PART 3 of our series on gender, sexualization, and the media for Women’s History month.
In a series of photo shoots to promote Beauty and the Beast and its star, Emma Watson, one seemed to stand out. It was the Vanity Fair shoot, and in it one costume barely covered Watson’s breasts, with much of her chest and a portion of her breast showing.
Watson was accused by some of being anti-feminist for allowing this imagery to be produced and disseminated.
Such a critique matters immensely to Watson who has often been the face of celebrity feminism, including the UN’s He For She campaign which is aimed at bringing men into feminism. What’s more, it matters to a number of young women for whom Emma Watson is the face of not just celebrity feminism, but feminism per se. See Buzzfeed’s “13 Times Emma Watson Totally Nailed The Whole Feminism Thing” for a bit of Watson’s background and profile. Now, we all know there are many feminism(s), but it’s pretty clear from that overview of Watson quotes that she adheres to one worldview that is unambiguously a type of feminism. Watson is familiar to young women for other feminist reasons, as well. Watson’s Hermione, in the Harry Potter films, was strong, brave, smart, dependable, and a bit full of herself at first. Anyone who has read the books or seen the films has no doubt that without Hermione, Harry (and Ron) would have been dead many times over and Voldemort would be in charge of it all (though of all moldy Voldy’s many terrible sins, sexism was never shown to be one of them).
To this attack on her feminist credentials, Watson responded with indignation. Click here for a video of her response on March 5, 2017. She said:
Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with [sic]… It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation… it’s about equality. It’s not *brief pause* I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it. It’s very confusing… I’m always just kind of quietly stunned.
If one allows oneself to be feminine according to classic gender norms, or to be portrayed in such a way that it makes one prone to sexualization by others, is that your responsibility? Philosopher Linda LeMoncheck says that sexual objectification is dehumanization, being treated as a mere body part or an object when in fact one should be treated as a whole person. This is something somebody else can do to you regardless of what you do. For LeMoncheck, it seems that it is only the objectifier who is to blame. To be sexy is not the problem. Rather, it is the reduction of a whole person to merely sexy by the viewer. LeMoncheck, at least, would seem to agree with Watson that it is not anti-feminist to be sexy, though perhaps with different reasoning.
What do you think?