When I first saw Emma Watson’s titties on the pages of Vanity Fair I didn’t think anything of it. She’s a woman. She has breasts and that day she felt like showing them. No big deal. But then came all this conversation about Emma being a feminist and whether or not feminists should exploit their bodies in this way. I rolled my eyes. It’s an old and tired argument. If the decision to show a bit of side boob, was indeed her own, then what was the problem?
During this time of apathy, I stumbled across a tweet from For Harriet founder Kimberly Foster.
I wondered what that meant for a second but still didn’t care to do the research. Then yesterday, I discovered that Emma was defending her comments and clarifying her statements made about Beyoncé. Ding! That’s the ticket. Not only was the story made more salacious and outrageous by the attack on one of my faves, the best entertainer of our generation. It also positioned White feminism against Black feminism or even more simply a White woman against a Black one. That’s when I started paying attention. First, I heard that Emma allegedly questioned Beyoncé’s feminism when she saw the visuals for the album that “stopped the world” Beyoncé dropped. But before that narrative could even percolate, Emma came through with the transcript to clear her name.
I think it’s really interesting that something in her spirit in 2014 told her that perhaps thoughts that she had yet to formulate might come back to bite her in the ass, as they appear to be doing today. But that’s not the point. The point is, from the discussion you can see almost see Emma’s mind working. Tavi’s perspective perhaps shaped or reshaped her own and she eventually concluded that there was something feminist about Beyoncé’s performance. To me, that discussion in 2014 was tired as it is today. Beyoncé includes Adiche’s speech on her album, stands in front of the word “Feminist,” and everyone loses their sh*t. It was strange. I genuinely don’t understand the obsession about who can and can’t be a feminist or how a feminist should or shouldn’t behave. While I can understand a critique about performing for the pleasure of men, that too is a choice. And if you truly believe in equality, it’s not your place to tell another woman that her choice to do so, negates her chosen identity. While Emma might have felt that Beyoncé was performing for men, there’s a good chance that people made the same assumption about Emma’s top. Point is, when you don’t know someone’s motivation, your assumption that it’s anti-feminist can be problematic and oppressive.
Perhaps this was a lesson for Emma. One that many of us have had to learn at one point or another. Maybe even Beyoncé herself. Any true Destiny’s Child fan remembers their song “Nasty Girl.” In case you don’t, the lyrics read as follows.
You’s a nasty, trashy, sleazy, classless
Nasty put some clothes on, I told ya
Don’t walk out your house without your clothes on, I told ya
Girl what ya thinkin’ ’bout lookin’ that to’ down, I told ya
These men don’t want no hot female
That’s been around the block female, you nasty girl
Booty all out, tongue out her mouth, cleavage from here to Mexico
She walks wit a twist, one hand on her hip
When she gets wit’cha she lets it go
Nasty put some clothes on, you look so down
Nasty don’t know why you, will not sit down
Boots on her feet, swear she’s in heat, flirtin’ wit every man she sees
Her pants hangin’ low, she never says no, everyone knows she’s easy
Nasty put some clothes on, you lookin’ stank
Nasty where’s your pride, you should be ashamed
You make it hard
For women like me who try to have some integrity
You make it hard
For girls like myself who respect themselves and have dignity
Whew! Perhaps you noticed that the entire song is about shaming another woman for her attire and sexual agency. And in case you’re wondering who wrote this, the credits read as follows: Written by Anthony Dent, Beyonce Knowles, Maurizio Bassi, Naimy Hackett. Lord knows, the very women Destiny’s Child describe in this song, could be Beyoncé or even Kelly today. (Michelle sings gospel music so that won’t exactly fly.) To me, that’s the take away from all of this. Be careful putting your mouth on another woman in an attempt to shame her, because you never know when you’ll find yourself in the same predicament.
Image via Vanity Fair Photograph by Tim Walker
Veronica Wells is the culture editor at MadameNoire.com. She is also the author of “Bettah Days.” You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter @VDubShrug.