Most actresses do photo shoots without too much controversy involved. They pose, the camera clicks and the fans hit “like” when the pictures appear on social media. However, when Emma Watson did a photo shoot for Vanity Fair in March 2017, the response wasn’t what she expected. Suddenly, critics and regular folk alike were posing a very difficult question to her.
Watson entered into the world of fame and fortune at a very early age. In fact, she was just ten when she was cast as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter franchise. And by the time the first film had grossed almost $975 million at the box office, she’d become a household name.
Along with her co-stars, she grew up in the public eye. Any child star will tell you that’s not an easy thing to do, but Watson pulled it off with aplomb. She was never involved in any scandals and her parents were always supportive of her. Indeed, she grew up into a mature and intelligent young woman.
And when the Harry Potter series came to an end in 2011, Watson could have retired there and then, settling down with her millions. However, she chose not to. In fact, not only did she decide to continue acting, but she chose to become an advocate for women’s rights as well.
Notably, in 2014 Watson was appointed U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador. Her first big project was the HeForShe campaign – a project designed to “galvanize as many men and boys as possible to be advocates for gender equality.” And after her speech to the U.N., delivered on September 20 that year, many people saw the young actress in a new light.
But this wasn’t necessarily a good thing, unfortunately. For all the praise Watson received after her speech – she even made the TIME 100 list because of it – the army of haters she attracted seemed to counteract any goodwill. Watson’s pro-gender equality stance had made her a target.
The threats she received were no doubt terrifying. For example, an anonymous website titled “Emma You Are Next” popped up. Other people attempted to get a “RIP Emma Watson” hashtag trending on Twitter. Furthermore, another group of trolls wrote hoax stories about her death.
However, despite all this, she continued to fight for what she believed in. “Call me a ‘diva,’ call me a ‘feminazi,’ call me ‘difficult,’ call me a ‘First World feminist,’ call me whatever you want,” she said to Esquire in 2016. “It’s not going to stop me from trying to do the right thing and make sure that the right thing happens.” Brave words, indeed.
When 2017 rolled around, though, Watson found herself very busy. Not only did she join in the worldwide protests against President Trump, but she also had a new movie to push. So, as part of the promotion for Beauty and the Beast, she granted an interview to Vanity Fair.
The interview highlighted Watson’s thoughts on feminism, but it was the accompanying photos which had people up in arms. In one of the images she was almost topless, the bottom part of her breasts visible underneath fabric.
It created a storm across social media. To some of the feminists who had supported her, Watson had betrayed their values. And to her critics, she’d proven herself a hypocrite. The debate raged on: what was the right way to be a feminist? Was there even a right way?
Naturally, feelings were strong on both sides. “She complains that women are sexualized and then sexualizes herself in her own work. Hypocrisy,” tweeted British broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer. “Does exposing a body part really contradict feminist points?” Daily Mirror writer Ryan Brown responded.
Watson, however, was quick to answer her critics. “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,” she said in an interview with the BBC on March 5, 2017. “I really don’t know what my t*ts have to do with it.”
Meanwhile, two days later, anti-feminist presenter Piers Morgan labeled Watson a “feminist fraud” in his Daily Mail column. He claimed she had once criticized Beyoncé for exposing her own body, making her even more of a hypocrite. Watson, though, was quick to repost the interview where she mentioned Beyoncé, clarifying her comments.
However, not everyone was buying it. The same day, Cosmopolitan featured an article entitled “Emma Watson is Wrong to Dismiss Critics of Her Beyoncé Comments.” It talked about how white women, like Watson, could pose nude and still be thought of as feminist, but black women couldn’t.
And it soon became clear that people were using Watson’s photo shoot as a springboard to discuss the finer points of a heated issue. “Emma Watson is being targeted for no good reason by critics who refuse to acknowledge the nuances of feminism,” read an E! Online headline on March 8, 2017.
“With everything going on in the world right now, this is a problem?” the article, written by Natalie Finn, said. “Vanity Fair must have missed the memo that, from now on, women who identify as feminists are only allowed to wear black turtlenecks in photos.” Emma Watson has worn black turtlenecks, but she obviously has other things in her wardrobe, too.
To add to it all, no one seemed to have any complaints when the tabloids continued, as they always had done, to snap pictures of Watson’s breasts without her permission. As the debate raged on, British publication The Mirror published an article about Watson’s clothing choices. However, the editors ran a close-up shot of her cleavage.
It’s also worth noting that alongside Piers Morgan’s article about Watson, which was titled “Emma, you haven’t done yourself or feminism any favors,” there were links to other, more vulgar Daily Mail articles. Indeed, one of them was titled “Hello boys!” and showed pictures of a reality TV star’s “sizzling new bikini shoot.”
So, if Emma Watson’s photo shoot has demonstrated anything, it’s that being a celebrity feminist is very, very difficult. And, no matter what you do, someone will always scrutinize you. Ultimately, then, perhaps it’s simply not for anyone else to say whether a woman is a feminist or not.