Emma Watson’s decision to expose part of her breasts in a Vanity Fair photoshoot has sparked a fierce debate about what it means to be a feminist.
An example: “She complains that women are sexualised and then sexualises herself in her own work. Hypocrisy,” conservative British radio presenter and columnist Julia Hartley-Brewer tweeted.
The Harry Potter co-star and pioneer of the HeForShe campaign to make men advocate for feminism talked about the shoot while promoting her new Disney live-action picture Beauty and the Beast.
“It just always reveals to me how many misconceptions and what a misunderstanding there is about what feminism is,” she said.
“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. I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it. It’s very confusing.
“I’m confused. Most people are confused. No, I’m just always just quietly stunned.”
The shoot, by acclaimed fashion photographer Tim Walker, showed Watson in an open, white crocheted bolero jacket with no bra or shirt underneath.
“We’d been doing so many crazy things on that shoot,” Watson said, “but it felt incredibly artistic and I’ve been so creatively involved and engaged with Tim and I’m so thrilled about how interesting and beautiful the photographs were.”
So can you bare your breasts and still be a feminist?
“Emma Watson has done more for women and for young girls than most of us put together,” says Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for gender equality and women’s rights.
“So I don’t really see that just because she’s made that decision, any of us should be criticising her.
“She’s an empowered woman who is posing for a very tasteful image. She’s not being exploited, she doing it in a controlling position. It’s a positive use of her body.”
Sexist News, which successfully campaigned for the Sun tabloid newspaper to stop using topless models on Page 3, said it loved she was “exploring and championing feminism having grown up in the public eye”.
It believes the row created by the photoshoot is “daft. It is not a debate that we have about men’s fashion shoots, regardless of the amounts of nipple-grazing crochet they wear.
“We really need to examine why on earth this one fashion image has caused such outrage. This is not to say that images of fashion or celebrity are unproblematic, quite the contrary.
“As ever the focus is on what a woman should or shouldn’t be doing and not on how our culture presents, polices and consumes women’s bodies and condemns their actions.
“We need to challenge these things, not the individual women stuck in the system.”
Dr Finn Mackay, a feminism researcher at the University of West England, rejects the view that feminism is about giving women choice. She says it is a social justice movement.
“Emma’s saying feminism is about choice and the choice to do whatever you want, but that’s a nonsense.
“Some women choose terrible things, some women choose to work for parties that deny women access to abortion, access to healthcare or mothers access to welfare.”
However, she does not believe that Watson’s pose means she is not a feminist.
“If she self-identifies as a feminist and believes in promoting women’s rights, her doing her job doesn’t necessarily have to undermine that.
“I think if she’s trying to say being in a photoshoot and getting your breast out is a feminist act, that’s a different matter.”
Mackay believes promoting feminism is more effective through the voice.
“The most radical thing that women can do in this culture is keep their clothes on and open their mouths and make political points,” she says.
“It’s interesting that people only speak about it now and their real motivation seems to be to want to have a dig at feminism rather than to talk about the overall problems Hollywood has with objectifying women.”