I was thrilled to watch actress and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for Women Emma Watson interview fellow activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai on Nov. 4. While it was great to see these inspiring women connect with each other and discuss a myriad of important issues, it was dismaying to see multiple media outlets place the focus primarily on Watson in their headlines. Among others, news outlets such as NPR, The Independent and ABC Online all decided to make their media coverage of the interview hone in on one particular element of the 22-minute conversation: “Malala Yousafzai inspired by Emma Watson to call herself a feminist.”
For those who haven’t watched the interview, there is a moment where Yousafzai explains—to a visibly moved Watson—that she wasn’t sure about whether or not to identify as a feminist before hearing Watson’s speech at the UN about gender equality and her HeForShe campaign.
"I hesitated in saying am I a feminist or not and then after hearing your speech, when you said, 'If not now, when? If not me, who?' I decided that there's no way and there's nothing wrong by calling yourself a feminist,” Yousafzai said. “So I am a feminist and you all should be feminists because feminism is another word for equality."
It is great that Watson’s work helped Yousafzai to break down misconceptions surrounding the feminist movement and to identify as a feminist. It is not great, however, that the media decided that the most important thing to draw in readers was the notion that the white and conventionally attractive Watson had “opened the eyes” of the Pakistani woman to embrace feminism.
The vast majority of the interview focuses on Yousafzai’s own work as an activist for gender equality and educational opportunities for women and also takes a look at her family and personal life with the exploration of the documentary film He Named Me Malala. Despite this, however, many media outlets barely touched upon any of these things in their headlines or articles—even though they made up most of the interview content.
This is very troubling and also indicative of the media’s tendency to blindly promote dominant ideologies—in this case, illustrating the white woman as an educator of an individual of color. By placing the emphasis on Watson and what she “did” for Yousafzai, the media not only perpetuates white superiority, but white feminism as well.
This is in no way an attack on Watson—this is an attack on the media for shifting the focus of the interview away from Yousafzai and onto Watson. Doing so not only undermines all of the amazing work and courage of Yousafzai, but it also shows how flawed the majority of our contemporary media industry is. They weren’t reflecting the real meaning of the video; they were simply trying to draw in audiences with the conventionally popular Watson.
In the interview, Watson and Yousafzai connected over their work as female activists. They joked about their relationships with their brothers, talked about literature and the color pink. The interview was heartfelt, engaging and showed just how inspiring Yousafzai’s life and work truly is. It also showed a growing bond between these two women as well as a mutual respect and admiration for each other’s work.
Any of these things could have made a wonderful headline that showcased Yousafzai’s work and the nature of the interview between these two incredibly influential, groundbreaking women.