On Sunday, September 21st, Emma Watson gave a powerful speech at the UN on feminism and her movement, HeForShe. Feminism lately has become a word that often turns people off from a conversation. As Ms. Watson notes, it has become nearly synonymous with man hating. However, through her artful rhetoric and her use of ethos and pathos she is able to in a sense rebrand the word into something nearly everyone can get behind.
Her entire speech itself centers around rhetoric and civic life. Civic life being about caring for others and rhetoric getting, sustaining and transforming attention through shapes and symbols. The one thing that Ms. Watson does best in her speech is transform the attention on feminism. She in this respect was not too different than what Prodicus did in his work. Both looked very closely at the meaning of every single little word in what they spoke. Through her speech she mostly uses the term gender equality. While this is nearly synonymous with feminism they have grown to hold drastically different connotations. Ms. Watson goes about transforming the meaning of this word through two methods. First, she gives a clear working definition for the word. Second, and the more powerful of the two, is that she states the word does not matter but the meaning behind it, more eloquently put by her, “We are struggling for a uniting word but the good news is we have a uniting movement.”
This statement also is an example of her use of pathos in her speech. The word “we” is a very empowering word. It implies that the speaker and their audience are on the same team. Through her use of pathos throughout her speech she calls to action her audience and empowers them to act. Pathos also has a strong presence in her speech in her tone and facial expressions. Particularly just before the 5 minute mark in the attached video you can hear and see her raw emotions in a set of statements all beginning with, “I think it is right that…,” and the audience is certainly affected as she receives a round of applause after this part of her speech. One more example of her strong pathos in her speech is when she brings up male suicide in the UK. Already she has the audience listening as at this point in her speech she has shifted to talking about gender inequality for men instead of women, but bringing up male suicide as a part of this demands a strong emotional response. Nearly everyone has been touched in some way by suicide and bringing this up in her speech calls this to mind and galvanizes support for HeForShe.
Another very important part of her speech is another Aristotelian appeal, ethos. She fairly subtly builds ethos near the end of her speech starting in a very self deprecating way. During this part she starts with the rhetorical question of, “Who is this Harry Potter girl and what is she doing speaking at the UN?” While certainly humorous, she calls herself into question, however she also makes herself human in this phrase. Often people of her social stature are put on a pedestal and when people are put on a pedestal others are forced to look up at them. She successfully steps down from this however and makes herself approachable, human. In calling herself into question she also opens a void in her ethos but one that she very quickly fills. She starts this off with simple facts about herself. She is the goodwill ambassador for women. She has been struggling with feminism almost her entire life. She goes on to recount examples where her gender was forced to play a role. However she ends this and her speech with two more rhetorical questions which end up being the most powerful part of the speech. She asks, “If not me, who? If not now, when?” These two questions are so simple and in part it is this simplicity that makes the audience genuinely think about this question.
I hope this article gets you to at least watch Ms. Watsons speech and you might be surprised how this “Harry Potter girl” convinces you to a feminist.-Danny Fell