Emma Watson and bell hooks Discuss Feminism

Highlights from Their Conversation Published in Paper Magazine

Emma Watson and bell hooks discuss feminism and their mutual admiration for each other.
Emma Watson and feminist icon bell hooks in a selfie posted to Waton's Twitter. Emma Watson/Twitter

If you imagine who British actor Emma Watson is hanging out with on any given day, feminist icon bell hooks probably doesn't come to mine. But it turns out that Watson, the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, and hooks, a leading feminist theorist and cultural critic, have mutual girl crushes on each other. Watson began reading hooks's work after her appointment to the UN, and hooks is a fan of Emma's for her portrayal of Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter film series.

Paper Magazine got them together to talk about their crushes and the essence of them--a shared passion for feminism. These are the most insightful and inspiring takeaways from it.

The Struggle to be Cool

Watson and hooks reflected on how girls and women often struggle to actualize their authentic, empowered selves because of internalized expectations of who we are supposed to be and how we are supposed to act. Watson recounted how when she first began playing Hermione Granger, she felt pressure to distance herself from the character while giving interviews out of a fear that it was not cool for girls to behave like Hermione. She remembers asking herself, "What do young girls talk about? What do they say?", and coming up with, "I like going shopping and I have a crush on Brad Pitt," even though what she really liked at that time was school, and had no idea who Brad Pitt was. 

This story resonated with hooks as an example of how girls go through periods of "trying on acceptable images of femininity," which serves to illustrate that as a society, we need to broaden and diversify those acceptable images so that girls and women can feel comfortable being who they really are.

The Importance of Self-Love and Not Trying to Please Everybody

When hooks asked Watson what power means to her in the context of feminism, Watson explained that what has been most empowering for her as she has studied feminism through reading is how it has enabled her to let go of self-criticism, and instead, to practice self-love.

hooks added that, especially in the digital age, when people can so easily take your words and actions out of context and vilify you for them, it is important for women and girls to "get over any kind of attachment to perfectionism, or to being liked by everybody all the time, or understood by everybody all the time."

Girls and women, far more than boys and men, are socialized to please others, and it is truly hard to shake off this expectation, but the truth is, it is not our job to make everyone happy and like us. And this is truly a liberating realization.

Feminists Can Be and Are Fun and Funny!

Both Watson and hooks acknowledge that feminism gets a bad rap because of stereotypes of feminists as humorless killjoys, and this is a serious problem for the movement. In contrast, Watson explained that part of what she loves about hooks is how funny she is when she speaks about feminism. hooks then pointed out, "Humor is essential to working with difficult subjects: race, gender, class, sexuality. If you can't laugh at yourself and be with others in laughter, you really cannot create meaningful social change."

Feminists Must Be Allowed to Be Whole, Complex, and Balanced People

Related to the fact that feminists can be and are funny, hooks discussed the larger problem of women not being represented as whole and complex people as they age.

Instead, in popular culture and in the popular imaginary, they lose their sexuality, their empowerment, and the essence of what makes them cool—something that hooks fears happened to Hermione in the film version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. hooks admitted that as she has aged, she has felt constrained by expectations that she must be the activist version of herself at all times, but that there is more to who she is than the person who fights racism and sexism. She explained that she is genuinely interested in fashion and beauty too, and she counseled Watson to keep fun and leisure in her new life of activism, saying, "Everyone needs to have a balanced life. Being balanced is crucial, because it helps us not to over-extend or to try to live up to other people's expectations in ways that leave you feeling empty."

Feminism is Listening and Learning

hooks applauded Watson for working hard to learn about feminism and issues that affect women and girls by reading widely and by engaging broadly with a diverse group of people. Watson said of taking a year off from acting, "I want to do a lot of listening," which is an important aspect of the feminist worldview and practice: listening to others and learning from them.

We Must Bravely Breach Boundaries

The meetings—they've had a few now—and conversations between Watson and hooks have crossed boundaries of age, race, class, nationality, profession, and that between academia and the public sphere. This kind of meeting and talking across boundaries, with respect for difference and an interest in learning from it, is crucial to the liberatory work of feminism. Of their newfound bond and shared commitment to feminism, hooks remarked, "I feel like part of creating a world that is just and diverse is pushing against those boundaries that close us off from one another. I'm glad that I'm not closed off from you, and that we're going to have more fun conversations in the days ahead."

Anyone who fancies themselves a feminist, or a person committed to equality for all, can learn a lot from these two.