Emma's Choice and the Freedom of Feminism

Is it really women who degrade themselves, or is it society that degrades women?

 

Now that the whole debate has died down about Emma Watson and the question over the feminism of her choice of pose, let’s take a moment to mull it over and make some conclusions.

I was discussing it the other day with a woman who would certainly describe herself as a feminist, but to my surprise her views were not what I expected. 

We were in agreement over the main principle - there was nothing wrong, degrading or un-feminist about the picture. We both agreed that she resembled a powerful, strong-minded and beautiful woman. But what I was saying to my friend, who I’ll refer to as Hermione, was that there was a stark difference between the sort of publication Watson’s photo was and the kind on page three of your average weekend tabloid. We both felt that Watson was sending out a clear message, that she was going to do whatever she wanted, that she was comfortable and proud of her body. However we disagreed when I suggested that page-three-poses would not have been appropriate, that they portray women as the subject of amusement for men, rather than as equals. Hermione was adamant that even this view retained some form of prejudice. She asked me whether I thought there was any difference between a male in his underwear in provocative poses, and a female doing the same. My initial reaction was that it would not be appropriate for a feminist to do such a thing. But, I was asked, what is wrong with that, if its her choice to do it?

Do Feminists have less freedom than other women?

A hundred years ago, still fighting for the right to vote, suffragettes would dress in their Sunday bests in an effort to represent themselves as the height of respectability. Nowadays when we think of a suffragette, the image that springs to mind is Sylvia Pankhurst in a tailored coat and broad hat. But putting that into context, that is what was worn by everyone at the time, there wasn’t the disparity in clothing that we have nowadays. 21st Century feminists don’t wear dresses that cover the shoulders, chest and go down beyond the knee; or suits with blazers and long trousers. Nor do they wear short skirts, crop tops or anything that reveals any skin. They wear all these things, they wear whatever they want. All women have the liberty to dress themselves however they like, and should have the freedom not to be treated any differently based on their choices. Men areunencumbered by such scrutiny, and this is where the problem lies: we judge the exact same behaviour differently depending on the sex of the individual.

Why are we so ready to attack women?

Upon closer inspection, the strongest criticism has actually come from fellow women. Watson’s Vanity Fair shoot controversy kicked off with a tweet from Telegraph columnist Julia Hartley-Brewer, who mocked Watson for ‘complaining why no one took her seriously.’

People will always have their opinions on the choices of others, but feminism is a different matter entirely. As Watson told the Telegraph, 

Feminism is about giving women a 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.
— Emma Watson to the telegraph

And my friend Hermione was in firm agreement. “Its about free will,” she told me. “Men are free to make choices about simple things like what clothes they wear. This is how it should be, for men and women alike.” Hermione is a psychologist, who believes that this might be down to social beliefs that are ingrained in the back of our minds. “We are brought up in a society that trains us to think in a certain way, to have certain values. We inherit these ideas and values from society and from our friends and family, but very rarely do we actually question them.” She asks me about the pictures of popular liberal Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau topless which caused a ‘meltdown’.  

“Trudeau is being sexualised here, but nobody sees anything wrong with that,” says Hermione. “Its this ‘cognitive frame’ that makes us see the same picture in different ways.  No one doubts Trudeau’s capabilities or his intentions because he’s man.” 

Cultural Heritage or Historical Baggage?

The irrationality of social norms only becomes apparent when we question them like this. Which is why we must question everything, in order to understand why it is we think in certain ways. This is the only way society can be improved. Its the root of the feminist movement, the civil rights movement and just about anything that has fought for justice, liberty or equality. It is also no easy process, as a lot of the principles we grow up with are at odds with other values and we find ourselves confused. Watson found herself in this position in 2014 where in an interview with Wonderland to which she was shamelessly accused of “flaming hypocrisy” by Piers Morgan. 

This leaves in a dilemma: how can we adapt and develop ideas, when doing so leaves us exposed to questions being raised of our integrity?

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On Spike’s journey through life, he has walked 550 miles across Spain, spent 4 years in Australia camping, surfing, hiking and jumping off waterfalls,  while funding himself busking with his guitar, volunteered at an english school in the Cambodian countryside, and got married on a deserted beach in Fiji. Spike has documented his travels through his blog, and his instagram. After travelling the world these past years, he now studies law in London where he lives with his Catalan wife.