Charlotte Gill of the UK Spectator says that today’s feminists—including UN women’s rights superstar Emma Watson—are proof that feminism has gone soft in its old age. And Gill is right.
Last week, Disney released promotional photos of Watson’s live-action turn as Belle in a Beauty and the Beast adaptation to be released later this year. In order to push back on the inevitable feminist outcry—after all, Beauty and the Beast is routinely disparaged in feminist circles as a glorification of Stockholm Syndrome, female subjugation and gender-based stereotypes—Watson told reporters that she’d demanded changes to Belle’s iconic costumes. In the name of feminism, she wouldn’t wear one of those constricting corsets!
In Watson’s vision, Belle, who ends up falling in love with the Beast and saving him from an eternity as a hideous creature by kissing and marrying him, is a genius inventor, who maximizes the time she can spend learning by demanding efficiency from her home appliances.
But is Watson really pushing the envelope of women’s equality? No way. Belle’s ball gown will still be a ballgown, with or without a whalebone corset. And Belle’s backstory will still be limited to her on-screen story, regardless of whether Watson pens fan fiction for the Mary Sue crowd.
And Belle will still fall for the Beast and live happily ever after in a blessedly anti-feminist fairy tale, even if Watson follows up her press junket with a speech on female empowerment to a bunch of preschoolers crowded into the Disney World’s princess-transformation boutiques.
For Gill, this is just the latest embarrassment in a decade of rapidly declining intellectualism within feminist circles. “[It’s all] celebrity feminists, who use the ‘f word’ as if being quizzed about their outfits on the red carpet,” Gill bemoans. “Forget ‘I’m wearing Gucci,’ it’s now: ‘I’m a feminist’. Yet none of them have anything interesting to say on the matter, other than ‘I love equality’ and ‘don’t touch my bum.’”
There are no concrete ideas on how to help women advance in society, just bumper sticker platitudes and Lena Dunham-isms, that invade popular culture like a parasitic Kardashian sister, but which leave women without much in the way of argument. Miley Cyrus, Claire Danes and even Watson —whose speeches to the UN drew all sorts of first-world applause but produced next to no actual results—have just found a new way to get a few minutes of fame.
Until women jettison the celebrity version of a real political movement, it’s unlikely any real progress for women across the world will be made. And that’s a shame. Sexism and gender inequality is a global epidemic, even if American women identify female empowerment with Presidential candidates in pantsuits and exhibitionist HBO stars. Emma Watson, as a UN ambassador for women, could do serious good, if she were serious about her position.
But until then, we’ll just have to make do with her stubborn, “feminist” refusal to wear historically accurate French Provincial clothing.