Emma Watson’s feminist evolution is more common than you think
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Showing a little bit of underboob might sound pretty innocuous, but when a feminist activist does it, the internet has a lot to say about it. That’s precisely what Emma Watson learned after a braless image from her Vanity Fair photoshoot divided the internet, and saw her branded a hypocrite and a bad feminist.
Boobs aside, the crux of the issue lay in the purported conflict between comments Watson made in 2014 about the portrayal of Beyonce in her self-titled album, and how Watson then went on to represent herself in a Vanity Fair shoot three years later.
As we reported, many found Watson’s comments about Beyonce problematic. Most notably, a white feminists’ hesitance in deciding whether a woman of colour was subjected to the male gaze in her music video or whether she was totally in control of the lens? (This is Beyonce we’re talking about here. Of course she was in control).
It seems Watson’s greatest crime wasn’t showing her breasts in a magazine. It was that she dared to evolve her view of the female body in relation to feminism.
Emma Watson is not the first high profile feminist to demonstrate an evolved view on feminism. Far from it. Her feminist evolution is actually a pretty common and universal aspect to being a feminist. So, why are we so quick to call feminist activists ‘hypocrites’ when they change their view, often for the better?
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Beyonce performs during the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards.
Let’s look back more closely at Watson’s comments from 2014. She explicitly stated she had not formulated her own ideas about Beyoncé’s album. She said she felt "conflicted" but went on to agree that the videos were empowering Beyoncé’s sexuality, because "it is her choice".
Fast forward three years to 2017, it’s clear that since then Watson has further formulated her ideas about the female body in relation to feminism. She clarified her view in a BBC interview over the weekend saying: "Feminism is about giving women choice. It’s about equality …I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it."
This is the part of my 2014 interview with Tavi where we talked about Beyoncé. My words are in bold. pic.twitter.com/Y8vumOeyDT
— Emma Watson (@EmmaWatson) March 7, 2017
As a feminist, I can relate to Watson’s evolving views. In the past five years my outlook on the body and sex in relation to feminism has shifted dramatically. I’ve no doubt it will continue to do so.
I previously felt conflicted about female nudity because, historically, it has shared too close a link with the male gaze and objectification. As I formulated my view, I didn’t think that comments I made then, would be used against me in the future. Now, with a more fully formulated view, am I a hypocrite, or a bad feminist, for being vocal about a woman’s right to express herself with her body however she pleases? I don’t think so.
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Beyonce at the 2017 Grammy Awards
Beyoncé, just like Watson, has publicly changed her stance on feminism. In 2013, when asked if she considered herself a feminist, she replied: "That word can be very extreme…I do believe in equality…But I’m happily married. I love my husband." One year later, Beyoncé stated: "I’ve always considered myself a feminist, although I was always afraid of that word because people put so much on it". Since then, Beyonce has embraced the term with open arms and her work is testament to her commitment to feminism.
Lady Gaga also publicly changed her views on feminism. She stated in 2009: "I’m not a feminist. I hail men. I love men." A year later in 2010, Gaga asserted: "I am a feminist. So many people have this misinterpretation of feminism as man-hating, which it isn’t. It’s got nothing to do with that." Irrespective of earlier remarks, both singers are now widely seen as feminist icons in the entertainment industry, and their previous comments do not negate their status as feminists.
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Lady Gaga onstage at the Grammys.
When it comes to changing views, even the most iconic feminist thinkers have admitted to evolving their viewpoints on aspects of feminism. Gloria Steinem, one of the most prominent leaders of the second-wave feminist movement, publicly acknowledged this in a 1977 essay in the book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions.
Steinem said she initially had difficulty understanding why feminists dressed in a more revealing manner. But she said she grew to understand they weren’t bowing to pressure to appeal to the male gaze, but were instead celebrating their choice and right to dress however they pleased.
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Gloria Steinem speaks onstage during the Women’s March on Washington, January 2017.
Feminism isn’t set in stone. Just as people’s political views are subject to change, people’s views on feminism are constantly shifting and progressing. Feminism isn’t a fixed and immovable idea. It’s nuanced and complicated and constantly evolving to be more inclusive and progressive.
Our views will change over time. And some of those changes will be dramatic. Being a feminist today means being open to change, realising your position can and will change. And most importantly of all, realising that an evolved stance doesn’t make you any less of a feminist.