Emma Watson’s Tits Aren’t Destroying Feminism. You Are.

Everyone is freaking out over Emma Watson having posed “provocatively” for a recent interview with Vanity Fair. I was originally going to sit back and watch as the Internet tore itself apart over the threat of a young, attractive, and outspoken woman baring her body willingly, but the hateful rhetoric is starting to creep into my personal social media feeds and writing about it may be the only way to prevent a homicidal rampage.

The core criticism of this molehill-being-made-into-a-mountain of a news story is that Emma Watson is a hypocrite for posing (barely) nude because she is supposed to be a champion for women’s rights and equality. The loudest proponent of this ass-backwards opinion is Huffington Post “journalist” Julia Hartley-Brewer:

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Now, I have a complicated relationship with feminism. In a previous post I briefly touched on my opinion of modern feminism and some ways that I perceive it to be toxic and counterproductive to the goal of political, social, and economic equality for the sexes. I feel as though modern feminism sometimes creates problems where there aren’t any for the sake of it, or to get a weightier rating in asinine oppression contests. The example used in my previous post was the Ban Bossy campaign and why it is a total crock of shit considering child marriage and marital rape is legalized in some places of the world. Actual violations of human rights are occurring, completely ignored, while internet slacktivists make noise about banning a fucking word. This whole Vanity Fair hullabaloo is the same shit, different day.

I think (I hope) that we can all agree that body autonomy is a key component in the fight for women’s rights. That means that a woman is free to do with her body what she wants, when she wants to, whether or not she is a celebrity of international fame or an ambassador for the United Nations’ department of gender equality, or both. So why are some people so up in arms about a little tasteful titty flash?

I hear a lot about internalized misogyny in discussions about feminism. Usually I roll my eyes and sidestep that particular part of the Internet because frankly most of those people don’t know the difference between misogyny and sexism in the first place. I think the term might be applicable here, though. Women scorn Emma Watson for revealing a sexualized body part. They are prejudiced against the validity of her women’s rights activism because she doesn’t wear a turtle neck to photo shoots. They hold her in contempt for having the confidence to express herself with both her body and her mind. Basically, her feminism is not their feminism, so she is wrong. The realization that Watson’s breasts have stirred people to assassinate her character makes Julia Hartley-Brewer’s tweet a sort of hypocrisyception, considering she wrote an article about the pressure for women to achieve perfection. So, Watson is a hypocrite to the feminist movement? Pot, meet kettle.

All of this outrage over a pair of breasts is a symptom of an overarching sickness present in certain strains of modern feminism: othering. The idea that someone is worth less than you are because they don’t fit the narrative playing in your head. I experience this first-hand because I don’t fit into certain definitions of a feminist. I have criticisms of certain feminist rhetoric like that spoken by Anita Sarkeesian and Rebecca Watson. I have questions about and issues with the way that the gender wage gap is presented. I enjoy archaic female-gendered activities like cooking for my male partner or taking pride in a clean home. Wearing makeup and shaving my legs makes me feel more feminine and I enjoy that. Obviously, I am a not a real feminist. I am a puppet for the patriarchy. Emma Watson isn’t a real feminist, either. As a friend of mine said, “Who knew that boobs could define someone as a proper feminist?”

Thing is, guys, this isn’t a contest over who is a better feminist, and it sure as hell isn’t a zero-sum game. It is a challenge to society and to ourselves to celebrate women in all their diversity and to ensure they have the opportunities and freedoms that all people deserve. Tearing each other down for not fitting a mold only detracts from the movement. I am not a rabid fan of Watson, but I have enjoyed her roles as an actress, and I think that for the most part her advocacy work is a positive and meaningful representation of the feminist movement. There are problems with some of the things she does (for instance, calling into question Beyoncé’s feminist credentials because of the content of her art) but none of those issues stem from cheeky semi-nudity. If you think that Watson’s feminist card needs to be revoked because of her Vanity Fair shoot, you need to re-evaluate what you perceive feminism to be because it takes a special kind of cognitive dissonance to reduce a woman to just a pair of tits while simultaneously pushing the narrative that you are more than just the sum of your body parts.

It’s interesting that everyone has chosen to take a Puritanical view of what I like to call #tittiegate, especially considering the offending material was a small part of a larger piece produced by Vanity Fair. There are almost ten other photos included in the spread, all with varying levels of reveal and avant-garde inspiration, as well as an entire article that no one seems to have read.

What’s more interesting than people directing their sixteenth century attitudes of nudity and sexuality toward a tasteful photo is that there isn’t an equivalent or greater amount of outrage at the actual systemic oppression of women. Child marriage is a sanctioned practice for a large portion of the world’s population, with UNICEF reporting that more than 1 in 3 women worldwide were married before the age of 15. The religious obsession with female chastity and seclusion drives female genital mutilation and cutting in places like Somalia, where 63% of girls who underwent FGM had their genitalia sewn closed. The idea that the rights of undeveloped fetuses outweigh those of the women bearing them is so strong pro-life advocates are committing violent acts resulting in death at Planned Parenthood clinics, where not only are abortion services made available but so are sexual health and safety as well as cancer screening resources. The likely loss of insurance coverage for birth control in the United States under the new presidential administration means women will have less agency over their bodies and sexual health. These are the things that keep me awake at night. The policies and barriers put in place to keep women docile, afraid, and subservient. These are real events, happening right now, and the concern over them is dwarfed by the apparent need to call Emma Watson a hypocritical slut for simply having breasts. By choosing to join in on the character assassination of a woman who has done more for feminism than you probably ever will, you are allowing little girls to be married off and raped, to have their genitals mutilated, to have safe access to sexual health services revoked. Emma Watson’s tits aren’t destroying feminism. You are.



Categories: feminism

2 replies

  1. 1. The article is quite right about the fact that the people making a mountain out of this molehill are full of crap. This isn’t an example of Emma’s hypocrisy or betrayal of feminism or her values in any way

    2. Anyone who makes a claim like problem x is way worse than problem y, so no one should make any effort to right problem y until x is eliminated front the face of the earth (eg deriding people talking about “bossy” because “child marriage and marital rape is legalized in some places of the world” … that people talking about it are just “internet slacktivists mak[ing] noise about banning a fucking word” and that this is an example of “modern feminism [creating] problems where there aren’t any for the sake of it”) is totally full of shit.

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    • I stand by my public derision of the Ban Bossy campaign because it is a flawed attempt at putting women’s rights issues in the spotlight. It is a ridiculous crusade against a word that makes a mockery of the real issues females face in education, the workplace, and even in relationships. There is absolutely under-representation of women in leadership roles but this notion that banning a word will fix that is beyond laughable.

      There are inherent issues with how the campaign is presented. Let’s have a look at some of the faces of the Ban Bossy campaign. Jane Lynch, Jennifer Garner, Beyonce. Women with successful careers and a strong influence on popular media. Talking about how they were called ‘bossy’ and how negatively that affected them. My question is then… if they were so successfully undermined by name-calling during their formative years, how is it that they have the capacity to act independently and make their own free choices? I’ll just assume that they are involved because they are celebrities paid to champion the cause in an effort to push it into popular media. Fair enough. Celebrity endorsement is a tried and true marketing tactic. Just look at all the people putting jade eggs in their pussies. But… Condoleeza Rice? Princess Diane of Fürstenberg? A fucking U.S. Secretary of Education? These are women in high-octane positions. You cannot tell me that because they were called bossy they weren’t able to secure leadership positions.

      But, I’ll bite. OK, these women are pressing for public discussion about the effect of essentially brainwashing young girls that they are not allowed to be outspoken. They want a conversation about the weight certain words carry. That, I get. There is absolutely work to be done there. The actions, attitudes, and words that children are exposed to undeniably have an effect that can last a lifetime. This, I’m guessing, is something we can agree on?

      Here’s where I think our opinions detour from each other, though. I do not believe that banning a word, or even a group of words, has any effect on the systemic oppression of the agency of girls at a young age. Similarly, I do not believe that the weight of the word bossy is great enough to single-handedly supress an entire gender. What I do believe is that the attitudes and beliefs that are ingrained in the people who would use a word like ‘bossy’ to discourage little girls from speaking out are the barriers blocking females from reaching for opportunity. A discussion doesn’t need to be had about a word. A discussion needs to be had about human decency, empathy, compassion, respect, and maturity. Suggesting that repeated name-calling is the root of the wildly disproportionate representation of the sexes in leadership roles also suggests that girls are by nature fragile beings, a notion that is both insulting and sexist. At some point everyone learns that not everyone is going to like them. Assuming a woman’s ability to accomplish what she wants is directly related to whether or not people like her is the wrong way to approach the issue; furthermore, it reinforces the attitude that women are weak and must be spared overcoming adversity through censorship.

      One thing I will say about Ban Bossy – the website has tips to encourage leadership in young girls. But I had to hunt for that. I didn’t see that in pop media regarding the campaign at all. And most people click like, share, and don’t investigate further, so I feel like that should be a big fucking highlighted and bolded selling point of the campaign.

      By no means is my criticism of Ban Bossy based on the fact that little girls are being married off and raped. I agree that just because one atrocity exists it doesn’t excuse the prevalence of others. My criticism is driven by a distaste for an asinine and Orwellian call to censorship in place of discussions regarding belief systems that dictate that there is a difference of value of the sexes. I find it difficult to swallow the argument that Ban Bossy starts a conversation about culturally-ingrained sexism when the campaign focuses so hard on the use of a word while leaving information on the attitudes that perpetuate sexism, as well as ways to challenge those attitudes, on the sidelines.

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