So you’ve probably heard about the “Emma Watson can’t be a feminist with her boobs out” controversy by now.
Except it wasn’t really a controversy. It was just an actress being photographed for a magazine, the way actresses always do, and people on twitter deciding to comment on it. Gloria Steinem even responded, reminding everyone that ‘feminists can wear whatever the fuck they want’, and I found myself continuously flabbergasted at how people can’t seem to wrap their heads around the idea that feminism is about choice. It’s not about controlling women’s lives– it’s about giving women the freedom to live however the heck they want.
But while the “you can be sexy and a feminist” realization feels like old news to me, and probably to a lot of the young feminists reading this, I found myself thinking of something that seemed to be left out of the Emma Watson conversation. Of all sexily-clad actresses and singers who grace every awards show and music video (and slayyy, might I add) why did Emma get all this flack? Many celebrities, from Beyonce to Miley Cyrus to Taylor Swift, are known for both embracing their sexuality and embracing feminism proudly and loudly. How did they avoid twitter tirades questioning their feminism? Why did Emma Watson get all this flack?
Well, I have a theory. Emma Watson is an interesting type of celebrity because she’s so, well, scholarly. She attended college while acting, is a UN ambassador, and has her own feminist book club. I know she’s an actress who can play many different types of people and I don’t want to typecast her, but she does seem to be a bit of a real life, kick-butt, book-reading Hermione. And I find that inspiring. But I also find it kinda infuriating that the media (and the world) have such a hard time letting her be a human being in addition to a symbol of dedication and professionalism.
The world has a hard time imagining people complexly in general. But I think we have an especially hard time imagining serious female leaders complexly. If a woman is serious and professional, it’s like that’s all she’s allowed to be. She wears pants suits, doesn’t say “like” too much, isn’t too girly or made-up or giggly, and above all else, doesn’t show her boobs. Beyonce or Miley Cyrus, while they’re smart and influential and feminist and sexy all at the same time, have long embraced their sexuality as a part of their careers. Meanwhile, for women like Emma Watson, the Hermiones of the world if you will, it’s harder to celebrate their sexuality without everybody freaking out. When you’re introduced to the world as a serious, bookish woman who does important things (like being a UN ambassador!), you’re not supposed to be sexy at the same time. You’re in a completely different, non-sexy category.
So, like we always tend to do to women, we’ve boxed Emma Watson in. We’ve given her a set of arbitrary expectations based on the things she’s done and how she’s portrayed. That’s who she is now, the media has decided.
And while it’s hard for the world to accept that women change, it’s even harder for them to accept that we’ve always just been more multifaceted than they’ve given us credit for. Emma Watson shouldn’t have to choose between being a UN Ambassador or spokesperson for feminist issues and being a popular actress who does typical actress things. She’s a serious stuff-doer but she also *gasp* has boobs, and *gasp* can embrace her sexuality, however she sees fit. Women, even the really ‘serious’ ones, are people too. We’re all more than just one thing.