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Too Many People Really Don’t Understand How Emma Watson Can Pose Semi-Nude in Vanity Fair & Still Be a Feminist

Let's help them out.

Over the last few years, Emma Watson has become almost as well known for her outspoken feminism as for her work in the Harry Potter franchise. Unfortunately, proud declarations of feminism very often lead to hordes of strangers lining up to tell a woman what they’re doing wrong and what feminism isn’t.

For Watson, that meant that a lot of people tearing her down today following an in-depth profile in Vanity Fair. The attack seems to be led by (but by no means limited to) a Sun article with a typically Sun take on the whole thing, tweeted out by an English talk radio host.

Because according to The Sun and Hartley-Brewer and their ilk, you can’t talk about feminism and show this much skin. Especially not, in their view, since Watson once gave an interview to Mail Online in which she touted the “less is more” philosophy:

I find the whole concept of being ‘sexy’ embarrassing and confusing. If I do a photo-shoot people desperately want to change me – dye my hair blonder, pluck my eyebrows, give me a fringe. Then there’s the choice of clothes. I know everyone wants a picture of me in a mini-skirt. But that’s not me. I feel uncomfortable. I’d never go out in a mini-skirt. It’s nothing to do with protecting the Hermione image. I wouldn’t do that.

Personally, I don’t actually think it’s even that sexy. What’s sexy about saying, “I’m here with my boobs out and a short skirt… have a look at everything I’ve got”? My idea of sexy is that less is more. The less you reveal the more people can wonder.’

Sure, let’s ignore the fact that she gave this quote eight years ago, when she was 18. For those critics, that quote has been stored away ever since, ready to be used as ammunition the second her neckline drops or skirt hem rises more than they deem properly feminist. In this moment, in their minds, all bets are off, meaning they apparently find it entirely appropriate to hold public, demeaning debates over her body. Whether or not this discussion between two British writers is tongue-in-cheek, it’s wholly dehumanizing:

Let’s also, apparently, ignore the fact that this was one of many photographs in the profile. The pictures play on structure and form, and are pure art. Check out the gorgeous, refined couture look she’s delving into here:


(photo via Tim Walker / Vanity Fair)


(photo via Tim Walker / Vanity Fair)

The one being discussed is the only one that could be described as any degree of “revealing.” Of course, that shouldn’t matter in the slightest, because Emma Watson speaking out against the objectification and sexualization of women, and her deciding to show us a sexual part of herself in a magazine (or wherever she chooses) are not mutually exclusive, even if that had been the theme of the entire shoot, or every shoot. One does not make the other hypocrisy.

Watson is highly conscious of hypocrisy. In this same Vanity Fair interview, she talks about her romantic life the way she has before, which is to say that she doesn’t talk about it, because if she did, she wouldn’t be able to keep others from talking about it on their terms. As she puts it,

Privacy for me is not an abstract idea… I want to be consistent: I can’t talk about my boyfriend in an interview and then expect people not to take paparazzi pictures of me walking around outside my home. You can’t have it both ways.

So sure, a lot of people are asking why this doesn’t apply to her body and her feminism as well. She doesn’t talk about her boyfriend because she doesn’t want other people talking about her boyfriend; so she can’t show us part of her body, strategically draped in a couture bolero, because then we deserve access to her entire, nude body, right?

That. Is. Not. How. This. Works.

Sexuality is not an all-or-nothing scenario. If you wear a bikini at the beach, you don’t get criticized for wearing a pantsuit to work. If you share your sexuality to a partner or literally anyone else that you choose, that does not mean you are expected to be sexual with every human on the planet. (Oh, hello rape culture.) There is one person who gets to determine what the limits of Emma Watson’s public displays of sexuality are, and how they fit into her view of herself as a woman and a feminist, and that person is–say it with me, now–Emma Watson.

(image via Shutterstock)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.