February 19, 2016

Emma Watson quits acting for a year

In our 'Girl Crush' series, women with mutual admiration for one another get together for conversations that offer illuminating looks into what it's like to be a woman right now.

When we look back at this moment as a period in time when women started talking about feminism and identifying as feminists with a passion not seen for many years, some of the high watermarks in this fourth-wave resurgence will be Beyoncé's 2014 VMAs performance, Malala Yousafzai's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance and, of course, Emma Watson's stirring speech at the United Nations. Emma's moving words and her work promoting gender equality through the UN's HeForShe movement provided the first real introduction to the concept for many young women (and men). For her part, the actress says she's identified as a feminist since she was a kid, but she also credits writer, artist, intellectual, and feminist icon Bell Hooks, author of Feminism is for Everybody among many other key texts, with inspiring her and helping shape her understanding and beliefs through her essays, books, and videos. And as for bell she says she is equally as inspired by Emma.

Bell Hooks: Ms. Emma Watson, you are my latest girl crush.

Emma Watson: Aww, bell. Well, you've been my girl crush for a little while now.

Hooks: Oh, yeah? How did I come to be your girl crush?

Watson: I came to you through my friend Lilah. The minute that I got the UN position, the first thing Lilah did was to send me one of your books. And then as I was doing my own research, I found the videos of you speaking at The New School. And I was like, "Who is this woman? She's so funny." I loved your attitude so much. Everything you said just seemed to be coming from such an honest place. It was a pleasure to listen to you speak. I got hooked. I started watching video after video after video after video. Then I met with Laverne Cox, and we talked about you. I had watched you in conversation with her. It was Laverne who said, "Listen, you have to meet her in person. She's wonderful." So I read your work and then we met. That's been my journey, really.

Hooks: That's so funny because I came to you through your work as well, watching you as an actress in the Harry Potter movies. As a cultural critic who writes about women and representation, I was fascinated by the character of Hermione. It was both exciting and at times infuriating to watch the way the character of Hermione developed and to see this vibrant image of a girl who was just so intelligent, who is such a thinker, then to also witness that that intelligence was placed in the service of boy power. Even so, it remains an important representation for girls.

Watson: I think it is. She's important because she -- well, certainly when I was reading Harry Potter, I started reading Harry Potter when I was 8 -- I just really identified with her. I was the girl in school whose hand shot up to answer the questions. I was really eager to learn in an uncool way. In a super uncool way, actually. And then the character of Hermione gave me permission to be who I was.

Hooks: Did playing Hermione inspire you to want to be more intelligent? How did the parallel growth of the character of Hermione and your own self take shape as you moved towards I'm going to college, I'm doing certain things?

Watson: It was really interesting because at first, despite the obvious similarities, I guess I was also trying to detach my sense of self from the image. It was such a delicate time -- I was 10 or 11 when the first movie came out -- I was trying to figure out what my own identity was, but I didn't really have one yet. And I watch interviews that I did when the first movie came out and I was so lost! [Laughs] I would think, "What do young girls talk about? What do they say?" "I like going shopping and I have a crush on Brad Pitt." And I had no idea who Brad Pitt really was! I hadn't seen a single movie that Brad Pitt had been in, but this just seemed like the right thing to say. It makes me sad because I see this girl trying so much to fit in. The truth was I loved school. [Laughs]

Hooks: All females living in the modern culture go through this transitional phase of sort of trying on acceptable images of femininity.

Watson: At first I was really trying to say, "I'm not like Hermione. I'm into fashion and I'm much cooler than she is," and then I came to a place of acceptance. Actually, we do have a lot in common. There are obviously differences, but there are a lot of ways that I'm very similar. And I stopped fighting that!

Hooks: I was often annoyed with the development of the movie character of Hermione. By the time of the last movie, she's like a suburban housewife.

Watson: [Laughs.] Well, she goes on to have a career. And she does go on to do good and interesting things.

Hooks: It's interesting that in the final scenes at the train station Hermione is such a passive image.

Watson: I've not thought about that.

Hooks: I was like, "why is she looking frumpy?" and I wondered whose idea is this. Is this how the smart girl progresses? She moves from being intriguing to being the boring spinster? Movies are still struggling with how to create images of smart, vibrant, powerful, and intelligent older females.

Watson: Honestly, just from a practical perspective and not from an intentional perspective, we had such a hard time figuring out how to authentically age us -- to take us from where we were -- we were all 20-year-olds, and to make us look like we're in our 30s and 40s… we had a really hard time figuring out how to do that. We really struggled.

Hooks: Well, I think that's that whole question of how do we become women of power and at the same time be able to project that we are attractive, cool, desirable. I'm thinking of Amy Schumer's "Last Fuckable Day" -- have you seen that?

Watson: [Laughs] Of course.

Hooks: And I've thought about how that video annoys me because in the end they seemed to be acting like it's OK, it's just another transition. When I thought, gee, if they had just taken a minute, that it's really exciting that we can move on to being our real selves. And with images to celebrate that aging allows [women] to move from object to subject that are more real to who we are in this stage of our life. It would have taken just sixty seconds, or at least two minutes, just to celebrate being real, but rather than what -- to me -- would have had the flavor of a really interesting critique, they end up being like, "it's OK now." Rather than saying, "let's proclaim the best is yet to be here, honey. Not because we can chug melted ice cream but because it's a wonderful stage in life." As an older woman, over the age of sixty, it's an interesting, exciting time. Many of those struggles that we're talking about with identity happen when we are younger. That change happens through the aging process -- you realize that you don't want to stay in this character that you were. For me, it's so much the character of talking about race and/or feminism. And yet there are just a lot more things that interest and excite me. I look at how to bring that whole self out. I'm interested in fashion, too. I'm particularly interested in fashions that are comfortable and beautiful. I have an overall obsession in my life with beauty. I'm always wanting to surround myself with the kind of beauty that uplifts you, that runs counter to some of the stereotypes of feminist women.

Watson: Yes, yes. In Feminism is for Everybody, I found a reminder of just what you were saying, "To critique sexist images without offering alternatives is an incomplete intervention. Critique in and of itself does not lead to change."

Hooks: I was thinking about what you were saying earlier -- that I am funny. A lot of people think I am, but most people don't. [Laughs] I was telling you that when we first met. That's a pretty big stereotype about feminists, that we're not fun, that we don't have a sense of humor and that everything is so serious and politically correct. 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.

Watson: I agree. The more you know, sometimes it makes it harder to speak out. You want to include so much and you want to be aware of so many things. That's why I'm impressed. You know your topic so well that you're able to be free with it and you're able to make jokes and you're able to be so confident within that. I think that's what's so great about hearing you talk. You have that ability.

Hooks: Then, of course, when I'm improvising, I make mistakes. Like when I was talking about the trafficking in girls and the sort of worship girls have for someone like Beyoncé, I was really talking -- not about the person Beyoncé -- but of her image as being that of a kind of a terrorist. That just blew up in my face because people took the comment out of context. I want to know how you're dealing with how your words are heard and used, Emma? For both of us, albeit in our different levels of celebrity, fame, we have to be constantly watching all the time what we are saying and how it will be received.

Watson: Yeah, I feel I have to be quite vigilant. It's made me sad at times. I feel that fear of am I'm looking at this from all of the angles, how can this be interpreted, how can it be taken out of context? But I do have a lot to learn and I should be wary. But I agree with you. I think that it's really difficult to communicate through the media and through that medium sometimes.

Hooks: It's definitely challenging. I, unlike you, have not been so engaged with social media. The New School conversations catapulted me into social media in a way. It was both on one hand exciting but on the other hand you're more subject to people misinterpreting what you say. And that was something that I had to accept. In a way, especially for females, too, you have 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. It's just like when the Beyoncé comment was all over everywhere, and then Janet Mock posted this video where I was dancing to "Drunk in Love," and I was criticized for being hypocritical. To me, that wasn't a contradiction, because I wasn't talking about her music. We live in a world where most people don't think in complex ways, and it's very easy for there to be miscommunications and misunderstandings. Speaking of misunderstandings, let's talk about the word feminism. When does that come into Emma Watson's life?

Watson: It's in my life every day. I find that all the time when I engage with people for whom feminism might not come into their world or their consciousness but it has come in through my UN speech, or I'll be wearing a HeForShe band or whatever else and there is such an overwhelming amount of misconception around the idea. My UN speech was received really well, but by the people that it's critiqued by, they said it's so basic. It doesn't go into the important things. I don't know if it's really understood how much misunderstanding and how little understanding there is around this word -- and around these ideas -- still for a huge amount of people.

Hooks: When did you first come to use the term feminism?

Watson: When I was 9, I think, during my first-ever Harry Potter conference, I said I was a "bit of a feminist"! Ha! I think I was scared to go the full hog. I was scared I didn't understand what it meant. I obviously did, I was just so bemused by all the chatter around the idea.

Hooks: Emma, you are such a perfect ambassador. You have such a global presence. When you are speaking out to a global audience, you have to start where that world is. That means, at times, starting with things that are basic. That's how I perceived your UN speech. This is a shout out to females and males all over the world. It's like when you go to a foreign country and you're trying to communicate, we often use more simple ways of saying something, of bridging that gap of language and culture. So tell me more about your campaign, HeForShe, and what you are hoping to do with your ambassador position in 2016?

Watson: In Feminism is for Everybody, you write about the ways that feminism almost got hijacked a little bit by academics and by gender studies and by only being talked about by this specific group of people. It can and should be academic, and that kind of thinking is so important, but you talk about how it has to be a mass movement to make a big difference. I don't want to preach to the choir. I want to try to talk to people who might not encounter feminism and talk to them about feminism. It's a really interesting job, and it's a really interesting line to tread. I want to engage in the topic with people who wouldn't normally.

Hooks: That's how I felt when I wrote Feminism is for Everybody. I wanted to write this easy-to-read book, a simple book. I knew that there were people who would say: This isn't very theoretical, intellectual. But that wasn't its purpose for me. Its purpose was to break things down. Students would say, "When I go home, I try to tell my parents about what I'm learning in Women's Studies, but they don't seem to get it." And I thought, I'm going to write this little book that you can give to people that will be that introduction into feminist thinking.

Watson: I just started a book club.

Hooks: Yes, Our Shared Shelf --

Watson: I'm reading so much and exposing myself to so many new ideas. It almost feels like the chemistry and the structure of my brain is changing so rapidly sometimes. It feels as if sometimes I'm struggling to keep up with myself. It's a really cool period of time for me. My work that I do for the UN is all very clearly outlined, but my personal views and opinions are still being defined, really. So it'll be an interesting time.

Hooks: As part of your efforts for activism and for self-growth, you're taking a year away from acting. That's a big decision.

Watson: I'm taking a year away from acting to focus on two things, really. My own personal development is one. I know that you read a book a day. My own personal task is to read a book a week, and also to read a book a month as part of my book club. I'm doing a huge amount of reading and study just on my own. I almost thought about going and doing a year of gender studies, then I realized that I was learning so much by being on the ground and just speaking with people and doing my reading. That I was learning so much on my own. I actually wanted to keep on the path that I'm on. I'm reading a lot this year, and I want to do a lot of listening.

Hooks: You're kind of homeschooling yourself. The good thing is that studying in a more institutionalized way -- you're not foreclosing that. You have time. And now, you can reach out to people like Gloria Steinem and bell hooks.

Watson: It's been amazing. I've been doing a lot of that. I want to listen to as many different women in the world as I can. That's something that I've been doing on my own, through the UN, the HeForShe campaign, and my work generally. This January, our HeForShe IMPACT champions are ten CEOs who for the first time will be releasing to the media what their companies look like internally. So how many CEOs are male or female, the gender wage gap. We'll be making all of these statements completely transparent, which is huge. It's never been done before. So big companies like Vodafone, Unilever and Tupperware will be standing up to the media and really acknowledging the issues within their own companies and talking about how they are planning to address these issues as HeForShe IMPACT champions. I'm very interested and excited to see how that works out. I'll also take another field trip in the next two or three months. We are organizing a HeForShe arts week, a university tour, and launching the HeForShe website. It's a lot. There's a lot to do.

Hooks: Well, it certainly sounds like a lot. So as I'm hearing this, I'm wondering -- when are you going to have any downtime, any fun?

Watson: Yeah. [Laughs].

Hooks: Sometimes it's hard to recruit people to forms of activism for justice and ending domination because they think that there won't be any time left for fun. 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. There are people who are very cynical about celebrity activism. As a consequence, it may lead celebrities to feel like they've got to do more to prove they are genuine.

Watson: When I was talking to my mom about going and doing the gender studies, she was like, "it feels like you'd be trying to prove to everyone that you're smart and trying to prove something by doing that. You're learning so much on your own at the moment and enjoying it so much. You can prove that you care about it by spending time listening and talking to as many people as you can and keep doing what you're doing." I do feel like I have to overcompensate at times.

Hooks: One aspect of what you are talking about that's so great is just being open and open to learning. A lot of times we know that in the world of celebrity activism, celebrities jump into a cause, but rarely are they telling us, "I'm studying, learning, I'm taking it slow, talking to people." It's so exciting that you're doing that. You're really sincerely struggling with what is needed to create a world without patriarchal domination. Thinking about the issue of female power, if you could give females, women, one thing in this world towards this vision of female liberation and power, what would it be?

Watson: I'm on my journey with this and it might change, but I can tell you that what is really liberating and empowering me through being involved in feminism is that for me the biggest liberation has been that so much of the self-critiquing is gone. So much energy and time -- even in subtle ways -- I'm 25 now and I've certainly come a long way from where I was in my early 20s. Engaging with feminism, there is this kind of bubble now that goes off in my head where these really negative thoughts about myself hit where I'm able to combat them in a very rational and quick way. I can see it now in a way that's different. I guess if I could give women anything through feminism -- or you're asking about power -- it would just be, to be able to move away, to move through all of that. I see so many women struggling with issues of self-esteem. They know and they hear it and they read it in magazines and books all the time that self-love is really important, but it's really hard to actually do --

Hooks: I was thinking that the two things that I think are so vital for women globally are self-love and literacy. Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian home with very narrow beliefs about gender -- initially, my eyes were opened by reading.

Watson: Those would be my exact two as well. My understanding that has allowed me to feel so much more accepting and loving of myself as a woman -- it came through reading.

Hooks: Often people in the West forget that masses -- millions and millions of women and girls in the world -- don't have access to education and are not taught to read and write.

Watson: That's right.

Hooks: And for me, reading and studying is one of my deepest passions in life. It's like breathing. That's what I'd like to share. I felt from the moment I met you -- in terms of how a girl crush forms, it's one of the ways our spirits resonate -- that we think and dream about similar passions, and that's exciting. In many ways, we live in very racially segregated societies. There are so many types of people, and racially we don't cross boundaries. The New School talks were exciting because mostly I was able to choose people like Laverne Cox to talk with. Then bringing Laverne to my really small town in Kentucky to inaugurate the bell hooks Institute -- that was so exciting. 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.

Watson: Yes, absolutely. I wanted to ask you -- just coming back to what are you going to do for fun -- one thing that I am going to do that I've been working on for a while is completing my yoga Level 3 for meditation teaching. I noticed that in All About Love you have a quote by Jack Kornfield, who I read when I was really getting into meditation, and I was wondering, was that in a book that you had read?

Hooks: Exactly, that's just what we were saying. Sometimes I think, is there anything that I come to that I don't come to first in a book? It makes me laugh.


Anonymous said...

very strange for emma to be doing this, i assume the role offers are drying up...

she should go and do a show on broadway instead imo

a year off in this industry is madness especially at her age

maybe she is pregnant after all? ;D

Anonymous said...

Very impressive interview with many layers. One of her best so far! Thanks Eden for typing it all out. Sad to know she is on a acting break though. Maybe for her own relationship and a peace of mind. She and Mack could meet more often unlike her previous intercontinental relationships.

Anonymous said...

This is a great interview. I am genuinely excited and happy for Emma. Especially because she says she has improved her self esteem and confidence. I hope she enjoys learning new things, expanding her knowledge, doing UNWomen work, and working on herself, during her year off. :)

Also, thank you Eden.

Anonymous said...

I'm very happy for Emma, too. She needs a break. It seems like she's been going nonstop since HP ended.

Emma will always be in the press. First of all, her PR team will probably take care of that. Also, it's not like she's not going to do anything. She's just taking a break from acting. She'll still be doing He4She stuff, like interviews and such.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful, insightful interview. Emma's decision makes me love all the more! She's such a great role model. Best wishes to her.

Thanks, Eden!

Anonymous said...

This was a great interview. I'm a little sad, Eden, that you chose to post it under that title. There was so much more to gain from it.

Eden said...

I agree there were more important matters talked in the interview, but when you choose a title, I think you have to choose one that will attract the most people. I think the acting break is what's going to stick in the fandom.

Nur Fajri Khumairoh said...

when i read your headline.. my very first thoughts is "Is She Pregnant??" God! it cant be happen.. not yet.. especially not with mack.. she deserve more

Vicky George said...

Good luck Emma, there is far more to life than acting as I think you are already finding out.

Anonymous said...

I do not see Emma in the acting business until she is 30, but a feminist? Please! A humanist would be much broader and more open to the suffering of men and women. All the great women fighting for women's rights were humanists.

Anonymous said...

That woman is just so talented and has so many possibilities and talents, and the money to develop any talent she wants active for the time being. She said herself that (it) her stance may change. She is searching for a positive way to unload. What worries me though, she is always so extreme in everything. Everything that she had started to do, she did with the intention of 100% and then it seems she gets bored. I think she needs to let some of that energy out in her art (painting) or creative writing (story-telling) before she brings all her innards to the public. It is like this is a new roller-coaster ride. I wish Emma the best, but I am not interested in feminism. I consider myself to be an avid humanist and strive to help children to lead a respectful life.

Anonymous said...

I also think the offer of good roles is drying up. There are just better actors in her age group out there: Jennifer Lawrence, Cloe Grace Moretz, Saoirse Ronan. I think Emma is beginning to realize that other actresses are being offered different roles that she never sees. Look at Jennifer Lawrences roles in development, and Ronan was Oscar nominated again.

Anonymous said...

I wonder when they will start filming The Queen of the Tearling now. They said the shooting will start this year but now Emma is taking a break.. Do you have any infos about it Eden?

Anonymous said...

i think this is the first step of emma moving away from acting and becoming a campaigner full time

Anonymous said...

Sorry i do not understand this "i think this is the first step of emma moving away from acting and becoming a campaigner full time" What do you mean?

Anonymous said...

I think this year come very well and she can grow as a person and continue HeforShe, but as an actress I do not see a great future, even more, I think she would be better Behind the Cameras,for me she is not very good actress, her performances it does not transmit anything to me

Ricardo Conde said...

That's really sad that you can't see that, but I'm sure millions of people can since she is a really great performer... She's taking a year off to figure herself out, I think we all should stop speculating about her personal life.

Anonymous said...

"Sorry i do not understand this "i think this is the first step of emma moving away from acting and becoming a campaigner full time" What do you mean?"

That her career will be wholly focused on things like HeForShe....

Anonymous said...

It seems like she is always trying to figure herself out when she develops a new interest. I believe in the long run, Emma will go other ways- political, do graduate and post-graduate work. She just does not have the flexibility of a Jennifer Lawrence; she is already considered to be one of the best. I wish her the best in all her endeavors. I cannot imagine a career as a feminist, unless you are willing to risk your life in the Middle East to bring about women's rights. The rights are pretty much equal for men and women in the western world; there may be some discrepancies here and there.
I know that she has complained that men get paid more, but most likely other actors had complete different acting abilities than hers. They get paid according their reputation of delivery. A Robert De Niro, Brad Pitt, Leo Dicaprio, Ian McKellan, Matt Damon- just to mention a few- are better and established actors. Not all merchandise has the same quality. And Hollywood actors are merchandize-like it or not.

Anonymous said...

Yes, merchandize for roles. j Lawrence is an excellent actor.

Anonymous said...

"It seems like she is always trying to figure herself out when she develops a new interest." yes, i agree with you, I like Emma, and I wish her well, but I've realized that it is very extreme, one day this very concetrated and happy with something and then appears a new thing and suddenly forget what last and now the new is better, I do not know If I a explaining very well, it is normal when young're not finding your site but she said this happened when she was 20 years old, but now she is 25 yearsold and she continues the same, it seems that he is not able to find stability, and also is an extremist with she does
Sorry my bad english :S

Anonymous said...

You were very understandable anon, and I agree with you. I wish she would stick to something, but maybe she is doing now what others do in their teens and early 20's. Filming one role for 10 years made her a multi-millionaire which allows her to do whatever she wants for the rest of her life. I was wondering if she realizes that about her assets and plays it out to the hilt. I am sure she made another fortune with from Noah, This is the End, Beauty and the Beast and the Circle where she can do what she wants expensively for another 2 years without earning another penny. I just wish she would use the one year in a good way toward her long-time goal. The question is? Does she want to be an actress or not? Does she want to be a director a scriptwriter, write a novel? All of these things she has mentioned as goals, but she got stuck in feminism. I prefer humanism myself. I am a humanist and avid follower of jacques Maritan, Christian Humanist. Feminism with Emma is just a little dabble ...dabble until the next thing interests her. I also agree with earlier anons that most likely she is not receiving quality film offers as some other actresses her age. I know some US directors are looking at the US actors for their film- which I think is right- give the jobs for those at home.There are quite a few of US actresses that are just better. If Harry Potter were not in her resume, she might begin a series, be doing some commercials, but I doubt she would have a lead. She is good but she needs to get better; I am surprised she does not acknowledge this reality and does not do anything about it such as going to RADA or Tisch. Since she is not working with this reality, makes me wonder if the film industry is still her long-term goal.

Vicky George said...

Emma doesn't need to act if she doesn't want to, she has enough money to be able to do anything she likes so again I say good luck to her in whatever she decides to do - she may even get married and start a family.

Anonymous said...

It's her life. Who are we to judge it? She got her fame and millions playing Hermione for 10 years.

Guys, while I'm sure she appreciates her fans SO much (not sarcasm in case it comes across as it), she doesn't work for us. She has her own life and if she wants to do something else, she's allowed to do it.

I'm getting the vibe on these comment boards that some people feel like they need to control her I order for themselves to be happy with her.

Anonymous said...

I don't anyone wants to be controled, but being a fan one does not want to be controled by her feminist interests. I think she should do what she wants to do, but do it well. I think that is a goal for anyone. I do not see her as a good actress, and I also cannot say that she has improved. She has matured as a person, but her acting as not developed like a Saoirse Ronan from film to film. This girl gets better with each film she does. I agree with big anon, if she wants to be an actress, she should do something to get better or leave it be. Maybe she just wants to make British films, which is fine. The USA has the best female actresses at this time and should work with those.

Anonymous said...

She needs to quit doing these interviews that attract criticism, because people do have a few brain cells. Let's face it, Feminism is not a job, but rather for it is a poster. If she were really about feminist endeavor she would be in the Middle East fighting for women's rights. That is where women are really abused out of principle.

Anonymous said...

Is she working for a bakery?