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A Neo-Aristotelian Criticism of Emma Watson’s 2014 U.N. Speech

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 1535 words Published: 18th May 2020

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A Neo-Aristotelian Criticism of Emma Watson’s 2014 U.N. Speech

The United Nations Women is an organization that is dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. In July of 2010, the UN created UN Women to promote gender equality globally and to “accelerate progress on meeting the needs of women and girls worldwide.” The UN Women spearheaded the HeForShe campaign that is dedicated to improving the status of women and in bringing men and women together to stand in solidarity to achieve gender equality.

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 In 2014, Emma Watson was named as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. During the launch of the campaign in September of 2014, Watson gave the keynote speech at the UN headquarters in New York to officially make the commencement of the campaign. Watson defended feminism and sold her vision for the campaign, while simultaneously inviting men and boys to join in the fight for gender equality. In this paper, a Neo-Aristotelian criticism will be employed and the five canons of rhetoric will be applied to analyze how effective Watson’t speech was. Through this critique, I will argue that Watson achieved the desired effect with her speech and achieved her goal of persuading the audience to join the HeForShe campaign.

Before being named as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and giving her speech, Emma Watson, at only 24 years old, had already been actively involved in humanitarianism and equality for women and girls. She has worked to promote girls’ education, fair trade, and organic clothing. She has also been an ambassador for Camfed International, which is a movement that helps educate girls in rural Africa. (“UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson.”).  Along with her humanitarian work, Watson is also well-known for her work as an actress. She is best known for her role as Hermoine Granger in all of the “Harry Potter” films. Her work as an actress has also allowed her to influence young minds across the globe. Her previous humanitarian work and promotion of girl’s education helps to build her credibility as she delivers her speech about the HeForShe campaign. Watson delivered her speech at the UN headquarters in New York in front of key global leaders. The speech was about twelve minutes long and covers a wide-range of topics, including her background, her opinions on feminism, and her self-doubt regarding her suitability for the role of U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador. She ends her speech with a call to action, by inviting men to join the HeForShe campaign and work to empower women.

The primary audience for Watson’s speech was comprised of UN officials and global leaders. Watson’s credentials, attire, and demeanor were appropriate for the occasion. Watson was dressed very professional for her speech. She wore an white trench coat dress and a HeForShe pin on the collar of her dress. Watson’s conduct and demeanor reflected how important her task was. She uses her speech to try and abolish the “us vs. them” mentality that is often associated with feminism. She points out the fallacy of belief that feminism means the hatred of men, and makes a call to action for both men and women to untie to help achieve the goal of gender equality.

The five canons of Neo-Aristotelian method of criticism are invention, organization, style, memory, and delivery. Invention is “the location and creation of ideas and materials for the speech.” (Foss 33). Organization is “the structure or arrangement of the speech.” (Foss 33). Style is “the language of the speech.” (Foss 33). Memory is “the mastery of the subject matter, which may include the actual memorizing of the speech.” (Foss 33). Delivery is “the management of the body, gestures, and voice, in the presentation of the speech.” (Foss 33.)

Her message is delivered gracefully and formally. She also maintains eye contact, and uses her eyebrows to emphasize some parts of her speech. To apply the Neo-Aristotelian method to Watson’s speech, this paper will analyze her arguments in terms of the five canons of rhetoric, and it will assess their effects on Watson’s intended audience. Within the invention canon, this paper will specifically focus on ethos, pathos, and logos used by Watson within the speech.

 In the introduction of Watson’s speech, she describes the basis of her motivation to participate in the HeForShe campaign. Watson connects to her childhood by telling the audience how her friends refused to continue with sports because they would begin to look “muscle-y” (Watson, 2014). She tells the audience about how she was called “bossy” (Watson, 2014) for wanted to direct a play at school, but the boys were not.  In her speech, Watson uses all three forms of appeal, with a preference for ethos and logos. In her speech, Watson invokes the use of ethos by recounting personal experiences of being at a disadvantage because of her sex. Watson convinces the audience that she is a victim of gender inequality too. This use of ethos gains her credibility with the audience. Watson also invokes the use of pathos by appealing to the audience’s emotions. She makes note on how societal norms. For example, she mentions how boys are denied participation in activities classed as feminie in the same way that girls are denied participation in activities class as manly. She also makes mention of how men suffer from mental illness due to their fear of being labeled as weak. She lets her audience see the reality of gender inequality. It affects both genders, not just one. Watson, by saying “If not me, who? If not now, when?”, stirs the audience’s emotions and spurs them to action; her speech is forcing the audience to examine their role in gender equality. She gained the attention of women as well as the men she hoped to incorporate into the campaign with her speech.  Watson also invokes the use of logos throughout her speech. She uses facts and examples to validate the purpose of the inclusive campaign HeForShe. She describes instances from her childhood that show the discrimination against males, and that show the far-reachign implications of gender-inequality. Furthermore, she mentions how there have been numerous attempts by women to champion for their rights, but it seems to have achieved very little Watson suggests a change in strategy, maybe it is time to involve boys and men in the process.

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  Watson’s opened her speech with a brief but sufficient introduction to her experiences of gender discrimination. She then proceeds to address her own stand on feminism, as well as her observations on the prevailing perceptions of feminism. She includes a plea, a call to action for men to join the movement for gender equality. Her speech is organized in a manner that exposes the different ways in which society views gender equality.

 Watson does not impose her beliefs on the audience when sharing her experiences as a young girl or as a budding feminist. While she does not impose her beliefs, she is still firm enough that she is able to convince the audience that there is an urgent need for change. She often repeats phrases and words to help the audience remember key points of her speech. She is also very concise when delivering her speech. Watson’s style is intelligent, passionate, and competent. She effectively undertook the task of rallying men and women to unite in the efforts to increase gender equality for the benefit of everyone. Watson was also very well prepared for her speech. She did not rely heavily on a script during the presentation of her speech, this is likely due to her background as an actress and memorizing lines.

In conclusion, Watson effectively convinced her audience of the relevance of the HeForShe campaign.Watson’s speech was positively accepted by her audience. She received a standing ovation from the audience at the U.N. headquarters. (Pink) She also gained support from more than 120,000 men from around the world who have since embraced the commitment.  Her personal identification as a feminist, as well as her involvement in women empowerment programs prior to the speech, make her the ideal person for UN Women Global Ambassador. She commands support from millions of people across the globe. Her speech is thoroughly researched and intelligently written, and her speech is neither too long nor too brief.  Furthermore, she presents convincing arguments and rallies for her cause.


  • Eidenmuller, Michael E. Emma Watson – United Nations Speech on Gender Equality – Online Speech Bank, americanrhetoric.com/speeches/emmawatsonunitednationspeech.htm.
  • Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice. Waveland Press, 2018.
  • “UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson.” UN Women, www.unwomen.org/en/partnerships/goodwill-ambassadors/emma-watson.


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