The Background: Who is Alexis Neiers?
You may recognize the name Alexis Neiers from her infamous role in a series of burglaries involving high profile celebrities from 2008 to 2009. Neiers and her fellow teenage cohorts stole around $3 million in cash and property, mostly jewelry and designer items. The group that committed the robberies came to be known by the press as “The Bling Ring.”
The whole incident was then fictionalized in The Bling Ring, a 2013 film starring Emma Watson as a character based on Neiers. On comedian Ziwe Fumudoh’s Instagram Live show last week, Neieres opened up about some comments that Watson made about her at the time. According to Neiers, Watson “said something along the lines of like ‘this girl’s the epitome of what I’m totally against and she’s disgusting.” Neiers also revealed through the Instagram Live show that she has never seen the film and has no plans to do so because of Watson’s comments.
At the time these crimes took place, Alexis Neiers was an 18-year-old heroin addict. By the time the movie was filming and Watson was publicly condemning Neiers, Neiers had completed her jail sentence, opened up about her childhood sexual trauma, and spoke publicly about her history with addiction. She was also in recovery.
Is Watson a Bad Feminist?
In the last several years, Emma Watson has made a name for herself as a feminist in the Hollywood space. She often speaks openly about her support for women’s causes. Not women like Alexis Neiers, though.
Recently, there has been a great deal of change in what feminism really means. Increasingly, the movement is becoming more intersectional, more progressive, and more inclusive. Feminism that does not include addicts (or sex workers, or trans women, or women of color, etc) is no longer enough.
Addiction is a disease, and it’s a disease that can be heavily impacted by childhood trauma. Our society is only just now coming around to this conversation surrounding addiction as an illness. For a progressive feminist, however, empathy for addicts is now a necessary piece of the puzzle.
Watson’s personal brand of feminism — while maybe not as inclusive as some might hope for — is not all bad. Last year, she partnered with Time’s Up to launch a helpline for victims of workplace harassment. She often speaks out in support of trans women when J.K. Rowling, the woman who arguably launched Watson’s career, tweets something deeply offensive. She also founded a book club, Our Shared Shelf, which regularly featured books written by women of color, trans authors, and other marginalized voices.
Who’s The Real Problem?
Emma Watson is not the problem here, although she could potentially use some education on addiction. Nor is Alexis Neiers the problem here. These women are both part of a deeply complex societal fabric that labels addicts as inherently less than and women as never good enough. This is why we need feminism. It’s why we need feminism that includes every kind of woman. Not just the ones behaving in accordance with usual societal morays.
We need feminism so we are not simply attacking an actress over comments made nearly seven years ago, but instead getting at the root of the prejudices behind those comments. Feminism will ensure we are not judging addicted women, but instead working to improve their situation. We need feminism to eliminate the kind of sexual abuse that makes women more vulnerable to addictions. Feminism is not just about surface level inclusion. It’s about a genuine desire to learn and improve the world for women now and later.