Emma Watson was understandably baffled by the backlash to her recent, apparently risqué Vanity Fair photo shoot.
Although wearing a rope bolero and nothing much else in the Northern Hemisphere may be a questionable choice this time of year, practically speaking, it’s hardly a crime against feminism.
The 26-year-old actress was “quietly stunned” by those who seemingly want her charged, however, and during a press interview for her new film Beauty and the Beast she made it known.
“It just always reveals to me how many misconceptions and what a misunderstanding there is about what feminism is,” Watson 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 always just quietly stunned.”
Certainly, feminism has very little to do with Watson’s “tits” and is indeed about liberation and equality but – at the risk of quibbling with a Brown University graduate and very accomplished women’s rights advocate – I do disagree on one point: feminism is not about choice.
To be clear, I don’t think Watson has done anything wrong by having her photo taken; she is a Hollywood actress, appearing in front of a camera is quite literally her job.
I also think she is under no obligation to be a ‘good role model’ for young girls, though as the pioneer of the HeForShe campaign and a Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women, arguably she is one.
But whether it be posing on the cover of a magazine or ripping the hair from your nether regions, simply being a woman doesn’t magic your personal preferences into feminist acts because you chose to live by them.
Just like patriarchy sadly won’t vanish in a puff of feminist slogan t-shirts, as sassy as they may well be.
However popular “choice feminism” is – and increasingly it’s become be the catchcry of modern liberal feminism – it’s also deeply, deeply flawed.
It assumes a level of unmitigated freedom that women simply don’t have, and then blames them for failing to subvert the sexist system they’re stuck inside if they complain about it.
If you’re unhappy with your tiny paycheck, lack of viable child care options or maybe just feel a bit icky about the gallery of semi-nude sportswomen you scrolled through on your lunch break, it’s probably because you made a wrong choice somewhere along the line or missed the latest ’empowerment’ memo.
The Mamamia Out Loud team on Christie Brinkley’s recent ’empowering’ bikini shoot. (Post continues after audio.)
As many have pointed out, our choices aren’t made in a vacuum. They are covertly guided by invisible power structures that were set up by – and to privilege – men.
Yet things that have oppressed women for centuries, from nine-inch high heels to makeup to taking your new hubby’s name because of ‘tradition’, are suddenly being reframed as cool fun feminist ‘choices’.
Meanwhile, objectification passes as empowerment, violence against women continues to be rife and we’re told to stop whining about the status quo— while still being paid 75c for every dollar the man sharing our cubicle pockets.
Having more options doesn’t mean those options are good, and blindly arguing that choice is the same as equality is as unhelpful as telling Emma Watson she’s a bad feminist for forgetting to wear her bra.
Again, this absolutely isn't a critique of the actress as an individual; in fact, that's sort of the point.
Feminism isn't about what one woman does or says, gets right or wrong, wears or does not wear. It's bigger than that.
It's about working together to dismantle a system riddled with inequality, which holds all of us back and pits us against each other while trying to sell us the fallacy "of choice".
"Feminism is about choice" may fit neatly into an inspiring meme for Instagram, but it ignores the fundamental reality that not all choices are created equal.