The '4Chan threat' to leak naked celebrity pictures may have been a hoax, but the whole episode still proves Emma Watson right

We desperately need men to be feminists too

Click to follow

The fiercest debates happen in pubs, don’t they? Tongues loosened by too many lagers, we’re much more likely to ram our opinions down the throats of friends, who may glance at each other and raise an eyebrow as they think: bloody hell, she’s at it again. I’ve actually been told by close friends to not bring up certain topics in certain environments, for fear one Sambuca shot too many will send me spiralling into a squabble so ferocious I’ll end the night walking home alone, wondering what went wrong. (It’s happened, I’m ashamed to say).

One topic guaranteed to cause a healthy spat over pork scratchings is feminism.  I’ve been privy, in the past, to the  subtle nudges, the rolled eyes, and the barely-stifled sighs of men who think flying the feminism flag is tantamount to announcing oneself as a rabid hater of all things male. I traipse home after nights like that, boiling hot fury bubbling in the pit of my stomach, determined next time to convince the naysayers.

Helping me on my crusade is the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson, who on Monday launched a campaign for gender equality, calling on both women and men to reclaim feminism. 

In her first major speech, made at the UN headquarters in New York, the former Harry Potter actress talked for 15 minutes on the “HeForShe” project, saying she wanted to galvanise as many men and boys as possible in the biggest attempt yet to prove that feminism is not synonymous with man-hating.

The response was immense and the backlash almost immediate. On Tuesday morning, it appeared that Watson was targeted by users from the internet forum 4chan, apparently those who are thought to be behind the recent release of naked pictures of celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton. The “countdown” site featured the message “Emma you are next” and the 4chan logo – the threat presumably revenge after she came clean over her feminist leanings. It now seems that this was all part of an elaborate marketing hoax by Rantic.

Whether this was a hoax or not, the reaction is Lewis’ law writ large. That law, first articulated by journalist Helen Lewis, states that the hateful response by anonymous critics to any woman writing or talking about feminism justifies the need for feminism.

The extortions of one spiteful internet gang, however, shouldn’t detract from the very important message in Watson’s speech: men should be feminists too. This weekend, I spoke to a man (in the pub, coincidentally) who said he was a male feminist. He was stringent in his views – equal rights for both women and men – but until now had only supported the cause from the relative safety of his Twitter feed. Why? He was nervous, terrified even, that he would be laughed out of the (metaphorical) room by women who thought only those in possession of an XX chromosome could be part of the club.

His cautious approach is not unfounded. There are some inflexible feminist thinkers who believe a man intruding on their ideology is further proof the patriarchy is out to oppress women. How can someone who has never known persecution fight to rectify it?

In her speech, Watson told the audience that she considered herself to be a feminist, but was concerned the word now had negative connotations. “For the record, feminism by definition is: the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes,” she said.  When put like that, it’s impossible to understand why all men don’t consider themselves feminists.

I sent a tweet out before I wrote this column, asking male friends whether they were feminists or not. The overwhelming response was: yes. In reality, most men are on side, but the true definition of feminism – to fight for gender equality – has been lost along the way. The snarling, snapping jaws of feminism mean some men (and a few women) hold back. Advocates of the movement can be so passionate, so fierce, so terrifyingly uncompromising that it takes a brave man to step up and engage with them. Take me in the pub, for example. Lubricated by booze, I push on, determined to win over a hard-nosed critic by simply shouting louder than they.

I rarely leave the victor. In fact, the more I yell, the more I pelt them with statistics and examples of everyday sexism, the faster I see their mouths set in steely resolve as they decide I’m simply proving what they’ve always believed to be true: feminists are mouthy man-haters. I’m not saying women should pipe down. Far from it. But for a movement so determined to fight for inclusivity, feminism can be incredibly exclusive. Imagine how great we could be if we worked together? Lots of men support the cause; they want equality too. Maybe it’s time we put down our pints, took a step back, and listened to them.

And if Lewis’ law holds true, I’m to expect a barrage of comments following this column, accusing me of hating men. If you’re poised, ready to troll, I say only this: do you really want to prove me right?

This  piece was updated on 24 September after it was discovered that the threat to release pictures of Emma Watson was part of a hoax