Emma Watson’s latest spread for Vanity Fair is causing a stir, with some people calling her “provocative” photos decidedly un-feminist. Because having breasts is illegal if you want gender equality.
The main criticism came from journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer, who joked about the shoot on Twitter, suggesting Watson can’t be taken seriously because she’s revealing too much skin. And then everyone on Twitter started yelling.
Emma Watson: “Feminism, feminism… gender wage gap… why oh why am I not taken seriously… feminism… oh, and here are my tits!” pic.twitter.com/gb7OvxzRH9
— Julia Hartley-Brewer (@JuliaHB1) March 1, 2017
Ah yes, the tried and true “who’s the REAL feminist” debate. Instead of being used to dissect the political stances of its targets, it’s typically an excuse to bash women’s personal decisions that the finger-pointer doesn’t agree with.
When criticized, Hartley-Brewer doubled down. She argued that Watson could have chosen another outfit, and questioned why a shoot in Vanity Fair is supposed to be “empowering” while the image reprinted in The Sun is exploitative—which does raise a good question about acceptable forms of nudity for the female body!
Hartley-Brewer’s criticism reminds us of the pervasive, ongoing reduction of any woman to her body, whether it’s a cis white woman posting for a magazine or a trans woman trying to use the bathroom. The argument is that Watson’s revealing of her body is inherently grotesque, regardless of her own feelings or choices. It implies that to be a good feminist, you shouldn’t recognize your body at all.
the only true way to champion feminism is to abandon your physical body and become a interdimensional gaseous being https://t.co/qMgfK5I4mG
— Mollie Goodfellow (@hansmollman) March 1, 2017
It’s understandable why many women are still frustrated with what they perceive as the overt sexualization of the female body. Many early feminists rightly wished for women to be recognized for their minds, not their bodies. But we have both minds and bodies, and denying one in favor of the other denies the wholeness of any person.
Hartley-Brewer’s argument ignores the bigger picture of what we expect out of women and their bodies. Feminism is not about choices alone, but about the political implications of and equal access to those choices. Emma Watson, as a woman, can be seen as taking ownership of her body and sexuality in a society that doesn’t want women to do that. But Emma Watson, as a thin, white, conventionally attractive young woman, benefits from revealing her body because she is seen as desirable in a patriarchal society. This move can be “empowering” for her, rather than dangerous.
No one makes their choices in a vacuum. To wear or not wear makeup, to diet, to pose nude―we consider all these options in the face of a society that values women for what they can provide men. However, instead of breaking down the larger forces at play, we are often content to bash the women subject to those forces for doing things we personally don’t think they should do.
It is, of course, not Emma Watson’s responsibility to singlehandedly solve questions of feminist theory. She lives in the same society as the rest of us, and presumably makes her choices with consideration to feminism, personal gain, pleasure, and all the other things that influence us. Ultimately, the criticism says more about the critics than Watson. If you automatically take a woman’s opinions less seriously because you’ve seen her underboob, maybe it’s time you questioned that.
By Jaya Saxena For Elle.