Backlash against Emma Watson’s Vanity Fair photo shoot is more than a simple controversy

As I have been following people’s reaction to Emma Watson’s Vanity Fair photo shoot lately, I decided not to say anything because I thought it was simply not worth my time. Using someone’s nudity to discredit their feminism? How are these two even relevant, right? But today, as I was running, thoughts began to flow into my mind. I remembered a particular memory about my friend calling me in tears. She told me with a shaky voice that her ex-boyfriend was threatening to publish her very private photos on Facebook and send them to her family, unless she got back together with him. (Of course no, she did not fall for his blackmailing attempt and made him apologize afterwards.)

The last time I wrote about the nudity of celebrities, it was right after the hack of iCloud accounts and people were frantically googling Jennifer Lawrence’s private photos. At that time, I raised the question “Why don’t male celebrities’ photo leaks cause such a stir?” However, after I saw the madness following Orlando Bloom’s penis pictures, I was forced to modify my question to: “Why don’t male celebrities’ photo leaks impact their career or undermine their work as does the females’ leaks?”

Hmm. This whole thing rang a bell in my head and opened the floodgates in my mind. But we have to start our analysis from the beginning.

Female body. Oh, if only the power holders in our small world could fully control it! In the old times, female body meant more soldiers and farmers and conquering a land. After invasions, raping women was not an uncommon incident because the next generation on that land would be of the conquerors, with no option other than to accept the conquest. They would later become soldiers, farmers and after the industrial revolution, labor. More the labor, cheaper the payment, hence the product cost. This is basically Economics 101. This, in my humble opinion, is the fundamental reason behind anti-choice movement. Because the power holders want full control over the population and abortions give women the choice to not abide by their rules and plans.

But of course, there is another level to population control. The power holders of course would not want all kinds, races, religions or ethnicities of the new generation to grow. They would want their kind to reproduce at the full capacity, yet some to not reproduce at all. For example, it is now well-known that black women used to be sterilized without their consent for decades during the last century in the United States. The reason is simple: Black population cannot exceed the white population, because if they do, they can elect their own representatives, demand rights, create a larger disturbance in their communities if they chose to protest or go on a strike. And eventually, they would accumulate wealth and the power would slowly shift from the power holders to them.

So now that we have a brief understanding of why the power holders would want to control half of its population’s bodies and reproductive rights, let’s move to a more explicit issue: pleasure. Women’s right to enjoy their sexuality and get pleasure from it. Why does it matter to the power holders so much that they would even go the distance to cut women’s clitorises and claim it as a tradition? Simple: Because pleasure is empowering. If women began to enjoy their sexuality and demand their orgasms from their partners, their role in the marriage would drastically change. They would no longer be a sex provider to their husbands but also a pleasure demander, gradually realizing their own needs, desires, fantasies and dreams. Can you see where this is headed? The female sexuality has the power to transform the foundations of traditional heterosexual marriages and because of this, it is dangerous to the power holders.

This brings us back to why it is so critical for women to reclaim the ownership of their body and sexuality, and exhibiting these on their own terms. Exhibiting one’s sexuality on their own terms is not simply a right, it is the reclamation of power. My friend’s ex-boyfriend knew that most women (even if they are rich or famous) are simply denied this reclamation. For this reason, he chose to blackmail her and used her private photos to force her to return to him.

emma
Still can’t see the problem with this. Photo Credit: Vanity Fair

We were taught to see a woman as dishonored if we see her boobs or vagina. If we know what her boobs look like, well girl, every good work you have done until now, every advocacy effort you have worked on, they are all gone, discredited, undermined. If you were a feminist back then, well too bad! Because you are not a feminist anymore, because we just saw your boob. (Wow, big revelation. Except, I myself have two of them, too.)

But, the “scandalous” element of this photo shoot is that she consented to publish them herself, and people could not handle it. They simply did not know how to react to it. It simply threw people into a loop, where they would look for a way out of this “If a self-claimed feminist publishes her nude pictures, which we perceive as shameful, what does this make her?” question, seeking a problem with her rather than themselves. Was it “honorable”, “dishonorable”, “feminist”, “unfeminist”?

I wonder if people would question her feminism if these were leaked without her will. Would people then go on and say, “Your nudes are not feminist at all!”? Or would they be googling her pictures, just to get a glimpse of what a boob looks like? Does this mean that people are more willing to accept the nude content without consent rather than an artistic photo shoot with the person’s consent and full control over how her body will be presented? No wonder we have a such a huge societal problem as the rape culture.

“Well, if you are so pro-nude, why don’t you post your own nudes online?”

It’s because I can easily imagine the consequences should I choose to publish them. I will probably not be taken seriously again, ever again, let alone get a job, because unlike Emma Watson, I do not have access to platforms to make my voice heard and shut down my shamers. Even if I do continue my life after it, I will always have the fear of someone discovering my nudes and harassing me at work, school, wherever. I will be simply reduced to my sexualized body parts, as if my personality is only made of two boobs and a vagina, and nothing else.

channing
Hey Channing! Now that I know what your boobs look like, I can’t take you seriously anymore. Photo Credit: Claudette Barius

But wait, Channing Tatum says he is a feminist too! Well, he said he was pro-feminism because he did not have enough knowledge to call himself one, which is okay. But he constantly spoke up against the rape culture. And he played in Magic Mike, where he was stripping all the time, exhibiting his sexuality on his terms. What an empowering move. Yet, I don’t see anyone shouting “Hey Channing, if you are for women’s rights, you cannot show your nipples and dance around like that!”

The funny thing (and the huge hypocrisy here) is, I have never heard of a man who was blackmailed with his nude pictures. I also never heard of a man whose career was ruined because of his super-sexy photos online. But I have heard of so many women, including my friend and Jennifer Lawrence, who had to go great distances to get over the shame that comes with the exposure (or threat of exposure) of one’s body without their consent, having no control.

This is why I perceive what happened to Emma Watson as something more than a mere controversy. This is only a small incident in an ongoing war against women’s reclamation of their body rights. And unless as the society, you, I, our circles, neighbors, friends, family, cease to see sexy photos of a woman, published with their consent, as a shameful and outrageous act, it is a war we can never win.

So, what do you think? Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment and share your opinion.

Feature image photo credit: UN Women

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