From Twitter hashtags to campus events to comprehensive national media coverage, it seems as though International Women’s Week has received more attention than ever this year. However, just prior to this promising push towards a more equal society, Emma Watson- the celebrated actress/self-admitted feminist- provoked controversy for posing semi-topless in the magazine, Vanity Fair.
For some, who already condemned Watson’s ‘artificial’ feminism, this only consolidated their stance that her comments against the objectification of women and efforts to enhance female agency were nothing more than mere show. Why would a woman arguing that attitudes towards women in the media and society need to change flaunt herself in such a way? Even The Independent questioned her choices with an article headlined: ‘Did Emma Watson pose ‘topless’ because of the patriarchy or despite of it? I doubt she knows herself’, essentially claiming that the actress was too dim to make an informed decision on whether to pose.
However, rather than focusing on whether Watson was correct or not in what she chose to do (yes, she stands by what she did and thinks that the criticism is pretty irrelevant), in terms of considering the wider place of feminism today, it is more crucial to look at reactions to her shoot.
Firstly, even if the shoot itself was relatively modest and, to be frank, tame when compared with many sexualised images of women, abundant in music video and movies, The Sun jumped at the chance to objectify Watson, immediately publishing a feature on the images entitled ‘Beauty and the breasts’, a pun on the actress’ latest film release. Rather than focusing on the content of Watson’s interview, the tabloid instead devoted most of the page to the most ‘revealing’ image of the actress provided by Vanity Fair and began a small commentary alongside it with the phrase ‘Ding Dong’… Now, even if a lot of people were either indifferent to the images or praised Watson for illustrating her freedom of expression, something central to feminist thought, The Sun’s coverage of this not only upholds ideas of misogyny (whereby revealing images of women are wayyyyy more important than what they’re actually saying) but also (wrongly) gives off the impression that the actress doesn’t really care about feminism and is quite happy to flaunt herself to consolidate ongoing perceptions of ‘sexualised’ women. This not only distorts what Watson is doing, from how the images are written about and what she has to say is basically ignored, but also shows how publications like this are seriously holding back the world from actually letting women do what they want without criticism, even in Western societies.
What was even more worrying was the negative reaction from other women on social media to the shoot, with Twitter user, Julia Hartley-Brewer, posting ‘“Feminism, feminism… gender wage gap… why oh why am I not taken seriously… feminism… oh, and here are my tits!”’ Seriously, some people are really missing the point. Feminism, for most at least, is not about condemning other women, particularly those actually trying to make a difference, for showing a bit of skin. Feminism, amongst other things, is about freedom of expression, freedom of choice and supporting others who strive to achieve this. Other Twitter users responded to the criticism by stating that showing your body, believe it or not, doesn’t contradict feminism but actively attacking women on the internet for this does. Despite this, it’s pretty astounding to believe that Watson received such abuse from other females for posing in a slightly revealing top. Most of us have seen women on nights out wear less, so this shoot should really not come as such a ‘shock’, let alone have received such criticism.
Ultimately, people will forget Watson’s shoot and, alongside that, forget that it is not damaging to feminism at all. However, what is important to take from this is the fact that the reactions to the central image show how far we still have to go in terms of eradicating misogynistic attitudes and online hate, both of which are detrimental to feminist goals. Perhaps the fact that this happened just prior to International Women’s Week is striking: whilst the week itself was a brilliant achievement, we should be actively celebrating female achievements, combatting hate and condemning misogyny on a daily basis, if we are to truly see a change.