In the lead-up to the Christmas release of Greta Gerwig’s retelling of the American classic by Louisa May Alcott, “Little Women,” British activist and actress Emma Watson graced the cover of British Vogue’s December 2019 issue.
Twenty years ago, Watson was cast in the iconic first role she ever auditioned for as an aspiring child star: the brave, bushy-haired and bright Hermione Granger in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.”
At the beginning of this month, the esteemed English fashion and lifestyle publication released a 30-minute long video of Watson’s interview with transgender rights activist and journalist Paris Lees on YouTube, titling it “Emma Watson Talks Turning 30, Working With Meryl Streep, And Being Happily Single.”
This title was purely clickbait and undermined the beautiful, substantive dialogue between Watson and Lees. I took the time to watch the entire interview as Watson herself embodies who my fictional childhood hero, Hermione, would have grown up to become. She is intelligent and completely in tune with herself, her emotions and the world around her.
In her conversation with Lees, Watson discussed important issues such as the need to put a spotlight on intersectional feminism in 2019, how feminism manifested in different ways through the characters in “Little Women,” the concept of history being written and taught by the victors in a British context and why she wanted to use the platform she has acquired through her work in film to catalyze positive change.
There is an incredibly poignant and pure moment in the interview, at 16 minutes and 18 seconds, where Lees as a transgender woman asked Watson: “Do you feel comfortable with me using female toilets? Does that depend on me having had surgery? What would you say to those people that would have an issue sharing a public bathroom with me?”
Watson responded to those three questions with utmost amity, composure and humanity: “Oh my god, of course!” “No!” and finally, “I would say: that’s another human being.”
Lees also kindly gifted Watson a French autobiographical novel by 27-year-old author Édouard Louis, titled “En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule (The End of Eddy),” which explores tales of the author’s struggles with homophobia and class in rural France.
The two do go over more light-hearted subject matters, like the contemporary anxieties surrounding phenomena like dating, social media and aging, as well as the impact of the “Harry Potter” films on Watson’s daily life and career and her interactions with famous co-stars like Streep and Laura Dern.
But, these subjects are hardly what drove their meaningful conversation.
One of the features on British Vogue’s website about this interview with Watson quoted the actress poorly, which took away from the larger, global narrative that she was exploring with Lees. It could be found in a 5-second duration between the timestamps of 28:12 and 28:17 on the YouTube video. Watson said about her romantic life, which became the title of the feature, “I’m Very Happy Being Single. I Call It Being Self-Partnered.”
The internet flew into an absolute frenzy over the term “self-partnered” that Watson had coined. News outlets tried to analytically write about the supposedly grueling shame surrounding being single in the age of Tinder, instead of focusing on an amazing heart-to-heart between two brilliant women that referenced others like Malala Yousafzai and significant cultural issues.
It is incredibly annoying to see Watson and her activism being reduced to the advocacy of singlehood. I do appreciate the fact that being “self-partnered” is a realistic and positive approach of viewing not being in a relationship, particularly during cuffing season.
But, it is unfortunate that this interview is being immortalized online for 5 seconds of Watson and Lees talking about a secondary subject.
There is a fine line between responsible reporting and tabloid fodder, and the media, as in this case, is often inconsiderate and strays to the latter. By latching on to a single statement and blowing it out of proportion, the central takeaway from British Vogue’s otherwise thorough and thoughtful interview with an esteemed artist and public figure has been diminished to idiotic memes on Twitter.
There needs to be a greater sense of accountability and streamlining and prioritizing of information in today’s digital, news-saturated world. Most people who do not have the time or interest to invest in reading or watching a lengthy interview rely on secondary media outlets for summaries that extract the most click-worthy quotes in their headlines in order to accumulate ad revenue.
It is a pervasive problem in journalism and on social media for quotes to be taken out of context and falsely advertised as something revolutionary. A pithy phrase like “self-partnered” comes with empowering connotations, but is definitely not the epitome of female empowerment when it comes to talking about someone as actively engaged with womanhood and feminism as Watson.