It says something about our strange world that Emma Watson has been forced to defend her feminist bonafides after she was branded a hypocrite for posing semi-topless in Vanity Fair, wearing a crocheted bolero that exposed part of her breasts.
Somehow, this choice of clothing contradicts—for some critics—her self-description as a feminist.
The furore led the actress to defend herself. Feminism is about “freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality. I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it,” the 26-year-old actress said in an interview.
Watson—an outspoken advocate for gender equality as a United Nations Goodwill ambassador—had been blasted for undermining her cause and promoting a double standard while promoting her new movie, Beauty and The Beast.
“Feminism, feminism...gender wage gap...why oh why am I not taken seriously...feminism...oh, here are my tits,” tweeted British radio host Julia Hartley-Brewer, later adding that that Watson “complains that women are sexualized and then sexualizes herself in her own work. Hypocrisy.”
Others dug up more evidence of Watson’s alleged hypocrisy from a 2014 interview in which the actress said she felt “conflicted” about a sexy Beyoncé music video because “[Beyoncé] is putting herself in a category of a feminist,” but the video seemed to be “such a male voyeuristic experience of her.”
Here was ammo for Daily Mail columnist Piers Morgan to declare Watson a “feminist fraud; someone who professes to want other women to have the ‘freedom and liberation’ to decide how they behave as feminists, but who actually wants to dictate to them how they behave.”
That’s a lot of hyperventilating over a moderately risqué image that has nothing to do with feminist ideology. Yes, Watson has emerged as an outspoken feminist in the past three years, but she’s not an Andrea Dworkin. She is a young actress who was comfortable posing semi-topless in a magazine shoot promoting her latest film. The whole world has gawped at Watson since she was a pre-teen star in the Harry Potter franchise, yet she can’t get away with portraying her sexuality on her own terms as an adult without finger-waggers telling her to cover up--or abandon her feminist badge.
One wonders what else she has to cover up to qualify as a feminist? How much skin can she show without being declared a hypocrite?
Indeed, the hypocrisy on display here isn’t Watson’s but our own. Morgan accuses Watson of wanting to “dictate” how women should behave as feminists before going on to dictate how she should behave as a feminist, arguing that taking her top off does not help her cause—“just as it is when Kim Kardashian posts another bird-flipping topless selfie, supposedly in the name of ‘female empowerment.’”
No matter what they say, women—and most notably female politicians and celebrities--are often judged by their appearance, and from their appearance a set of judgments made about them as people.
Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits weren’t feminine enough. Margaret Thatcher had to tailor her image to be taken seriously as a female prime minister--and even then she was relentlessly mocked for being too masculine. Emma Watson can’t partially show her breasts in a photo shoot without being accused of betraying her feminist ideology.
Morgan said there was a double standard of women allowing themselves to be objectified while calling for gender equality. Even if that were true—and we should remember that those who are photographed cannot control the objectification that ensues—the two are not necessarily contradictory.
Indeed, those who relentlessly police women’s appearances perpetuate this double standard more than Watson or any other actress-cum-activist who poses near-topless for a magazine shoot.