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Emma Watson and the Buzzfeed Backlash

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By Issy McConville

Emma

I have a soft spot for Buzzfeed. It’s always there for a bit of light relief. We’ve all been there, at 3pm on a really slow day at work, when it suddenly becomes really fascinating to take a Buzzfeed quiz to find out which kind of ceremonial hat best fits our personality. But this week, Buzzfeed really let me down.

There I am, ignoring my Excel spreadsheet, reading about a lamb born with two heads, when I stumble across an article called, 23 Times Emma Watson Made Everyone Around Her Look Painfully Average. Emma Watson is currently trending everywhere, after her speech at the UN, launching the ‘HeForShe’ campaign, calling on men to become advocates for ending gender inequality. Wherever you stand on this campaign – and its focus on male allies to the feminist movement – I think it’s fair to say that Emma Watson’s speech was an important moment – having such a high profile figure, on a world stage, strongly proclaim herself as a feminist is very powerful, ‘I decided I was a feminist and this seemed uncomplicated to me’. And this speech has really got people talking. Only this week, Taylor Swift spoke of Emma Watson’s inspiration, and said that she would have ‘proudly claimed’ to be a feminist when she was younger if she’d had such a role model. The video of the speech of the ‘HeForShe’ Youtube channel has received over one million views, and a letter from a 15 year old British schoolboy to the Guardian newspaper, supporting Watson’s message, has gone viral on social media.

But back to Buzzfeed. Considering the media explosion Emma Watson’s speech caused, I can be forgiven for thinking that the aforementioned article might be related to it. Maybe I hoped for too much and ignored the warning signs. Look at the title – what kind of uneven number is 23 for a list? But more importantly, let’s talk about what this list of 23 contained – which, basically, was absolutely nothing relevant. It’s just 23 pictures of her wearing different outfits with embarrassingly desperate captions about how flawless she looks. Buzzfeed have clearly missed the ENTIRE point of Emma’s UN speech. Here, she calls for a move towards greater gender equality – ‘I think it is right that as a woman I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body’. Buzzfeed are doing the exact opposite – completely ignoring her political statements and just praising her for her smooth skin. Yes, to an extent I am impressed that she can fit in a comprehensive exfoliating regime alongside her huge professional achievements. Last year I lived without a bathroom light for 6 months and showered in the dark because I was too busy (lazy) to change it, and I definitely did not have the responsibility of a UN Goodwill ambassador. But I am not defined by my dimly-lit bathroom, and nor is Emma Watson defined by what she wears. She is defined by her actions and by her beliefs, the beliefs which she spoke of proudly at the UN.

My distaste for this list increases as I continue to read. In fact, if I was Emma Watson I’d be keeping a considerable distance from the author of this article, whose captions begin to err on the side of creepy stalker, ‘Then there was the time when this man in a grey suit tried to touch her back, and we were like, ‘Get your hands off our queen. You do not have those privileges.’ Most depressingly, we manage to move down to only Number 2 on the list before male validation creeps in– ‘Here are lots of men wearing suits and gazing longingly at Emma’ – because without a man to fancy you, really what is the point??

There have been some poor reactions to Emma’s speech. Most notably, from 4Chan users, threatening to release her naked pictures onto the internet in backlash against her feminist proclamations. This is a lot more malicious than Buzzfeed and it’s misguided objectification, but the thread of misogyny can still be seen. The very misogyny that Emma Watson was seeking to challenge with the ‘HeForShe’ campaign. So, Buzzfeed, you’ve really let me down – a message as important as gender equality doesn’t deserve to be made into light relief.

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