Understanding what Maisie Williams calls 'first-world feminism'
At this point, the gender equality speech Emma Watson delivered at the U.N. a few months back has been watched over eight million times on YouTube and her equality campaign’s hashtag #heforshe has been embraced by celebrities and ordinary social media users alike.
Though Watson’s speech was met with near-universal praise, not everyone completely picked up what Watson threw down. Maisie Williams (better known as feminist icon Arya Stark from HBO’s Game Of Thrones), also a self-identifying feminist, has some issues with Watson’s take on feminism. The Guardian recently interviewed Williams, and the actress did not hold back. Calling Watson’s speech “first-world feminism,” she took issue with focusing on the problems Western women face. “A lot of what Emma Watson spoke about, I just think, ‘that doesn’t bother me,'” Williams said. “I know things aren’t perfect for women in the UK and in America, but there are women in the rest of the world who have it far worse.”
So what exactly is “first-world feminism” and how do we compartmentalize it when we talk about gender equality? When someone uses “first-world feminism” as a knock again the fight for gender equality in the Western world, specifically focusing on areas like North America and Western Europe, what that person is saying is “Yes, there are gender equality problems here. Females across the boards are paid less than males. Women are objectified and taught to believe that the number that appears when they step on the scale is a direct reflection of their personal worth. Rape culture is a real thing. All those problems are real problems. Still, when you compare these problems to women being publicly stoned to death in the Middle East, girls being sold as sex slaves in Southeast Asia, over 125 million women today living in developing nations who have been forced to undergo the mutilation of female circumcision, when you talk about this and realize that you’re only touching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the pain women suffer for being women in developing nations, the problems women face in wealthy countries, i.e. ‘first world feminism,’ do seem much more manageable in comparison.”
Comparing the lives of women in different countries is a tricky thing, because there are so many cultural, geographical and political issues to factor in. The fight for women’s rights means different things around the globe. At the same time, we can’t only look at feminism with the microscope of our daily lives, we also have to use a telescope and recognize how gender inequality manifests oceans and continents away. If we care about gender equality, we can’t just care about how the fight for fairness plays out on our home court. We have to care about how things play out everywhere.
Still, that shouldn’t negate our battle for equal rights in our home country, or the importance of feminism on a local level. Saying “Oh, well things used to be worse for women” or “Things are way worse for women in other places” is a derailing argument for the completely reasonable request to fix things like workplace sexism and street harassment on the homefront.
So we have to be able to count our blessings and still fight for change. We have to want things to be better for women thousands of miles away and women down the block. The fight for equality is global and it’s local. The important thing to remember is that we’re all in this together.