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‘Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women’: Emma Watson tells off critics of revealing photo

Emma Watson, who has been criticized for going bra-less in a Vanity Fair shoot, hits back at critics stating there is a "misunderstanding of what feminism is." Rough Cut - no reporter narration (Video: Reuters)

Emma Watson, best known for portraying Hermione Granger in the “Harry Potter” film adaptations, has spent much of her off-screen time as a feminist advocate.

The young British actress and graduate of Brown University was appointed a United Nations women’s goodwill ambassador in July 2014, and served as an advocate for HeForShe, a program that hopes “to mobilize 1 billion men to accelerate the achievement of gender equality.” She gave a memorable speech at the U.N. headquarters in New York to launch the campaign.

For years, Watson has arguably been one of Hollywood’s leading voices for feminism.

But now, thanks to a photo in Vanity Fair, some are calling her a hypocrite. (You can see it here in context. Scroll down.)

The cover story, which focused on her feminist views, came out as her new film, “Beauty and the Beast,” is about to hit theaters. “I used to be scared of words like ‘feminism,’ ‘patriarchy,’ ‘imperialist.’ But I’m not anymore,” Watson said in the piece.

The piece featured photos taken by fashion photographer Tim Walker.

From Emma Watson's revealing photos to Disney's choice to include a gay character, here's what you need to know. (Video: Nicki DeMarco/The Washington Post)

The shoot “felt incredibly artistic and I’ve been so creatively involved, and engaged with Tim, and I’m so thrilled about how interesting and beautiful the photographs were,” Watson told Reuters of the shoot.

In one photograph, Watson stands in a room with fur-covered walls. In another, she is trapped in what appears to be a birdcage. And in another, her breasts are loosely covered by a white crocheted capelet.

That led some people to dismiss her history of advocacy.

One popular British radio commentator, Julia Hartley-Brewer, tweeted a photograph of the Sun’s page 3, which reproduced the photo with the headline “Beauty & the breasts.” Hartley-Brewer tweeted this caption:

Emma Watson: “Feminism, feminism … gender wage gap … why oh why am I not taken seriously … feminism … oh, and here are my tits!

The tweet was liked 4,500 times and retweeted more than 2,150 times, as of early Monday morning.

Other users fired similar barbs at the 26-year-old actress.

“Attention seeking hypocrite. acting like a slut and flashing her tits is not what a real feminist does,” tweeted one. “Is Actress and Feminist Emma Watson a Hypocrite for Going Topless in Vanity Fair?” asked the Hollywood Reporter’s Pret-a-Reporter. “Did Emma Watson pose ‘topless’ because of the patriarchy or despite of it? I doubt she knows herself,” announced one particularly bold headline in the Independent.

Even CNN ran a headline posing the question: “Emma Watson’s revealing Vanity Fair photo: Feminism or hypocrisy?”

Many referenced a 2014 interview Watson gave, in which she discussed Beyoncé’s sexually charged music videos. Watson said:

I felt her message felt very conflicted in the sense that on the one hand she is putting herself in a category of a feminist, you know this very strong woman and she has that beautiful speech in one of her songs but then the camera, it felt very male, such a male voyeuristic experience of her.

The criticism reached such intensity, Watson responded during an interview with Reuters on Sunday.

She said she mostly felt “quietly stunned.”

“It just always reveals to me how many misconceptions and what a misunderstanding there is about what feminism is,” she continued. “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.”

Added Watson, “I’m confused. Most people are confused. No, I’m just always just quietly stunned.”

She wasn’t short on defenders, either.

“If we belabor these attempts to essentialize feminism as a specific set of traits and behaviors, we’re going to trudge through an elliptical — not to mention deeply unproductive — conversation,” wrote Jezebel contributor Rachel Vorona Cote.

Feminist organizers and writer Gloria Steinem put it most bluntly in an interview with TMZ.

“Feminists can wear anything they f—ing want,” Steinem said, adding about those attacking Watson: “Perhaps they have an incomplete idea of who women are.”

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