Poor Emma Watson! She shows some skin in a fashion photo shoot – yes, decidedly evocative skin- and suddenly she’s being slut shamed and screeched at and labeled a false feminist. Thank heaven she’s not backing down. Thank heaven she’s being candid and honest in her reaction. While others may gnash their teeth and rend their garments both right and left of the brouhaha, she cuts right to the gist of the matter.
“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.”
Listen, I grew up in a more modest time. When I was young, the phrases “boys will be boys” and “that’s just the way it is” were common, and were not used oppressively but with my own protection in mind.
It was also understood in my very loving family that girls had a proper way of dressing, which did not include short skirts or short shorts, revealing necklines, see-through anything or lack of “appropriate” underwear. To dress as such was to deliberately call into question your character, and everyone knew that girls who went out braless or in skimpy attire (or worse yet, out drinking!) were, unfortunately, “asking for it.” After all, the only reason a girl dressed “sexy” was to attract the attention of boys, so how could they complain when they got it? It was the natural way of things.
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This was all shared with us daughters with love.
I owe my change in awareness to my own daughter, who was able to see beyond this unbalanced mindset. The two of us had more than a few spirited discussions on whether or not a woman was at least partially responsible for unwanted attention due to her attire! But she wouldn’t back down, not until I saw that allowing a female to be punished for dressing “immodestly” – whether that be through censure or molestation – was sexist.
Now I even reject the term “immodest,” or at least use it grudgingly to prove a point. The definition of immodest is “lacking humility or decency.” In effect, for a woman, being immodest is to be immoral.
How is it that a woman’s feelings can be considered secondary or even unimportant in the face of how she is perceived by others, specifically by men? By accepting that a man may not be able to control his animalistic urges around a woman who is dressed “immodestly”, society absolves men of any responsibility for their actions and rests the blame on women. Women simply are not allowed to be sexual creatures without having to live with a myriad of consequences.
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And yet society courts that same overt or implied sexuality in women. We are expected to always adhere to, or at least strive for, a particular standard of beauty, at least in public. It is attached to our value in society. No matter that it’s an unattainable standard for most of us. But if we do attain it – and especially for those who are maddeningly successful in attaining it – then we are more likely to be judged and/or subject to unwanted advances, which then is our own fault.
And this is right? This is okay? This is simply the way it is? I don’t think so.
Listen, it’s simple, or it should be. It comes down to equality. That men and women should be equal. Not one above the other, one beholden to the other, one held to a different standard than the other. Each gender – every gender – should have equal opportunity to dress, behave, live, work and exist on a level playing field. It’s not a knock against men that the playing field has been tipped in the favor of them for generations. They struggle with unfair expectations, too. But that doesn’t change the hypocrisy of casting stones at women who want to experience their own sexuality.
Here’s the thing: if Emma Watson wants to show some breast in a fashion photo shoot, she should not have to live with accusations thrown at her that she’s a slut or a false feminist. Feminists simply want equality for women. Not absolution from responsibility, but the same freedom (for example) to claim their sexuality as men are given. The same freedom to look good, to feel powerful, to be the pinnacle of beauty that society asks them to be. Recuse Emma from the notion that sexuality on women is immodest or immoral, and her photo is simply a gorgeous shot.
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Well, it’s a gorgeous shot anyway, regardless of the naysayers. And it’s her call to make. (Well, hers and her stylists and the magazine’s stylists and the photographer and the agents and the publicity managers and the editorial board…. ) Is it sexual? A bit. It is oozing sexuality? I’d say yes. Is that wrong? No.
What’s wrong is for us to expect Emma to take responsibility for our reactions to her. That’s on us. Men and women both. Calling her slutty is making the assumption that the photo is for the express intent of trying to coerce others into having sex with her. That’s on the name caller, not her. To label her as a false feminist makes no sense, because regulating a woman on a subjective “should or should not” standard takes away that basic precept of freedom of choice that is at the heart of the movement.
Bottom line, you don’t have to like the photo of Emma Watson. You don’t have to approve of it. You can be outraged, be embarrassed, secretly delighted. No matter what, she is not the one responsible for how you feel.
That’s on you. That’s on me. That’s on each of us.
Emma, you go girl. You go exactly where you want to go.
~ Sharon Browning