Why Emma Watson’s Breasts Have Nothing To Do With Feminism

Photo: Instagram/ vanityfair

When I was 18 years old, I was sitting at my grandma’s dining room table having a conversation with my mom, sister, and aunt. It was much of the basics — school, boyfriends, summer plans — until suddenly we were talking about Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” music video. You know, the one where she wears crotchless leather chaps and a striped bikini top while twerking amongst a group of sweaty, heavy-breathing men and women.

“She’s such a slut,” my aunt said. 

“How do you figure?” I quickly retorted, my face growing hot.

“Do you see the way she dresses? It’s slutty.” 

“Dressing a certain way doesn’t make you a slut,” I said.

In the midst of her indignation and curse words was a list of all the reasons I was wrong, among them: “You can’t dress like that and also want respect.”

But I held steadfast in the same way many feminists did recently when people began criticizing actress Emma Watson for posing in Vanity Fair with partially covered breasts. Labeling her a “hypocrite” for having the photo taken while also advocating for female empowerment, people said a feminist can’t fight for gender equality or against sexual assault and also be sexy.

Not so, said Kaila Prins, founder of Performing Woman and a speaker for Everyday Feminism.

“Sexy is something you are, sexualization or sexual objectification is something that happens to you,” Brook said. “The difference is agency, so is the subject in charge of the image they present?”

“Feminism isn't about whether or not you choose to be sexy,” Prins said. “It's about the advocacy for equal rights on the basis of equality of the sexes. [In other words,] no one body part or gender expression makes you a more valid, powerful or special being than another who has different body parts and gender expressions.”

Prins explained that the difference comes down to who is choosing to expose a woman in a sexual manner. In this case, if Watson chooses to pose with part of her breasts exposed, that's a statement entirely in line with feminism. “If she's been posed and used as a prop to display her breasts for sexual consumption, that's maybe a different story.”

Feminist and culture writer Erynn Brook agrees with Prins, adding that Watson said in an interview with Reuters she was proud of the photo and “I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it. It’s very confusing.”

“Sexy is something you are, sexualization or sexual objectification is something that happens to you,” Brook said. “The difference is agency, so is the subject in charge of the image they present?”

In Watson’s case, the answer is yes.

Prins said this thought process is what led her to pursue a career as a burlesque dancer. Baring her breasts, she said, “made them less fraught with conflict.”

“It's easy to legislate against something you're afraid of or don't fully understand, and I think that's why a lot of people get so up in arms about the idea of a woman's body being displayed in a sexual way,” Prins said. “We're taught — specifically because women are still not equal and we've been used as props and property for most of written history — that women's bodies (and specifically women's sexuality) are mysterious, dangerous, and wrong. So, in order to move the needle toward equality, we have to be able to disprove that by exposing it.”

Feminists agree that this issue points to the greater idea that feminism is another way for society to place a label on women. 

A woman is either a feminist or a bad feminist. It’s no different than a woman being a good or bad mom, too skinny or too chubby, or emotional because she cries and frigid because she doesn’t want to, “Smile!”

Lynn Yeakel, founder and president of Drexel University’s Vision 2020, met this head on when she was a young, married mother of two and attending a meeting for women’s equality. An older woman looked at her and said. “Feminists don’t wear wedding rings.”

“I was stunned,” Yeakel said. “I realized that there are all kinds of stereotypes regarding what a feminist is. Being a feminist has nothing to do with what you look like or wear, but rather what you value and believe.”

So, why does society continue to see things as black and white? 

Prins said people have to first get over the idea that a woman who is expressing her sexuality is doing so for the male gaze or because she wants to engage in sex.

“Then, we can move past this black and white idea that all heterosexual sex is anti-feminist and any woman whose appearance could in any way be construed as sexual is engaging in an anti-women's rights act,” she said.

The other hurdle to jump, Brook said, is the idea that critics of Watson felt a need to “revoke her feminist card because of a little under-boob.”

“This is where that tension between sexy and sexualized happen,” Brook said. “What we're really mad about is that she is choosing to be sexy, and we have no say in the matter. As a society, we think that we all have a stake in Emma Watson's body. She's an object to us, an object that we are allowed to debate and fight over rather than a whole person. That's objectification.”

Makes sense, yes, but the trouble with that, Prinns said, is that “black and white is much easier to sell.” 

“Teaching people to embrace the gray areas requires some education and research or at least a bit of a mindset shift,” she said. “Most people don't want to have to do that work.”

If you like this article, please share it! Your clicks keep us alive!

Articles You'll Love