Monday, September 22, 2014

If not me, who? If not now, when?

I read, appreciate and enjoy the Harry Potter books and, to a lesser extent, I watch, appreciate and enjoy the Harry Potter movies.

But, as I have stated several times on this blog in the past, I have no interest in learning everything there is to know about Joanne Rowling, the author, or Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and the other actors who starred in the films. It is enough that J.K. produced a series of novels of such power and fascination -- I don't need to delve into her personal life nor follow every drop of coverage the media offers about her.

And I feel the same about the actors from the films.

Lately, however, Emma Watson, who played Hermione Granger with such charm in the movies, is making it hard for me to continue to ignore her life outside the films.

Some time ago, in fact, I wrote about how impressed I was with her commitment to continue and, in fact, complete her university education.

And now it is her work for the U.N. and the marvellous speech she recently gave on the issue of gender equality and the He For She movement that has me impressed.

Don't get me wrong, I don't necessarily agree with everything Ms. Watson said in that speech. As someone who has spent 10 years of his life working against harassment and discrimination of all kinds in higher education, I was all too aware of the Eurocentrism that pervaded her talk.

And I find it highly ironic that Watson described the first hint she experienced of gender inequity as coming when she was just eight years old and was described as being "bossy" when she wanted to be given the same rights and powers as her male friends.

Why ironic? Because J.K. Rowling used exactly that word, "bossy", when she first introduced the character Watson played, Hermione Granger, in The Philosopher's Stone.

All of that being said, however, there was a great deal to admire in Watson's speech to the U.N., not the least of which is the fact that this world-renowned actress was visibly nervous as she spoke and admitted to the fact as part of her speech. It was clear that the issue means a lot to her and that she wished to be effective in getting her message across.

She spoke slowly, clearly and with a tremor in her voice that added that much more power to her message.

She made another important admission as well. She said, early on, "My life is a sheer privilege," and went on to thank all of the people who offered her opportunity and equity, people she called "the inadvertent feminists who are changing the world today."

Watson recognized that she has been afforded opportunities that few other women have enjoyed and she used that point to acknowledge the responsibility her good fortune placed upon her to use her position of power in our society to speak out about the issue.

Her main point, and the point of the He For She movement, is that both sexes share equally in the fight for gender equity, that men suffer as a result of the imposition of gender stereotypes, even if to a lesser extent then do women.

"I have seen men feel fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success," she said at one point. And later: "Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive; both men and women should feel free to be strong."

I think there is a great deal of good in what Watson said to the U.N. and I am impressed to the highest degree that 1) she has taken on the responsibility to deliver that message and 2) she has done so with such openness, honesty and emotion.

I became aware of Emma Watson because she played a beloved character in a series of films; I am a fan of Emma Watson because of everything she has done, and continues to do, outside of her film career.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

No feet up on Harry Potter

So I'm watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix, the award-winning show about an upper middle class woman who ends up spending a year in prison for a crime she committed when she was younger.

I was just cruising through the first season, trying to figure out what all the buzz is about. So far, I'm not totally sold on it. It's okay, I guess. Kind of hit and miss. Not as funny as I had hoped and somewhat lacking in interesting characters.

Then, out of the blue, there's a scene in the prison library. One of the women is wishing to borrow a book and the inmate who works in the library, thinking she just wants to borrow a thick book to use as a foot stool, refuses to let her borrow The Order of the Phoenix.

It came and went in a flash but I think the line was something like, "You ain't puttin' your feet up on Harry Potter. You want something to stand on, you borrow [James Joyce's] Ulysses. I tried to read that s---. That's for puttin' you feet on."

Now, I've read Ulysses and it's really very good. It doesn't deserve to have people stepping all over it either. But what a moment of joy to be watching this crazy, crude, violent, disturbing television show that seems so far away from J.K.'s magical world and to find that, even in this prison, Harry Potter is revered.