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Max Lewthwaite responds to an article recently published by Epigram Style which argued that Emma Watson’s recent photoshoot for Vanity Fair was empowering.

Each and every time a female celebrity poses in a provocative photograph, the perpetual debate over how feminism should be achieved resurfaces. The recent case of Emma Watson’s Vanity Fair shoot is no exception, as the battle lines draw up once again. For some, the raunchy image with Watson’s breasts exposed is hypocritical and anti-feminist – Julia Hartley-Brewer being one prominent example – whilst for others (Watson included) it represents empowerment and liberation. ‘I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it’, said the British actress in response to the backlash.

A recent article in Epigram posited the view that, far from being sexualised and provocative, the image in question is tasteful and artistic. I would not immediately subscribe to the opinion that Watson’s photo is overtly sexual either. As a side note, this must surely depend as much upon the viewer as on the content of the image. Am I, as a gay man, in a better or worse position to view the photo as sexualized than a straight man, for instance? This is a debate for another time. Equally however, I cannot immediately see much ‘artistic’ value in the photo. Of course, if ‘artistic’ was meant in a demotic, casual sense, viz. beautiful or aesthetically pleasing, then fine, I have little quarrel. If the implied meaning was more serious however, which I believe it was, by placing ‘provocative’ on one side and ‘artistic’ on the other, a false distinction has been drawn.

‘Feminism is about giving women choice… But how exactly has she helped in this regard?’

I think the photo is not ‘artistic’ in any proper sense precisely because it is unprovocative – it does not attempt to push any boundaries or achieve anything remotely subversive. I implied at the beginning of this response that Watson’s photoshoot is a common type of occurrence, and this is no small part of the problem. Here I take issue with Watson’s comments ex post facto. Yes, feminism is about giving women choice, yes, it is about liberation and equality. But how exactly has she helped in this regard?

I pose this question because I fundamentally disagree with Watson’s method. She has not shown the possibility of choice, of an alternative to objectification. She does nothing to subvert the cultural emphasis on women’s appearance, which is grossly unequal to men. I have, for instance, spoken with female student friends who openly admit that if they went out without wearing cosmetics, they would feel ignored and not treated seriously. Surely this is the far greater issue, one which Watson has not attempted to address. Alicia Keys’ recent no-makeup movement does much more to empower women and offer them choice in this regard. Watson’s photoshoot is of course not anti-feminist, but it does not open up any such semblance of choice either – it does not move the feminist struggle forward. It is mundane and boring. Keys’ movement was inflammatory for all the right reasons; the same cannot be said in this case.

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Where do you stand on the issue? Let us know.

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