Gemma Forrester

Naked Politics Blogger 

Emma Watson posed topless for a Vanity Fair photo shoot and the media exploded. Emma Watson: UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador, advocate for UN Women’s ‘HeforShe’ campaign and an outspoken feminist. Apparently, such titles are incompatible with a topless photo shoot.

Rightly or wrongly, the controversy has reignited interest in feminism. Should a feminist pose naked? Is it anti-feminist to pose naked? Is nakedness always synonymous with sexuality? Thanks to Emma, feminism is back on the socio-political agenda.

The scandal is revealing of the definitional confusion that surrounds the word ‘feminism’ as demonstrated by the mixed response to the photo shoot. Is it empowering? Is it sexualising? Is she celebrating the female body? Is she conforming to masculine expectations of women? Who knows.

I understand a feminist as someone who wants gender equality. If we accept this definition, we can hardly deny Emma the right to be photographed topless whilst reserving judgement on male celebs who have similarly flaunted their abs on magazine covers.

However, I do believe that Emma’s topless controversy has created an opportunity to highlight problems within the feminist movement. It has created a discussion on anti-feminist behaviour that I would like to contribute to. Rather than strip Emma of her feminist badge, I want to point the finger at selective feminism.

There are massive inconsistencies within women’s own social conduct. We condemn certain unfair social conventions whilst we perpetuate others. Few women would oppose increased female representation in government. Few women would reject equal pay. Few women would oppose campaigns to encourage female participation in traditionally masculine professions. In such matters, we wish to meet men on an even playing-field. Yet, many women simultaneously endorse social conventions which preserve unequal gender relations.

Exhibit A: The Bar

In bars and clubs, you can witness the perpetuation of a dated and backwards social convention. The guy approaches the girl and offers to buy her a drink; the classic ice breaker. Perhaps they’ll organise a date, which he will, of course, pay for.

I know of girls who actually go on nights out with empty-pockets, intending on flirting their way to vodka lemonades. This is undoubtedly a sexist social convention. This undoubtedly fuels unequal gender relations. I don’t deny that such freebies are rare perks of years of female subordination but it must stop. We cannot demand equal pay and insist that our dates pay for our drinks. How hypocritical.

He pays for the drinks, he pays for the meal, he pays for the taxi: such social conventions only begin a relationship on uneven footing. It creates a dependent dynamic. Of course, you will be viewed as a subordinate if you insist on having hierarchical relations.

We cannot credibly complain that guys treat us like possessions if we continue to demand that they pay for the pleasure of our company. We are essentially commoditising ourselves.

If we put an end to this social convention, a relationship will cease to be an expensive hobby. A girl won’t feel compelled to go on a second date with a guy who she doesn’t like because “I feel bad, he spent his money on me”. In short, more love will be in the air.

I know that it can be tempting to accept when the offer is there. I implore you to deny the temptation. The next time a guy asks if he can buy you a drink, say no. Smile. Chat. Get to know him, not the contents of his wallet.

I’m a sucker for a bargain but is a free vodka lemonade really worth sacrificing your equality for? You might call me melodramatic. I disagree. Such seemingly insignificant social conventions are the nuts and bolts that enforce the greater sexist structure; by endorsing these conventions, we’re only hammering the nails in further.

To truly achieve gender equality, we must embrace the not-so-appealing aspects of autonomous personhood too. This includes funding our own lifestyles. So, pay for your own drinks in bars or don’t drink at all. Do not expect a guy to cough up for your meal whilst simultaneously desiring him to respect you as his equal. By picking and choosing when we want gender equality and when we do not, we are only reinforcing our own subordination. Don’t exercise selective feminism.

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Last Update: May 13, 2018