my problem with Emma Watson

I don’t know how you could mannage not to find out, but in case you didn’t hear, Emma Watson gave a speech at the UN. In her speech, the actress (made famous by her role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movie series) said a lot of very true things on feminism (here is the transcript). And the Internet exploded with joy.

I have nothing against Emma Watson, but I like seeing everything with a critical eye. And, like in a child’s puzzle, we have to ask “what is wrong with this picture?”. The problem is Emma Watson, but it’s not her fault. I remember a meme I saw when Jennifer Lawrence’s nude pics were leaked:


Emma Watson, through no fault of her own, is perfect. She is gorgeous, and young, and keeps her private life private. Despite having been harassed by the media since she was a child (I remember an interview where she said that as soon as she turned 18, she became “fair game” and there were reporters lying on the floor trying to catch a photograph of whatever she was hiding under her skirt), this actress has steered clear from scandal. She remains irreproachable, unblemished. She grew up before our eyes, finished a beloved movie series, and went to college because she isn’t stupid. The most scandalous thing she has ever done is cut her hair―nobody talks about her sexuality, she has no drug or alcohol problems, and she doesn’t let money and fame go to her head. We welcomed Jennifer Lawrence into our hearts for being honest, declaring that she loves to eat and that Hollywood deems her fat. Emma Watson, in the same way, doesn’t pretend to be perfect. She tweets “I did NOT wake up like this” while sharing a picture where she looks flawless; she has declared not owning more than eight pairs of shoes, not worrying about her figure, and freely admits she’s a regular human being. How can we not fall in love with her?

And yes, she is right in her address to the United Nations. And I thank her for not being afraid of calling herself a feminist in a world where more and more the word becomes an insult (a fellow young-adult heroine, Shailene Woodley, has declared that “she isn’t a feminist because she doesn’t hate men”). I recently saw a very good video where Anita Sarkeesian discusses “straw feminists”. The straw man is a fallacy that is built using your opponent’s arguments, exaggerating and turning them into a caricature in order to expose how silly they actually are. Straw feminists are characters who take their feminism to an irrational extreme (like Legally Blonde’s Enid Wexlin, who wants to change “semester” to “ovester” in order to fight the patriarchy). As Sarkeesian explains, the problem with this representation is that it makes us thing that we live in a fictional, post-feminism world where we are all equal, and where any woman who defends the feminist movement is overreacting. These feminists see oppression where none exists. Even worse, they fight to oppress men as a form of revenge.

I am seeing more and more campaigns of “women who don’t need feminism”, and a lot of defenses of feminism (like this one). Why? Because the straw feminist has left us with concepts like the “feminazi”—men-hating women who make up inequality where none exists (because clearly we already live in an egalitarian society). In a patriarchal society, there is nothing worse than being a woman—except, of course, being a feminist.

And this is my problem with Emma Watson. I insist that I have nothing against her, nor against her cause. The truth is that I really like the HeForShe movement because it is trying to include men in the feminist fight. In case you didn’t know, being a feminist doesn’t mean hating men. It is simply fighting for women’s rights. There are many on-line tests you can take to see if you are a feminist, and they basically boil down to two questions: 1) do you think men and women are treated equally? if not, 2) do you think this is right? If you answer no, then congratulations, you are a feminist.

My problem is not so much with her as with the reactions she generated. In this world the worst thing you can be is a feminist, unless you are an extremely good-looking girl with an extraordinarily untarnished record. Seeing how many posts and reposts, comments and recomments her address got only made me thing that in order to be a feminist one needs permission, and in order to get permission we need to fall into the right category. We have to be young, beautiful, without a sex life. Another interesting reaction is that, because of her speech, 4Chan has posted threats against Watson, warning her that they will leak nude pictures. It turns out that she has committed the crime of defending women’s rights and for that she must pay with her privacy and her body. But the worst part of these threats is that, if these pictures indeed exist and are leaked, Watson would cease being that irreproachable woman without any dirty laundry. She would become another Jennifer Lawrence, another Marilyn. Leaking Emma Watson pictures would mean she stops being perfect, and therefore stops being worthy of our attention.

And that, dear listeners, is the real problem with Emma Watson: that she shows that even to be feminists we have to embody the “good woman” cliché, we have to be pretty and good. Because the second we stop being that we stop being worthy of being heard. I ask you to share her speech and join her cause, but I also ask you to stop engaging in that fiction where in order to be a woman with a voice you first have to be a supermodel. Share, along with Emma Watson’s words, the words of scandalous, ugly, and old feminists.