In news that is as recently to hand as it will be quickly forgotten, the actor Emma Watson this week revealed a portion of her bosom in Vanity Fair magazine. As high-end totty has bared itself tastefully in this liberal lifestyle pamphlet for decades — Scarlett Johansson, Demi Moore and Natalie Portman are among the many stars who celebrated ascent by lowering trousers for Leibowitz, Testino et al. — the act became quite standard. These, however, are non-standard times and press has gone hog-wild in the past 24 hours asking what this long feature of the mag means for Today’s Feminism.
Let’s not drown in the whole sorry trough, but look instead at a representative pair of responses. The Guardian writes that we mustn’t judge Emma Watson. The UK’s Telegraph writes that we must judge Emma Watson. That neither publication makes clear who was judging Emma Watson in the first place, and the actor herself does not name the source, is beside the point. Here is an opportunity for all to say that feminism is bad, feminism is good or that feminism is corrupted on the lily-white chest of Hermione.
It’s also an opportunity for Watson to stir up a little PR for her new blockbuster — which is, by the way, Beauty and the Beast, that essential feminist fable of adolescent deflowering by a hairy phallic beast. But who can blame her for being an actor?
When she is not being an actor, Watson is a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, therefore press, both favourable and critical, feel free to discuss her feminist qualification. But this is kind of bunkum. The UN did their dash with “empowering women and girls” at about the time they went into partnership with Sony Pictures and named Wonder Woman a special envoy. No, I’m not joking. And nor are many non-Western feminist scholars joking when they say that the UN, with its universalist mania for “self-esteem” as a cure for everything that ails global girlhood, including dirty water and drone strikes, is a monumental joke.
We all know that this “empowerment” palaver that the UN carries on with is chiefly a way to keep New York’s professional diversity facilitators in business. We all know, surely, that argument about the feminist credentials of one actor is a foolish pursuit. Watson has no real power to liberate her gender from its chains, so discussing whether she is qualified to do the impossible seems, to me, peculiar.
It seems especially odd when we permit many genuinely powerful chaps to hold forth without question. Mainstream press will spend an entire day assessing Watson’s ability to do nothing. Mainstream press will spend no time at all asking if Bill Gates, the planet’s richest man with a personal net worth equivalent to the Slovak Republic’s GDP, has ever completed any economics study outside of watching TED talks.
I get that many suppose that billionaire status is itself a qualification for the creation of policy — something that Bill Gates is very well situated to impose. Even leaving aside my predictable commie objections — i.e. any person in the business of intense private wealth accumulation cannot count wealth redistribution among their genuine interests — we must ask: has this powerful guy actually thought any of this shit through?
Gates has been in the news recently talking about his cure for the US economy, which is taxing the dead labour of robots. On his recent Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), he made the claim that the US Earned Income Tax Credit, introduced in 1975, will increase demand for labour. These were pronouncements uncritically reported as evidence of the man’s great intelligence — look, he can even name income augmentation schemes! His Silicon Valley hack approach might work OK in an OS. But the global labour market tends to be even more buggy and unworkable than the most bloated version of Windows.
Gates, openly acknowledged as one of his nation’s most politically influential billionaires, is not subject to one-tenth of the scrutiny that Emma Watson must bear, and nor is Elon Musk. Musk, who last week addressed the World Government Summit, is spruiking hard for Universal Basic Income (UBI). UBI, if judiciously applied, may be a way to contain capitalism’s worst excesses. It is also a way to keep jobless people buying the cars of Tesla, and that Musk’s self-interest so rarely factors into report of his advocacy is reprehensible.
Almost any tit from Silicon Valley can say anything at great length without interruption. Mark Zuckerberg’s recent 6000-word embarrassment on the history of modes of production must have made the administrators of Harvard very glad that he is remembered as a dropout. This erratic, self-serving screed is far worse than showing one’s boobs in Vanity Fair. Especially when one considers it contains notice of the Facebook CEO’s plans to “bring the world together”.
Zuckerberg, a man who has erased his own company’s history as a sexist “Hot or Not” website, is not qualified to shape our future. Gates, an arrogant nation of a man, is surely not the best defence this planet can produce against diminished labour. Musk may see to the Martian horizon, but I suspect that his macro-economic understanding is largely confined to the nice parts of California.
If these powerful, immensely wealthy blokes bore just a bit of the crushing job interview technique so regularly applied by press to Watson, maybe we could all afford to go to the movies more often.