Emma Watson is damned if she does

Last week, Emma Watson stirred up quite the controversy when she appeared braless in Vanity Fair.

Emma Watson in Vanity Fair, 2017

The internet immediately exploded, with many wanting to know how Emma Watson could be a feminist AND take nude photos at the same time.

A few days later, Emma responded to the criticism, saying:

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.

And with those three sentences, Emma Watson hit the nail on the head. Because feminism is, at it’s very roots, about choice. The choice to be a stay-at-home mother or a college graduate. The choice to wear a hijab or a bikini. The choice to wear a bra or let your sexuality fly. The choice to breastfeed in public or in private. Feminism gives you the choice to define yourself outside the parameters of societal expectations.

Despite effort after effort, women (and men) continue to judge women for their choices. The judgment often falls on those feminists who dare to be sexual, but the answer is not black and white. Even amongst feminists there is dissent about sexuality and its place in the feminist movement.

But none of this matters.

An article in Everyday Feminism put it simply when it said, “The threshold for feminism should begin and end with whether or not you believe men and women are equals. Anything else is peripheral.”

Instead of society holding feminists to this simple definition, they are being held to increasingly unrealistic standards. Society tells us if you are a feminist you are an aggressive, high-necked prude with an aura of male hatred. They say you can’t do “this” if you’re a feminist or you can’t do “that” if you’re a feminist. Society places so many extraneous expectations upon feminists that many women buckle under the pressure of it. When we make the definition for feminism so restricted it is no surprise that many women can’t imagine squeezing inside of it.

This is certainly how Taylor Swift felt way back in 2012 when she was asked by an interviewer if she identified as a feminist. She replied, “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”

Almost immediately, the criticisms began rolling in.

In a Jezebel article entitled “Don’t Go Calling Taylor Swift a Feminist, Says Taylor Swift” the author attacks Swift’s reluctance to define herself as a feminist.

“Yes, what you’re describing is equality, and equality is what feminism is all about! Except we live in a country where, when you work as hard as guys, you make less money if you’re a woman, or worse, a woman of colour. It’s like she doesn’t understand what a feminist is. Is this what happens when you’re homeschooled after the age of 15?”

Fast forward to 2014. Taylor has now openly identified as a feminist. “Becoming friends with Lena…has made me realize that I’ve been taking a feminist stance without actually saying so,” Swift said.

What happens next is exactly what you would expect. Suddenly, Taylor is held to a completely different standard of morality and womanhood.

A 2016 article in Elite Daily, lays out all the ways in which Taylor should act differently if she wishes to retain her feminist status.

“If she were a feminist, she would have either not released multiple statements at all, or she would have thought twice about the statement where she said that she “understood Kim was just doing what her husband has told her to do,” with regard to Kim’s comments in the GQ piece.”
“You don’t get to scream “feminism” when you wrote this kind of song.”

These criticisms aren’t necessarily incorrect but are framed incorrectly. The author is holding Swift to a moral standard not a feminist standard. This is exactly what keeps happening over and over. From Katy Perry to Madonna to Lena Dunham to Emma Watson.

So here is the crux of the problem. If Emma Watson denies being a feminist she is criticised for not adhering to such a simple definition. But if she identifies as a feminist she is held to a crippling moral standard.

Just as women are perpetually pressured into being sexy and then punished for being sexual, so too are women moved to become feminists and then punished for adhering to feminism.

Emma Watson is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t.