'This Is Not Your Fault. But It Is Your Problem'

Emma Watson and editor-in-chief Alex Bilmes introduce Esquire's Women & Men issue

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Last summer, over tea for two in a London hotel — because that, readers, is how we rock 'n' roll — we began a conversation about women and men, our differences and similarities, what unites us and what divides us. We talked about friends and families, about situations at work and at home, and about how fevered and fraught the debate around gender equality has become.

It is, of course, one of the great conversations a woman and a man can have — well, OK, maybe not, but it beats the old do-you-come-here-often? routine — and we've been having it, in one form or another, since we were cavewomen and cavemen. (Cavepeople? Cavepersons? Gosh, it's a minefield, isn't it? Troglodytes?)

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Actually, perhaps the truth is that women have been trying to have this conversation for millennia, and men have been ignoring them, or talking over them, or offering well-meant but ultimately unhelpful "logical" solutions before shoving off to the pub, leaving Ms Troglodyte to get on with the cooking, cleaning and child-rearing. You can see why she might have wanted to have a chat.

The idea behind HeForShe, Emma's initiative as a UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador, is to invite you (that is, men) to participate in the fight for gender equality. The idea behind Esquire is to entertain and inform you, and to alert you to interesting, exciting, meaningful developments in the culture. Of which there have been many, lately, concerning gender and sexuality, as you can hardly have failed to notice.

At that first meeting we agreed on plenty and disagreed on some. But it seemed to both of us that perhaps we could work on something together: a special section of Esquire devoted to a discussion of where we've been, as women and men, where we're at now and where we want to get to. Why should you care, given the fact that, well, you know… you're not a woman? (Unless, of course, you are.)

To us both, the answer to that is simple.

Do you have a mother? A sister? A wife? A daughter? A niece? Do you have women lovers, friends, colleagues?

Do you regard those people as second-class citizens, inferior to you, less deserving of opportunity, representation, remuneration, respect? (If you do, possibly this isn't the magazine, or the conversation, for you.)

Are you aware that at present, whether or not you believe in equality for women, it doesn't exist, even in the most liberal, progressive nations, corporations and organisations in the world? At work, at home and in the street, the women you love, the women you live with, the women you work with, eat with, drink with, sleep with, are less likely to be listened to, less likely to be promoted, less likely to be paid as well as you. They are more likely to be patronised, overlooked and objectified than you.

This is not your fault. But it is your problem. As all issues of human rights are your problem, if you are a human. (You are a human, correct?)

We have all inherited a situation in which women — as well as LGBT people, ethnic minorities, the disabled, old people, children — face discrimination every day. Pretty much everyone who is not an able-bodied, Caucasian, middle-class heterosexual Western male — and even some of those — is subject to some form of discrimination. It influences and affects every aspect of their lives, for the worse.

Do you know that you can help?

You don't have to give up your job, surrender your liberty, empty your bank account or never look at a pretty woman again. We're not asking you never to hold the door open, never to pay for dinner, or to forget how to unclasp a bra. You can still watch football, drink beer and spend too much money on trainers. So: chill.

We're not asking you to "check your privilege" — at least, not in those words ­— and you don't even have to call yourself a feminist. At the risk of being accused of "mansplaining" ourselves, this is not about men "rescuing" women. Women are not damsels in distress. It's also not about us convincing you that you would personally be better off in a world where women and men were treated equally. (Even though we think you would be.) What's in it for you, or for either of us, is not relevant to this. It's not about self-interest.

We're asking you to think not what gender equality can do for you, but what you can do for gender equality,

So what can you do?

At the most basic level, you can make yourself aware. Principally by talking to women — those closest to you especially — about their experiences of discrimination; take our words for it, they will have had plenty of experiences. Once you've recognized the problem, you can adjust your own behaviour, if necessary, in order to lessen it. (There's more information on how to do this in the magazine: available to buy from sophisticated newsstands now!)

Esquire, as you know, is a men's magazine, and proud of it. But it's not a boy's club; women have always played crucial roles at this magazine, and they continue to do so. Our fashion director is a woman. Our photo director is a woman. Our features editor is a woman. One of us is a woman. (It's Emma, FYI). We employ female writers, designers, sub editors, photographers and illustrators. Esquire's CEO is a woman. At one stage we had a woman editor, Rosie Boycott.

In America, Esquire has long championed great women writers: Martha Gellhorn, Nora Ephron, Joan Didion, Susan Orlean. Gloria Steinem got her start at Esquire. Simone de Beauvoir — Simone de Beauvoir! — wrote about Brigitte Bardot for Esquire. ("A saint would sell his soul to the devil merely to watch her dance…") This magazine has always been part of this conversation, and we see this issue in that tradition.

Before we go, a point of order: neither of us can remember who paid for that first pot of tea. But we do know we definitely didn't go Dutch. We might be weird, but we're not that weird. 

The April issue of Esquire is out on now. 

Photography by Art Streiber 

Styling by Sarah Slutsky Hair by Christian Wood 

Make up by Jane Galli 

Grooming by Jetty Stutzman, for beautycounter.com/jettystutzman/

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