"Please don't say Emma Watson's speech was earth-shattering."


I remember quite clearly the day my boyfriend told me Emma Watson was his ideal woman.

We were in the car, I was driving and before I had the opportunity to take my hands off the wheel and pinch him hard – I realised that a huge part of me actually loved what he had said.

Emma Watson absolutely is the ideal woman. Because she has a damningly beautiful mind. And in a realm of gross vanity and contrived ideals about beauty, that’s where our bench mark should be. First and foremost, to be beautiful one must think beautifully.

Emma Watson spoke at the UN this week and her words exploded onto the internet within a matter of hours. In millions of homes across the globe, women and men, young and old, sat and nodded and clapped. A unified choir of empowered feminist subjects.

Yet, despite the media’s branding of the speech as mind-blowing, Watson’s words were anything but.

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Watson’s words aren’t new; the concepts she spoke about are not earth-shattering and her worries about gender equality are hardly unique. These are words women have voiced for generations. These are words we’ve used before.

To say that they are powerfully new, mind blowing, ground breaking and revolutionary is to insult the women who came before this Hollywood starlet; the women who have already carved significant cracks in the glass ceiling hanging over our heads.

Call her words passionate, sure. Call them timely. Even rousing. But don’t call them game-changing.

In fact, let’s stop and celebrate the fact that Emma Watson’s words are actually utterly familiar.

I had always figured that one day us women would finally discover that “magic” combination of words. An explanation of feminism so compelling that finally the world would have no choice but to jump on board the movement and force it into the limelight. A version of our argument for women’s equality that nobody could argue with and that no human living would shy away from.


And what Watson showed yesterday is that it’s not having some brilliant set of new words that will make the difference for gender equality. Because we don’t need to reinvent ourselves or our movement; we simply have to remind people why feminism existed in the first place.

What women have been saying and fighting for for generations is enough. It is enough. We have the words already. We just have to keep working to make sure they’re heard.

Emma Watson didn’t talk about anything I haven’t learnt from the Jessica Valentis, Mia Freedmans, Clementine Fords, or Caitlin Morans of today. She said what most women have been saying, thinking and feeling already.

The difference? Watson’s Hollywood fame means she has a stage larger than the rest of us can imagine, and a profile which means she can reach those whose ears would previously have been closed to these same-old messages. Watson even had that endearing shake in her voice which meant we knew she cared and that it wasn’t some publicity stunt for a meaningless new film.

Her words mattered without being new.

Because the more we use those old words, those familiar convincing phrases, the greater the repetition and the louder the chorus – the stronger the opportunity for meaningful change.

Watson is someone who young women all over the world look up to and admire. Young men too. Hell, my boyfriend is definitely paying attention. She is reaching a new audience with old words and she is one of the few people in the world who has the giant megaphone to do that.

And that in itself is worthy of praise.

Watson’s speech was eloquent and fierce. But let’s not delude ourselves into thinking it was earth-shattering.

Zara McDonald is a 20 year old journalism student from Melbourne who, despite all of this, still wants to become Emma Watson when she’s older. You can find her on twitter at @zaramcdonald5, and her blog here.