Growing up in public is tough for any young person, but especially for girls. Emma Watson learned this the hard way. Portrayal of Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter Franchise built her and her family for life and made her a popular actress for a generation of fans.
But success at this age also comes with a level of testing that often crosses the line into troubled territory. The borderline criminal invasion of her privacy culminated in the paparazzi taking inappropriate photographs of Watson as soon as she came of age.
Turning 18 is a momentous event for many people. For Watson, those first steps into adulthood were complicated by the creepy attention of the tabloid media. In 2016, she and Forest Whitaker spoke about their experiences of dealing with social stigma and ways to make the world a more empathetic place.
The conversation was in support of HeForShe, a solidarity movement launched by the United Nations that seeks to engage more boys and men in the fight for gender equality around the world. Watson is one of the group’s key spokespersons.
The interviewer asks her about discrimination in the arts (this part of the conversation takes place around 10pm), Watson turns to talk about how her teenage sexuality became weaponized once the media could get away with it. “I would say the biggest area of contrast for me isn’t actually in the art itself, it’s probably in the entertainment media and tabloids,” she said.
Watson understood that her gender made her the target of misogyny from an early age. She gave a speech for the HeForShe campaign in 2014, recalling the first cases when she realized how gender affected the way she was seen.
Watson was considered “domineering” because she wanted to direct children’s plays (boys with the same ambitions weren’t), and the media began to sexualize her when she was 14. After that speech, online trolls set up a website with a countdown clock threatening to post nude photos of her to silence her.
Toxicity only compelled Watson to further her activism. “I knew it was a hoax — I knew the images didn’t exist — but I think a lot of people around me knew gender equality was an issue, but they didn’t really think it was so was the urgently,” she told The Daily Beast.
Watson’s public abuse is depressingly common for girls and young women. Female bodies have been objectified by the entertainment industry for as long as there has been an entertainment industry, and the age and consent of the actors doesn’t always matter.
The likes of Mara Wilson and Evan Rachel Wood have spoken out about the cruelty associated with some of their worst memories on set, trying to force them into certain aesthetics without explaining how those choices made them feel. The issues continue to play a role in the industry.
Millie Bobby Brown also admitted to being sexualized during puberty, and Billie Eilish noted how some of her fanbase reacted to her wearing more revealing clothing than they were used to.
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