Emma Watson is a feminist. Based on her work and her words, there is no disputing that the Beauty and the Beast actress is unequivocally for the equal rights of all genders across the globe.
So when some people concluded otherwise because of a photoshoot that showed a little underboob, Watson was quick to shut critics down. However, many pointed out her statement is just kind of hypocritical based on comments she's made in the past about Beyoncé.
On Sunday afternoon, clearly baffled by the negative reactions to the Vanity Fair spread, Watson spoke up to remind everyone what it means to be a feminist.
"Feminism is about giving women choice, feminism is not a stick 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," Watson explained.
But here's the thing—in a 2014 conversation with Tavi Gevinson for Wonderland Magazine, Watson critiqued Beyoncé's brand of feminism for the same conflict many have been up in arms about regarding Watson's Underboob-gate: the sexualization of a women's body paired with messages of feminism.
“As I was watching [the videos] I felt very conflicted," Watson told Gevinson for the magazine, speaking on Bey's self-titled visual album. "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," she explained, completely contradicting her remarks on "choice" and "freedom" and what exactly "tits have to do with it."
And she's right—they have absolutely nothing to do with it.
But while Watson is entitled to feel how she feels, her previous critique of Beyoncé paired with her current response to the Underboob-gate has the BeyHive furious on Twitter because it is a perfect example of accountability, learning—and the history surrounding the policing of women's bodies, particularly black women's bodies.
Whether we're talking about school dress codes, swimsuits or Beyoncé's music video wardrobe, the idea of how much a women is worth based on what she is wearing is inherently problematic, and in the case of both Beyoncé and Watson and every one, it has nothing to do with being a feminist. Controlling what either celebrity wears in a photoshoot or music video does not take away the power of their message, nor does only allowing them express their sexuality in only socially acceptable ways.
In the United States, black women's bodies historically have had a hyper-sexualized stereotype imposed on them, rooted in colonialism. Policies and commodification of black women's bodies have reinforced this over the decades, making it especially important to understand and critique modern examples of this—like when a white woman of a certain privilege feels the need to put down a black woman expressing her agency as she sees fit.
While Watson has talked only occasionally about women's sexuality and feminism, this isn't the first time the actress has come under fire for her navigation of the fight for gender equality.
Most notably critiqued is Watson's involvement with the United Nations Women and helmed the He For She campaign, an initiative that invites men to join the movement and stand in solidarity for the fight for women and girls to have equal rights. Many saw this invitation as absurd, and overlooked just how much men benefit from gender inequality.
But whether in regards to the UN campaign or Beyoncé, Watson's intentions aren't what we should be criticizing. As an actress of immeasurable influence and resources, her desire to elevate issues of equality and women's rights on every platform available to her are commendable and important to acknowledge.
That spotlight brings more eyeballs on Watson and as she wobbles through sometimes steep learning curves, it's important to not trivialize those actively holding her accountable to make sure she isn't just fighting for one kind of woman, and is cognizant of the implications her feminist actions have.
Regardless of whether or not Watson feels compelled to apologize for her comments on Beyoncé, intersectionality and patience is what's critical. A learning curve on a public stage is both to be expected and, crucially, should be allowed. That, paired with Watson's latest remarks on how "feminism is about giving women choice" rather than a "stick which to beat other women with," are reminders we all could use in our everyday lives.