Emma Watson and the B-word

Bossy.

What did you think I meant? 😉

Anyway, if you’re here, you’ve probably seen my column on Emma Watson, #HeForShe, and my proposed alternative — #SheAndHeForUs (or #HeAndSheForUs).

A quick side note:

I appreciate that in her U.N. speech, Watson emphasized that she has never been “oppressed” or treated as a lesser person because of her gender. She did, however, make this claim:

I started questioning gender-based assumptions when at eight I was confused at being called “bossy,” because I wanted to direct the plays we would put on for our parents—but the boys were not.
Is it very uncharitable for me to doubt this story? It just seems too conveniently tied to Sheryl Sandberg’s recent “Ban Bossy” campaign. And honestly, given how commonly girls are found in leadership roles at school in recent years, I find it hard to believe that a girl would get negative pushback just for wanting to direct school plays. One possibility is that it was something about Watson’s personality. Another is that whatever happened back then is now perceived by her through the prism of the recent campaign to reframe “bossy” as an antifemale slur.
Tangential evidence supporting my doubts:
In the past, Watson has repeatedly used the b-word to refer to her Harry Potter character, Hermione Granger. At the age of 11, when she first started playing Hermione, she told Entertainment Weekly, “I reckon she’s very, very bossy.” Sometime later (I haven’t been able to find the original source of the quote, but it’s posted on this fan page which was made in 2004 when Watson was 14), she said in one of her interviews, “Now that I’ve played the snotty, bossy, posh Hermione Granger, I’d like to play some American high school girl. I want to play something totally different.”
Somehow I think that if Watson had actually found it hurtful to be called “bossy” at eight, she wouldn’t be using the word to describe her film character a few years later. Again, I don’t think she’s making it up — I just think she’s processing it through her perspective as a 24-year-old feminist.
(Comments are open but filtered. Any comments bashing either gender collectively, or containing personal abuse toward any individual including Emma Watson, will remain forever in limbo.)

8 Comments

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8 responses to “Emma Watson and the B-word

  1. Cathy

    The girl clearly confronts her fears and doesn’t let them deter her.

  2. What’s missed by the “ban bossy” contingent is that being “bossy” is an undesirable characteristic in someone of either gender. Anyone with power can be bossy to their underlings, but good leaders can motivate people positively, and are far more effective in the long term.

  3. JoeJoseph

    I think what she was saying was the Watson children wanted to put on a play for their parents to watch (i.e. so it wasn’t a school play).

    Who knows if the parents called her bossy and they didn’t call the boys the same for wanting to direct? All I know is there were surely as many things, if not more, that the boys were called that Emma didn’t get called.

  4. handworn

    I think what Watson and Sandberg are simply going to have to accept, in the end, is that boldness always trails criticism, and that the latter is the price of boldness. They can’t “feminize” boldness by excising the criticism. They might point out that men are admired for boldness, not criticised for it, but I would argue instead that what is expected of a person, or a group (including a gender) is largely dependent on what that person or group has regularly done in the past. That is, if women were bold, ignoring criticism, as a general rule, “bossy” would wither naturally. But if they try to micromanage how they are perceived, they will be perceived as micromanagers– timid, petty, weak and dependent on relationships they’re handed, rather than on being the kind of person with whom others seek to make relationships.

  5. Rei

    I remember watching an old interview of her (during the first Harry Potter movie) where people asked her if she was like her character at all and her response was something along the lines of that she isn’t because she is not as ‘bossy’ or a ‘know-it-all’. Which surprised me because that’s the opposite view of Older-Emma and her resemblance to Hermione. But at the same time I can understand why a 10 year old Emma would not like to be associated with the attributes that are seen as ‘undesirable’ for a girl. That’s why I believe her story and that she has clearly embraced the word and her resemblance to the character through maturing and growing up.

    Also, I don’t think it’s fair that you just assumed she was ‘hurt’ by the word bossy. The way I understand it is she found it unfair that she was being called out for being ‘bossy’ as if it’s something that’s negative and at the same time, the boys -who probably were as assertive as her- aren’t. It’s not the word she find hurtful, rather the double standard of het experience.

  6. Ina

    You must look at how Internalized Oppression plays a huge part in the actions and behaviours of people.

  7. Well there’s a reason that #banbossy got so much attention: it’s an incredibly common experience. But what’s more uncharitable is quoting something someone said at 11 as if it’s unlikely that her view of the word may have evolved.

  8. Hi Jenn. The point is that Emma Watson she first became aware of gender injustice when she was called “bossy” at the age of eight — i.e. she’s saying that she saw this as unfair then, not that she has now realized it was unfair. I still find that a little difficult to believe given her own use of the word to describe Hermione.

    I’m also not sure that an 8-year-old would even notice this kind of subtle discrimination. I’m not saying that an 8-year-old can’t be aware of being treated unfairly on the basis of gender, but it would have to be really blatant, like “You’re really bossy for a girl” or something.

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