Critics of Emma Watson's 'Topless' Photo Shoot Have It All Wrong

Emma Watson
Neil Hall / Reuters / Splash

If there's one thing society hates, it's female child stars who grow up and start expressing strong opinions about the world and how women are treated in it. Even more reviled are female child stars who shed their innocence and take pride in their sexuality. Emma Watson has long been known for the former, and the star of the upcoming live-action version of Beauty and the Beast has been sucked into controversy over the latter, thanks to a Vanity Fair photo shoot featuring the actress in a loosely crocheted Burberry top cut to reveal a significant portion of her stomach and breasts.

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One of the kinder insults hurled at the former Harry Potter star since the shoot is "hypocrite," with Twitter trolls taking the depressing but expected route of attacking Watson's role as a feminist activist because she dares show the underside of a breast.

Perhaps most depressing is that the sturm und drang seems to be coming largely from other women -- women whose understanding of what it means to be a feminist is severely lacking. 

Take this tweet, which British journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer‏ paired with a photo from the Vanity Fair shoot that appeared in a British tabloid with the cringeworthy headline "Beauty and the Breasts":

Emma Watson Vanity Fair tweets
JuliaHB1/Twitter

It's like playing that old college drinking game, two truths and a lie. Truth: Emma Watson is a feminist. Truth: Emma Watson is a sexual being. Lie: Emma Watson is a sexual being and thus shouldn't be taken seriously as a feminist. 

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Why stop there?

Let's throw in another, particularly uncomfortable truth: Feminism is the audacious notion that women shouldn't have to jump through hoops to be "taken seriously." We're humans. That should be enough. 

A fair amount of feminists have come to Watson's defense this week, decrying those who question a woman's worth based on the amount of flesh she shares, noting the unfortunate tendency for women to tear apart other women, and celebrating her female empowerment. It's all true, and as Elle writer Jaya Saxena points out, "We have both minds and bodies, and denying one in favor of the other denies the wholeness of any person."

There is nothing wrong with the photo of a 26-year-old consenting adult wearing very little in a magazine directed at adults. Watson's not harming anyone, least of all herself. If she enjoys that photo and felt comfortable with the shoot, then she should be proud of the results. 

But whether or not Watson was right to appear in those photos (and again, her body, her choice) is irrelevant. 

She is still a human being. 

She still retains her rights to speak up for herself and to demand that she be treated equally to men and that other women receive the same equal treatment. 

Because feminism isn't about nailing the audition for the role of "being taken seriously." It's about getting called in for the part, based purely on your own merits. 

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