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The World’s Most Powerful Women: March 6

British actress Emma Watson is genuinely befuddled.

A controversy has sprung up around a photo of her in Vanity Fair, in which she appears topless save for a crocheted cape. But the Beauty and the Beast star has no idea what the big deal is.

“It’s really confusing,” she told the BBC.

The photo led critics to question her commitment to feminism and call Watson, an outspoken advocate of gender equality and founder of the UN’s HeForShe campaign, a hypocrite.

Radio presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer, for instance, tweeted: “Emma Watson: Feminism, feminism… gender wage gap… why oh why am I not taken seriously… feminism… oh, and here are my [breasts]!”

Watson, for her part, delivered a blistering defense:

“Feminism is about having a choice. It’s not a stick with which to beat other women. It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality. I really don’t know what my [breasts] have to do with it…They’re saying I can’t be a feminist and have boobs.”

The and is key.

A feminist can speak out for women’s rights and embrace her sexuality as she sees fit. Feminism, to echo Watson, is about freeing women from societal standards, and about empowering women to abide by no one’s expectations but their own. The backlash against Watson is evidence that women are too often considered to be one-dimensional figures; that if you advocate for gender equality you can’t also pose provocatively; if a female world leader discusses multilateral trade deals and nuclear disarmament, she can’t also have an interest in high fashion.

Just this weekend I was (belatedly) turned on to The Guilty Feminist podcast that starts each episode with listener submissions that finish the sentence: “I’m a feminist but..”

“I’m a feminist but you won’t know it if you saw me on the dance floor.”

“I’m a feminist but last week I was too tired to go to a women’s rights seminar so I stayed home and binged on Sex in the City and Entourage instead.”

The show comedically highlights the impossible standards that modern feminists are often held to. Watson knows the feeling. “I’m always just quietly stunned,” she said of criticism of her Vanity Fair shoot. And to her point, we need to lose the but and embrace the and; the multi-faceted nature of women’s lives doesn’t contradict their feminism, but rather complements it.

@clairezillman

EUROPE/MIDDLE EAST/AFRICA

Angela on the standOn Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will take the stand as the final witness in a parliamentary investigation into Volkswagen’s diesel cheating scandal. The probe is seeking to determine what Merkel and her government knew of the problems with VW’s diesel engines, which prompted the automaker to plead guilty to fraud in the U.S. and to pay nearly $25 billion in fines, penalties and compensation. The government denies that it had any information about the issue.Wall Street Journal

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Le Pen’s ladies
Women at the helm of Europe’s far-right political parties are appealing to female voters to usher their ideologies into the mainstream. While France’s Marine Le Pen, Germany’s Frauke Petry, Norway’s Siv Jensen, and Denmark’s Pia Kjaersgaard haven’t made gender issues a priority per se, they are increasingly using the language of women’s rights to try to bolster nativist sentiments and broaden their own appeal. Since Le Pen took over as leader of the National Front, an increasing number of French women have voted for the party in midterm polls. Now her presidential bid hangs on whether more women will turn out.
New York Times
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Quorum for a quota
Algerian political parties are scrambling to find female candidates to run in the upcoming parliamentary elections, hoping to fulfill a 2012 law requiring women to make up 30% of the elected body. The quota, which goes into national effect for the first time with this year’s election, aims to counteract the “macho culture” that dominates Algerian politics.
Washington Post

THE AMERICAS

The picture of diversity
Vogue magazine marks its 125th anniversary with an issue chronicling the lives of women powering all corners of the United States. In one essay, photographer Lynsey Addario captures the lives of Muslim women in America, highlighting the individuality of their faith. “We’re not a monolith,” Zainab Chaudry, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, tells Addario. “There’s this idea that we’re all cookie-cutter versions of one another. The fact is, we come from very diverse backgrounds. We all have unique experiences that define who we are.”
Vogue
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Trying Times
Since the departure of Jill Abramson from the helm of The New York Times in 2014, women at the newspaper have found themselves less represented in the upper ranks, according to this piece by the Times‘ own public editor Liz Spayd. For the first time in 14 years, two men hold the top editing positions and oversee a largely male editing staff, prompting their female colleagues to imagine how a story would turn out if it avoided passing through the hands of a male editor. “There’s no question that with women in positions of authority you will see stories covered in a different way,” Executive Editor Dean Baquet says, adding he is “forcefully” working on moving women up the ranks. He credited Abramson for making that a priority: “If Jill was the only woman in a meeting, she’d make sure we all knew it.”
New York Times
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All things equal
In an interview with CBS’ Sunday Morning, Melinda Gates recalled her early courtship with husband Bill, whom she met while working at Microsoft. She also discussed her decision to be a stay-at-home mom and how the couple approaches work for their philanthropic foundation. “It’s absolutely a partnership of equals,” she said. “It’s important to both of us that the world understands that we are running this place together. This is our joint values being played out in the world.”
Fortune

ASIA-PACIFIC

Double shot
Starbucks plans to double its footprint in China by 2021, aiming to have 5,000 stores operating in 200 cities around the country. Hong Kong native Belinda Wong, CEO of Starbucks China, is leading the expansion, having already spent 16 years at the company. Under her direction, Starbucks China has repeatedly been named the best employer in China, thanks in part to Wong’s housing subsidy for full-time baristas and shift supervisors and a “career coffee break” that allows longtime employees to take a year of unpaid leave.
Forbes

IN BRIEF

A brief history of men taking credit for women’s accomplishments
Mother Jones

Sweden introduces a gender-neutral military draft
Stars and Stripes

Lucy, a startup marketplace for new working moms, gets $2.25 billion in seed funding
Forbes

Hillary Clinton makes news by reading the news
NYMag

Why do we let Warren Buffett get away with sexism?
Financial Times

 

PARTING WORDS

“Sport is so much like business. It’s all about strategy. And it’s all about learning from losing. It’s all about setting goals.”
--Tennis star and entrepreneur Venus Williams on building her two companies, the interior design firm VStarr Interiors and athleisure brand EleVen.