On October 27, our community hosted Dame Emma Thompson and Equality Fund Board Co-Chair Joanna Kerr for a powerful and personal conversation about friendship, feminist activism, and the power of connection. For more than a decade, Joanna and Emma have travelled the world together, fighting for gender and climate justice and a better future for everyone. The humour and honesty that connects them was evident to everyone, and we are thrilled to share some of the many insights that emerged from their conversation.
Feminism is about power with, not power over
Power was a throughline across the entire conversation, with Joanna and Emma explaining the many ways that feminism interrogates the purpose and practices of power itself. At its core, feminism challenges the traditionally masculine approach to power, which seeks to dominate and control, by offering a profound alternative: building collective power with others. It radically reorients power from an individual pursuit to a communal one and helps us see power for what it truly can be: generative and expansive, rather than a zero-sum game.
Our relationship to power is mirrored in our relationship to the planet
Whether in the Arctic or the Amazon, this masculine approach to power is often echoed in an unhealthy approach to the earth itself—one that seeks to dominate and extract natural resources. Such a mindset sees natural environments as harsh and dangerous places that need to be tamed and controlled (and ultimately destroyed), rather than the fragile, beautiful, and intricately-connected ecosystems they are. In a fundamental way, gender and climate justice are deeply interlinked.
The power of empathy and connection
Closely related to a feminist approach to power, feminist leadership also offers a radical alternative to the traditional male model. As both Joanna and Emma explained, a feminist approach to leadership is rooted in empathy and connection with others. It builds influence sustainably, bringing people together to achieve common goals. As women, we have had to learn empathy to survive, but it also equips us with a deep power to see and connect with others. Amid climate catastrophes, conflicts, rising inequality and other challenges, this approach to power and leadership are what we need to build a truly sustainable and just future for everyone.
Good conversation changes the world
One way to build empathy is to create a common space for connection and good, honest conversation. As Emma said: “I believe that real change happens through good conversation.” Before COVID-19, she would host “pointless parties” as spaces for connection—and dancing. Particularly for women, safe spaces for conversation mean a place where we do not have to constantly explain ourselves or fear we are being misinterpreted. “There is joy in being part of a large movement….where you are holding onto one another, receiving wonderful energy from other women all around you. This is all very joyful, and this is how we will change things,” Emma explained.
Feminist turning points
Many of us remember key moments when feminism gave us a new lens through which to see the world. For Emma, one such moment was her early exposure to feminist literary criticism, which opened her eyes to a new way of seeing the work of so many classic (male) authors. More fundamentally, it forever shifted her perspective about dominant and authoritative voices in society. From that point on, she explained, “Anytime I heard a voice of male authority, I said, ‘I bet there is another side to this.’”
Privilege and power
One way to grapple with your own privilege is to know when to get out of the way. Emma described her passionate belief that a film should be made about a Black educator in her community, while also recognizing that it was not her film to make. Similarly, there can be times when people with power and privilege can facilitate opportunities for others, share connections, and offer support while stepping back and allowing others to truly lead and own the work. At other times, despite an overwhelming pull to act, there is the realization that it’s just not the right time–that the knowledge and experience necessary for meaningful action hasn’t yet been built. In those moments, the work becomes more personal and individual but is just as important.
#MeToo revealed a world as it is
When the truth about Harvey Weinstein hit the press, it was “like a boulder was lifted up, and there it was. This is the world as it is.” Far from a story limited to Hollywood, it revealed that this is the reality facing women everywhere, whether on a movie set or on a factory floor: men have felt they had the right to take, and women have not had jurisdiction over our bodies. This is what women have had to put up with for centuries. Therefore, change must be fundamental and long-term. We must be vigilant about keeping this conversation alive and bringing it to every sector. There is much more work ahead, but Emma and Joanna laid some of the groundwork for how we might get started.