Esquire Meets Emma Watson

Discussing modern feminism for the modern man

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Emma Watson played Hermione Granger in eight Harry Potter movies between 2001 and 2011, beginning when she was just ten years old. 

Since then she has combined work as an actor (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Bling Ring, Noah) with modelling for Burberry and Lancôme and reading for a BA in English Literature at Brown University in the US. She is now a Visiting Fellow at Oxford University. 

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In 2014, she was appointed a UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador and helped launch HeForShe, which calls for men to advocate for gender equality. Her speech to the UN in September of that year has been seen over 10 million times on YouTube and in 2015, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world. 

Now 25, she continues to star in major films — coming soon: The Circle and Beauty and the Beast — although she has set 2016 aside to concentrate on her activism.

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Esquire: Why were you keen to have Tom Hanks involved in the HeForShe campaign and to appear with you on the Esquire cover?

Emma Watson: Having him on the cover is making me seriously proud. Not just because of who he is as an actor, but because I respect him as a man. He is one of those rare Hollywood types who are authentic. He is who he says he is. 

If you look at his career, a lot of his biggest movies — Big, A League of Their Own, Sleepless in Seattle — have been with female directors. And also there's something about the way he talks about issues, whether it be gay rights, Aids, environmental issues, children or the work he does with veterans, he speaks with such a humble grace and a credible voice. 

He's informed but he has a realness about him which people really respond to and it's why they keep going to see his movies years and years after. Anyway, I'll stop gushing, it's boring.

ESQ: But isn't it the truth that it would be impossible for any woman to have the same longevity and success as Tom Hanks in the film industry? He's been in huge movies consistently since Splash in 1984.

EW: That's a good question. Maybe things are opening up a bit for actresses, but certainly as far as female directors are concerned, the numbers are so ridiculous. Seven per cent of directors [on the 250 top-grossing films] were women in 2014, and less than 1.3 [per cent] minority women, and only 11 per cent were written by women, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. 

You hear of studio heads being like, "We can't have a woman directing an action movie," or just sticking to these archaic notions of what a women will and won't be able to do. But it's interesting, talking won't be enough; we really need to see some direct action taken at this stage.

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ESQ: A few high-profile women in Hollywood seem to be speaking out about inequality now. Charlize Theron publicly demanded equal pay with her co-star Chris Hemsworth for the Snow White and the Huntsman prequel. Is this a tipping point?

EW: I'm not sure who put out the wage gap [between Theron and Hemsworth on the first film] but it took a hack unfortunately, the Sony hack, for Jennifer [Lawrence] to talk about the extent to which the prejudice was there for her, [her American Hustle co-star] Amy Adams and women generally. 

We are not supposed to talk about money, because people will think you're "difficult" or a "diva". But there's a willingness now to be like, "Fine. Call me a 'diva', call me a 'feminazi', call me 'difficult', call me a "First World feminist', call me whatever you want, it's not going to stop me from trying to do the right thing and make sure that the right thing happens." Because it doesn't just affect me, it affects all the other women who are in this with me, and it affects all the other men who are in this with me, too. 

Hollywood is just a small piece of a gigantic puzzle but it's in the spotlight. Whether you are a woman on a tea plantation in Kenya, or a stockbroker on Wall Street, or a Hollywood actress, no one is being paid equally.

ESQ: A lot of men may have issues with describing themselves as "a feminist". Why is it important this should change?

EW: There are misconceptions about the word. The way it is constructed — it's obviously got 'feminine' in the word — immediately pushes men away from it, because they think, "Oh, it's got nothing to do with me." Also, they have this idea that it is about women competing with men, or being against men, or wanting to be men, which is a huge misconception. 

Women want to be women. We just want to be treated equally. It's not about man hating. [US feminist, author and activist] Bell Hooks says, "Patriarchy has no gender." It's true.

ESQ: So, you get that it's tricky?

EW: It's really easy to trip up. I do it all the time and I'm engaged with it every day. Even the way that our language is constructed is difficult. I say "guys" to a room of girls all the time. I've even come out with "Man up!" And I consider myself to be someone who is engaged with this topic. The language is so ingrained and unconscious it's easy to make a mistake. 

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Gloria Steinem says feminism isn't about being perfect. [US writer] Rebecca Solnit says it's not about being puritanical. We aren't expecting men to be gender experts, just engaged and conscientious.

ESQ: It's one thing for Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg or another CEO to change their company's policy on parental leave or gender equality. But what can the average non-billionaire guy do?

EW: Oh, it can be really basic. You just need to be an active bystander. Most men I've spoken to have come across a moment where they were in a group of guys and something was happening that made them feel uncomfortable. And when that moment comes, don't think it's not worth it to speak up or not your place to ruffle feathers. We need you to do that.

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ESQ: Isn't Esquire a slightly odd place to be having this discussion?

EW: Well, that's part of the reason I pushed so hard for it. So often, feminist issues are being discussed in a room labelled for women, with women, talking about women's issues, focusing on women. But this is an issue that affects everyone. Everyone. That is what HeForShe is about. This is affecting men, too. I want to really talk to men about it.

ESQ: What would you like to come of it?

EW: There's no point in me going, "You all have to go away from having read this article and decide that you are a feminist." That's useless. The only thing that is going to make a difference is if men go away and speak to the women in their lives about what they are experiencing.

Ask the question. Go to the pub with the women in your life and just listen and then see how that makes you feel and see how that engages you. And if it does, then I hope that when you're confronted with a situation where you can do something, even if it's as simple as just saying, "I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that…", then taking that action is what makes a feminist.

Whether you identify or use the word or whatever is not the important thing. It's how you choose to act.

ESQ: The comedian Amy Schumer said recently, "Even the most beautiful girls think they are disgusting." Would you agree?

EW: Oh, they do, yeah. I know a few of them. I, as a 21-year-old, was riddled with insecurity and self-critiquing. Some of my friends still are. I realised that I didn't like friends taking photos of me when I wasn't working and I actually got in a fight about this issue. And I wondered, why is this bothering me? Why does this make me so insecure? And I realised it's because I can't even reconcile myself with my own image on the front of these magazines.

Comparing myself to how I look, when I've gone through all of that makeup and styling, in my normal life is… just… I can't live up to it. I was like, "Holy shit! If that's how I feel — and I get to be the person who's on the cover of those magazines — how's anyone else meant to cope?"

ESQ: That must be weird for someone whose new haircut breaks the internet.

EW: Yeah, it's weird, but it's been a very empowering switch to go from me feeling as a young woman: "There's something wrong with me, I need to change this about me." And then you start having a go at yourself for not liking yourself and you add another layer of hatred to the circle.

It's unbelievable. Switching from that to being like: "Oh, I actually operate in a system that's fucked. I'm not fucked, the system's fucked. OK." And, ironically, it's probably made me more beautiful and more confident as a result because I'm not carrying that anxiety any more. I don't think it's weird any more that I don't look like myself on the cover of a magazine. 

ESQ: You've been very famous from a very young age. Hasn't your experience of sexism been different from other women's?

EW: I've had my arse slapped as I've left a room. I've felt scared walking home. I've had people following me. I don't talk about these experiences much, because coming from me they'll sound like a huge deal and I don't want this to be about me, but most women I know have experienced it and worse… this is unfortunately how it is. 

It's so much more pervasive than we acknowledge. It shouldn't be an acceptable fact of life that women should be afraid.

ESQ: What are the benefits for men in greater gender equality?

EW: I think it's important to note that it's not about us convincing you that gender equality is worth engaging in only because there might be something in it for you. Or in it for your sister or your mother. 

The question is, what's in it for humans? Martin Luther King said injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. I really do believe that. And the benefits on top of that? Happier, healthier, more successful children? Being able to take proper paternity leave and see your baby? Being able to talk to someone if you're feeling shit? Actually getting to be yourself? Getting asked out by a woman? Better sex? A marriage that is a true partnership? More diverse and interesting perspectives in art, culture, business and politics? Getting to crowdsource all the innovation and genius in the world, not just half of it. A highly increased number of safe, confident and fulfilled people on the planet, particularly women? World peace? Seriously. World peace!

ESQ: You're taking time off from acting now to focus on HeForShe full-time. Was that a hard decision?

EW: This is the most fun I've ever had. It's so awesome to be at the forefront of that wave and that energy and just being able to channel that which I found mildly horrifying — all of the crazy attention on me — and doing something good with it, it just feels like I'm really doing what I'm meant to be doing.

 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/

Taken from the April 2016 issue of Esquire, on sale now.