What is feminism?
Perhaps a loaded question for starters, but when our generation hears the word, there are usually two responses. The first, and the one that I hope the majority would answer with, is the simple desire for the sexes to be equal. Pretty logical, you would think. However, the second is rather a response of defence, disgust and ridicule: feminism is interpreted as a vulgar word in our society.
To label yourself a feminist for many is to label yourself a man hater, an advocate for women to become the superior sex, someone who is ‘dirty’ and ‘doesn’t shave’ solely ‘to make a point’, someone who goes too far to make a point that doesn’t even need making. I could go on. The amount of stereotypes fixed to the term(s) is, quite frankly, shocking; it is hard to believe that in 2017, the issue of equality across all planes is still something that needs to be debated.
Everyone knows Emma Watson, not only as the young girl who brought Hermione Granger to the screen, but as an important figurehead for the 21st century feminist movement, in particular introducing the UN’s #HeForShe campaign. But recently, her ‘brand’ of feminism (if you will) has been called into question. Her latest cinema project, starring as the live-action Belle in Beauty and the Beast, has meant that she has been anywhere and everywhere to promote it, including a cover story for Vanity Fair. Within the photos taken during the VF photo shoot, there includes a photo of Watson bearing part – and I must point out, only part – of her chest, which many have decided means she cannot possibly be a feminist. ‘Emma Watson calls herself feminist but here she is, showing off her boobs to the world. That’s not very feminist of her, is it???’
Oh, how wrong they are.
Watson hit back in an interview with the BBC this weekend, failing to comprehend what her boobs have to do with whether she is a feminist or not. I’m with you on that, Emma. Her response in lieu of her criticism was simple: “Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation. It’s about equality. I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it. It’s very confusing… I’m always just kind of, quietly stunned.”
While there are many who would argue that Watson has misinterpreted what it means to be feminist and calling her out for hypocrisy – particularly regarding her comments regarding Beyonce’s self-titled visual album back in 2014 about how it “felt very male, such a male voyeuristic experience of her”– it is total nonsense that something like this has made international headlines from this standpoint. The issue Watson has is that now she is such a high profile figure for the feminist movement, she runs the risk of being called out for every single thing she does, which for someone so famous can be very tricky to deal with.
However, her point is one of liberation in this instance. If a man can pose topless on the front cover of a magazine, bare their chest in videos and Instagram photos, why can’t a woman be free to choose what she does with her own body and how she does so without it immediately being sexualised, simply because she’s a woman? This is Watson’s point. The photos of her barely even show her chest; rather, the photo implies that she is simply not wearing a bra. How risqué, indeed.
Watson has grown up in front of the camera, we watched her do so for over a decade, and this photo in particular highlights that she is no longer the young girl playing Hermione that we know and love, no matter how much we hold onto that performance. She is a grown, smart woman, a feminist, an advocate of everyone’s rights, regardless of sex, and this issue is simply a matter of empowerment. The message we should take from it has long been repeated, but it is so simple: do what you want with your body, and don’t judge other people for what they choose to do with theirs – whether you’re Emma Watson or not.
Words by Kirstie Sutherland