dire, and some didn’t make it through to the otherside. But those who did, Kennedy points out, have the chance to return to the field, wiser, more cunning, and with a clarity unearned in any other fashion.
“Now the trumpet summons us again — not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are — but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out…”
Kennedy illuminates the uniqueness of their condition, and gracefully redirects their energy “With what you know now, what can you do?” It is an enlightened and effective alteration, which makes all the difference between his speech and the bolstering shams so many others bark out at crowds to rile and incite.
Emma’s speech is Powerfully Optimistic. There is no doubt in her words that this problem of inequality is real, nor any faltering regarding the existence of a solution. These two points are inalienable truths.in her speech, in spite of the fact that no nation can claim the existence of social equality — which she flatly admits. Despite the fact that all those who have gone before have been driven back and turned from their path of unity to a path of hate — which she flatly admits. It is this admittance which calls attention to her experience. These are the failures, these are the flames from which she has come. And she has the solution. She was born in the solution. She was raised in the solution. The steel of her energy has met those flames, lived, and stepped forward to put them out.
Her solution returns us to recognize and admit that this separation no longer works. Neither man or woman are moving forward any longer. We are stalemated and burdened so gravely, our inability to take action is becoming dire. We can not take the next step forward without the other. It is, as she says in more graceful terms, ours to do together or ours to wail at apart. This is not, and never has been a woman’s problem, or a feminists problem. This is a human problem. Separation from each other is destroying the foundations of what we have always denied as being related to inequality. It is time to become human.
Her delivery is excellent as well, and the video is linked here.
TRANSCRIPT: Today we are launching a campaign called for HeForShe. I am reaching out to you because we need your help. We want to end gender inequality, and to do this, we need everyone involved.
For the record, feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes. I started questioning gender-based assumptions a long time ago. When I was 8, I was confused for being called bossy because I wanted to direct the plays that we would put on for our parents, but the boys were not. When at 14, I started to be sexualized by certain elements of the media. When at 15, my girlfriends started dropping out of sports teams because they didn’t want to appear muscly. When at 18, my male friends were unable to express their feelings.
I decided that I was a feminist, and this seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word. Women are choosing not to identify as feminists. Apparently, I’m among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, and anti-men. Unattractive, even. Why has the word become such an uncomfortable one? I am from Britain, and I think it is right I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decisions that will affect my life. I think it is right that socially, I am afforded the same respect as men.
But sadly, I can say that there is no one country in the world where all women can expect to see these rights. No country in the world can yet say that they achieved gender equality.
These rights, I consider to be human rights, but I am one of the lucky ones. My life is a sheer privilege because my parents didn’t love me less because I was born a daughter. My school did not limit me because I was a girl. My mentors didn’t assume that I would go less far because I might give birth to a child one day.
These influences were the gender equality ambassadors that made me who I am today. They may not know it, but they are the inadvertent feminists that are changing the world today. We need more of those. And if you still hate the word, it is not the word that is important. It’s the idea and the ambition behind it, because not all women have received the same rights I have. In fact, statistically, very few have.
In 1997, Hillary Clinton made a famous speech in Beijing about women’s rights. Sadly, many of the things that she wanted to change are still true today. But what stood out for me the most was that less than thirty percent of the audience were male. How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?
Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue, too. Because to date, I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society, despite my need of his presence as a child, as much as my mother’s. I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness, unable to ask for help for fear it would make them less of a man. In fact, in the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20 to 49, eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either.
We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes, but I can see that they are, and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence. If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled. Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong. It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, instead of two sets of opposing ideals. If we stop defining each other by what we are not, and start defining ourselves by who we are, we can all be freer, and this is what HeForShe is about. It’s about freedom.
I want men to take up this mantle so that their daughters, sisters, and mothers can be free from prejudice, but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too, reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned, and in doing so, be a more true and complete version of themselves. You might be thinking, “Who is this Harry Potter girl, and what is she doing speaking at the UN?” And, it’s a really good question. I’ve been asking myself the same thing. All I know is that I care about this problem, and I want to make it better. And, having seen what I’ve seen, and given the chance, I feel it is my responsibility to say something.
Statesman Edmund Burke said, “All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.” In my nervousness for this speech and in my moments of doubt, I told myself firmly, “If not me, who? If not now, when?” If you have similar doubts when opportunities are presented to you, I hope those words will be helpful. Because the reality is that if we do nothing, it will take seventy-five years, or for me to be nearly 100, before women can expect to be paid the same as men for the same work. 15.5 million girls will be married in the next 16 years as children. And at current rates, it won’t be until 2086 before all rural African girls can have a secondary education. If you believe in equality, you might be one of those inadvertent feminists that I spoke of earlier, and for this, I applaud you.
We are struggling for a uniting word, but the good news is, we have a uniting movement. It is called HeForShe. I invite you to step forward, to be seen and to ask yourself, “If not me, who? If not now, when?” Thank you very, very much.