Recently, actress and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson came under fire for a racy Vanity Fair shoot in which she posed braless for the cover. Many critiqued her choice to participate in a shoot that exposed her body and claimed that it directly contradicted her position as a feminist. British broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer took to her Twitter to poke fun at Watson, as she believed the photo sent mixed messages:
Emma Watson: "Feminism, feminism… gender wage gap… why oh why am I not taken seriously… feminism… oh, and here are my tits!" pic.twitter.com/gb7OvxzRH9
— Julia Hartley-Brewer (@JuliaHB1) March 1, 2017
However, Watson was quick to fire back at her critics in an interview with Reuters, in which she defined what feminism means to her:
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.
She called the photos “interesting and beautiful,” and a large majority of her fans stood by her as well, tweeting their own opinions back to Hartley-Brewer:
So an intelligent young woman doing a photo shoot means her opinions are no longer valid? Come on.
— Dorling (@Dorling83) March 1, 2017
Despite the rallying of her fans, it seems that Emma Watson’s issues with scandalous photographs are far from over. In a statement emailed to TIME, her publicist explained that legal actions are being taken in the wake of private images of the star being shared online. The statement was kept short, explaining that “photos from a clothes fitting Emma had with a stylist a couple of years ago have been stolen. They are not nude photographs. Lawyers have been instructed and we are not commenting further.”
Unfortunately, this is not the first time the star has been threatened with nude photos. In 2014, Watson was the victim of what ended up being a hoax, in which a website called EmmaYouAreNext.com claimed to be in possession of nude photos of her. The stunt is thought to be a reaction to a speech she gave at the U.N. about women’s rights. Although at the time Watson told The Guardian that she “knew the pictures didn’t exist,” she was still livid at how easily the concept of such photos could undermine her efforts to discuss gender equality.
She later took to her Twitter to discuss her disappointment with those who do not empathize with female celebrities that are subject to violations of privacy:
Even worse than seeing women's privacy violated on social media is reading the accompanying comments that show such a lack of empathy.
— Emma Watson (@EmmaWatson) September 1, 2014
It is no secret that celebrities are constantly forced to deal with invasions of privacy, and that they understand that this is a consequence of their lifestyles. However, there is a big difference between a paparazzi snapping a photo of a celebrity on the street and a hacker illegally stealing and posting intimate photos of women online. The anonymity provided by the Internet allows people to commit such a sexual crime with little fear of punishment – it took two years to find the hackers behind 2014’s “Celebgate,” the scandal in which over 100 celebrities had their iCloud and Gmail accounts hacked, resulting in the posting of their nude photos online. The five years of jail time the two hackers are facing has not made much of a statement in discouraging the continuation of practices like photo and sex-tape leaks, either.
Just this week, Mischa Barton was a victim of ‘revenge-porn,’ a new trend targeting women that involves the distribution of sexually-explicit videos of a person without their consent. In a press conference on March 15th, Barton sat beside attorney Lisa Bloom as she gave an emotional statement about her experience:
“This is a painful situation, and my absolute worst fear was realized when I learned that someone I thought I loved and trusted was filming my most intimate and private moments, without my consent, with hidden cameras. Then I learned something even worse: that someone is trying to sell these videos and make them public. I came forward to fight this not only for myself but for all the women out there.”
Bloom’s statement was eerily close to statements given by Watson and other celebrity victims of exploitation:
“Miss Barton and I stand for a woman’s right to choose what images of her own body will be made public. You have no right to exploit her or any woman for revenge or financial gain.”
Similarly, Les Miserables (2015) star Amanda Seyfried has also had photos of her performing sexual acts with ex-boyfriend Justin Long posted on the website Celeb Jihad, which is infamous for its explicit content regarding celebrities. Although she has not made a statement, TMZ and Gossip Cop reported that her attorney sent a cease-and-desist letter to the website demanding that the photos be removed.
The common threads between all of these situations listed above say a great deal about how society as a whole views women in the public eye: as commodities, as body parts, as public property, but most certainly not as people. It is also worth noting that this list does not even begin to scratch the surface of the larger number of victimized female celebrities. The question remains: how many women have to fight back before any real change is made?