With everything going on in the world right now, this is a problem?
Vanity Fair must have missed the memo that, from now on, women who identify as feminists are only allowed to wear black turtlenecks in photos, because otherwise surely they never would have caused such a row by having Emma Watson wear a Burberry bolero over her bare breasts in one of a series of pictures featured in their latest issue.
"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," the actress opined in an interview with Reuters after she was accused of being a hypocrite for...
We're confused too, Emma.
Though we are having déjà vu.
Because here is another example of the tenets of feminism being entirely skewed by those who would rather take the ball, run 100 yards with it through the opposing team's goal post, and keep running through the locker room and into the parking lot instead of adopt a cohesive play that benefits the right side.
Watson has been accused of being a hypocrite because she is an outspoken activist for women's rights and therefore apparently has no business baring a portion of her boobs in a magazine, according to those who would shame her for claiming to be a feminist while, gasp, also showing some skin. Because obviously you don't really care about the plight of women if a team of magazine people suggest a certain outfit or pose and you, double gasp, go with it.
Apparently the fear that men are going to find a woman's bare skin sexy has once again overpowered the possibility that a woman has all her faculties in place when she chooses to pose topless. A male photographer, Tim Walker, may have done Watson's cover shoot, but does that mean Annie Leibovitz, who has shot both men and women in the buff for VF and dozens of other publications, has only been trying to please a slavering male audience over the years?
What happened to the importance of being comfortable in your own skin? Does that only apply to being happy about what you see in the mirror when you're alone? What happened to a woman having confidence in her choices and being the only judge that matters when it comes to what she does or doesn't share with the public?
Moreover, what happened to being allowed to care what you look like? If you want others to think you're pretty too, does that mean you've signed your soul over to the patriarchy?
Has it become a bad thing to enjoy looking desirable?
First off, Watson—whose Beauty and the Beast is in theaters March 17, hence the spate of publicity right now—is being dragged over the coals and taken out of context for absolutely no reason. She did nothing wrong. Period.
Tim Walker/Vanity Fair
The now 26-year-old actress became one of the de facto faces of celebrity feminism in 2014 when she gave an impassioned speech to the United Nations General Assembly as a newly appointed ambassador for gender equality.
"I started questioning gender-based assumptions when at 8 I was confused at being called 'bossy,' because I wanted to direct the plays we would put on for our parents—but the boys were not," Watson said. "When at 14 I started being sexualized by certain elements of the press. When at 15 my girlfriends started dropping out of their sports teams because they didn't want to appear 'muscly.' When at 18 my male friends were unable to express their feelings.
"I decided I was a feminist and this seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word. "Apparently I am among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, anti-men and, unattractive."
And now she's among the ranks of women getting heat from other women (and Piers Morgan, who at some point declared himself an authority on what being a proper feminist entails) for posing...not even particularly provocatively. She's just standing there in a skimpy piece of couture.
Unfortunately it seems as though to be considered a true feminist, you need to make the same exact choices as the feminist woman sitting next to you would make—or else you're jeopardizing the cause.
Not everyone needs to be OK with nudity or a hint of nudity in magazines you can pluck off the rack at a Walmart. But to suggest that Watson is a fair-weather feminist, or otherwise a traitor to the cause is preposterous—part of supporting other women is, if not always respecting their choices, then accepting their right to make the choice in the first place.
And just like a lot of things kicking up dust online, Watson's VF photo didn't merit an attack on her principles. Especially when the choice Watson made hurt nobody. (Disclaimer: We haven't polled everybody regarding that statement, but the standard deviation doesn't make us any less confident in our hypothesis.) Nor did she hurt a cause—or at least not the real cause.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
"It just always reveals to me how many misconceptions and what a misunderstanding there is about what feminism is," the baffled star said in that Reuters interview in which she responded to the backlash.
The party continued yesterday, meanwhile, when Morgan called Watson out on Twitter, writing, "Dear @EmmaWatson, you're a very good actress & smart, impressive young lady. So cut the hypocrisy about feminism." And, in one of several tweets assuring Beyoncé he had her back on this issue in his Daily Mail column, Morgan added: "Emma Watson just went topless to sell her movie, having criticised Beyonce for doing same to sell an album. Hypocrisy?"
She didn't lead a parade while topless and singing "Be Our Guest" through the streets of France! It was part of a bigger photo shoot and she's fully clothed on the magazine's cover—not that there'd be anything wrong with the photos being reversed. That would be Vanity Fair ensuring their cover makes headlines, not Watson negating her feminist values.
But of course the accusation that she criticized Beyoncé was going to rattle the hive, so Watson took to Twitter to present the context (imagine that!) in which she did happen to discuss the artist in 2014.
And what do you know? The conversation entailed more than Emma using the woman-beating stick to bash Bey.
"I don't know whether you have spoken to anyone about it, but my friend and I sat and we watched all the videos back-to-back and I was really conflicted," Emma, acting as guest editor for Wonderland, said during a 2014 interview with actress and taste-maker Tavi Gevinson, referring to Beyoncé, which had just dropped at the time.
"I so admire her confidence to put her music out in that way, in amidst all these very sensationalist sort of MTV performances, I was so psyched about that. On the one hand she is putting herself in a category of a feminist, this very strong woman—and she has that beautiful speech by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in one of her songs—but then the camera, it felt very male, such a male voyeuristic experience of her and I just wondered if you had thoughts about that?"
To sum up, Gevinson found Bey's album "inspiring and feminist and, overused as the word is, empowering."
To which Watson replied, "I would say two things. One is that in her position, and for a lot of young musicians, actors or people in our industry, it's as though you get a memo: don't be seen with your boyfriend or your wife or your child because you still want your audience to believe or male fans of Beyoncé to believe that they could possess her; that in some alternate universe they could be with her.
"So by publicly exposing her marriage, that she is in a committed relationship, that she has a child, is probably really against that kind of memo and she does make it clear that she is performing for him. And the fact she wasn't doing it for a label, she was doing it for herself and the control that she has directing it and putting it out there, I agree is making her sexuality empowering because it is her choice.
"The second is that I would say you do get sense of, 'I can be a feminist, I can be an intellectual, I can be all these other things, but I can also be OK with my femininity and being pretty and with all these things that I thought might negate my message or negate what I am about.' That really is the most interesting thing about the album. It is so inclusive and puts feminism and femininity and female empowerment on such a broad spectrum."
It's called a discussion. Not sweeping judgment. Still, Morgan replied last night to Watson, "OK. So do you still feel 'conflicted' about Beyoncé's use of sexy videos to promote her feminism?"
Because how dare she not think exactly one way, all the time? Only hypocrites feel conflicted!
But what was actually revealed by those past comments about Beyoncé being dragged into the equation now was that Watson's values have remained rock solid. And while we can only imagine she gets frustrated from time to time by those who insist on a more rigid definition of feminism, she hasn't contorted or otherwise adjusted her interpretation at all to suit trends, or please critics—or sell tickets.
We're at least glad she was given the chance to clear that up.