Emma Watson’s Definition of Feminism Should Count for Beyoncé, Too

Mikelle Street
Emma Watson, under fire for appearing in a braless photo for <em>Vanity Fair</em>, pushed back against critics, which reminds us of when she had similar misgivings about Beyoncé. (Photo: Getty Images)
Emma Watson, under fire for appearing in a braless photo for Vanity Fair, pushed back against critics, which reminds us of when she had similar misgivings about Beyoncé. (Photo: Getty Images)

When Emma Watson was featured on the cover of the latest issue of Vanity Fair, with an accompanying spread that sees her braless with a cutout top, she got a fair bit of criticism online from all sides. And while the star of Beauty and the Beast had not responded before, she recently did on a press junket interview for the new film. “Is there a controversy about this?” she asked sarcastically.

“It just always reveals to me of how many misconceptions and misunderstandings there [are] about what feminism is,” the 26-year old told the BBC about the reaction to the Tim Walker photograph. “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 t*ts have to do with it,” she continued. In the photograph, Watson is wearing a Burberry crochet cape — with no blouse.

“I was slightly taken aback by [that specific shot] because we were doing so many crazy things on that shoot,” the U.N. Women’s goodwill ambassador said. “It had felt so artistic, and I had been so creatively involved and engaged with Tim. I am so thrilled with how interesting and beautiful the photographs were.” But for some, the comments seem hypocritical.

Feminism should not be used as a measuring stick to criticize and ridicule other women, but it should advocate for a woman’s right to choose how she presents her body, thoughts and emotions. Watson’s track record doesn’t exactly reflect that, as some have pointed out.

In an interview with Wonderland magazine, Watson commented on Beyoncé’s self-titled album. “As I was watching it, I felt very conflicted,” she said. “I felt her message felt very conflicted in the sense that, on the one hand, she is putting herself in a category of a feminist, but then the camera, it felt very male — such a male, voyeuristic experience of her.” But wait, as we all know, it’s Beyoncé who makes the final decision on how she is portrayed, in every sense. So what’s the difference?

That ability to talk out of both sides of your mouth about feminism is what some have derisively deemed “white feminism.” It is categorized as having the sort of viewpoint that, on one hand, defends the speaker (usually a white subject), while at the same time criticizing feminism as it is expressed by others (typically women of color): that is, using feminism as a stick with which to beat other women, essentially.

Here, Watson contends that feminism is about giving women a choice. It was her choice to appear in the way that she did in Walker’s photograph. It was partially her version, apparently, as she was creatively involved in the shoot. But wasn’t Beyoncé, as well? Hasn’t she engineered and directed all aspects of her career and her image, since firing her father back in 2011? Wasn’t she also creatively involved in the final look of her album?

To be fair, Watson may have evolved since her original statements and come to understand that one can be both a feminist and appear in lingerie. One can be both sexy to men and adamant about the rights of women. And while it’s her choice whether she reveals this maturation to the public, doing so could go a long way toward letting people understand her seemingly contradictory positions.


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