Quick disclaimer: I adore Emma Watson and think she’s a tremendous advocate for women’s rights worldwide. She’s used her massive platform to empower countless young women, and for that, I will forever respect her as a professional and as a fellow woman.
Though unlike the enchanted beasts and ghouls that her characters have encountered on the big screen, Emma Watson is human. So, like every other human being, she isn’t immune from mistakes, and receiving critique as a result.
Since she’s in the public eye, sometimes that critique will feel more like backlash and might not feel good to hear ― but it’s crucial to hear that criticism, receive it and acknowledge it. Especially if that feedback comes from marginalized communities that feel directly aggrieved.
Recently, Emma Watson gave an interview in which she expressed her frustration at the sexist backlash about her Vanity Fair cover shoot. She enthusiastically condemned her critics for insinuating she couldn’t be a feminist while embracing her sexuality.
I am in full support of everything she said. I believe wholeheartedly that every woman can be a feminist regardless of what they wear. From the sound of it, it seems like Emma Watson believes that too. But she didn’t always.
A few years back Emma Watson effectively questioned Beyoncé’s motives for baring some skin. Emma seemed to question Beyoncé’s version of feminism and made the point that it focused too much on male pleasure. These assumptions didn’t come from Beyoncé’s words or any other questionable behavior.
It felt like Beyoncé was being called a bad feminist, hungry for male consumption, for no other reason than being sexy in her music videos.
To that end, Emma Watson’s behavior was hypocritical. The facts are simple and they are clear. She initially questioned Beyoncé for appearing too sexually explicit to qualify as a good feminist. She then posed in a photo shoot that some are now calling too sexually explicit for a good feminist. She then chose to defend herself, but not immediately acknowledge her previous statements in which she called Beyoncé too sexually explicit to be a good feminist.
Before you think my critique is fueled by Beyoncé mega-fandom, stop right there.
Beyoncé is one of the most powerful, iconic women of our generation, but that isn’t the point. The actual issue here is Emma’s hypocrisy and how similar hypocrisy has repeatedly plagued mainstream feminism, commercially benefited white women and furthered negative stereotypes of black women.
The mini-uproar is rooted in a historical issue. Emma’s comments contributed, no matter how tiny of an amount, to a long history of black women being treated unequally in feminist circles and movements. Black bodies are not allowed to be sexualized in the same way as white bodies, and this was shown by Emma ripping apart Beyonce just to do the same thing five years later.
White women are privileged in the way they can still be considered elegant, even while almost nude. Black women, even celebrities like Janet Jackson, can risk ruining their career for doing the exact same thing. Now that Emma had a slight taste of what black women experience on the daily, from critics like herself, she’s up in arms.
Women like Emma are granted the right to decide who can and cannot qualify as a good feminist. Then years later be praised for doing the same thing they demeaned because they had an epiphany. Mainstream feminists then expect women of color to forgive and applaud women like Emma for their awakening.
Not only must we forgive these accounts of hypocrisy, we’re also not allowed to expect any acknowledgement of wrongdoing. To ask Emma to simply recognize her mishap would be seen as tearing her down.
Last year women of color were largely ignored in the campaign for the first potential woman president. Let’s not continue that trend in 2017.
If you ignore the concerns of women of color you aren’t an intersectional feminist. In fact, it can be debated that feminism without intersectionality isn’t feminism at all. How can you consider yourself an advocate for the progression of all women and then belittle women of color who bring up their concerns rooted in systematic discrimination?
To become a stronger feminist or social justice advocate, recognize your mistakes. Emma’s comments years ago were hurtful, no matter how eloquently she phrased them. She, like many of us, fell victim to prejudice. We can all grow from it through acknowledgement and I truly believe Emma has grown as a feminist.
Like a young, smart, muggle wizard once said (spoiler alert, it’s Hermione Granger) we all have a duty to challenge “rotten and unjust systems.” Part of that, is holding our leaders accountable.
If you want to be an intersectional feminist, then you need to listen to women of color that have an issue with hypocrisy like this. Don’t dismiss them. Don’t tell them to “talk about more pressing issues”.
Holding someone accountable isn’t an attack. It’s the only way we can acknowledge these missteps and move toward a more equal future.
This piece was written by sister duo Leah and Cami Thomas. You can stay up to date with Cami’s work here at For The Culture TV