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If you’ve ever been frustrated with how quickly celebrities seem to bounce back after giving birth, you’re not alone. In fact, there’s at least one celebrity who’s also sick of the pressure put on women to look unrealistically unaffected by what they just went through almost immediately after delivering a baby: Keira Knightley. Refinery29 reports that in a powerfully candid new essay, the Colette actor objects to impossible new-mom standards, as well as the sexist double standards she’s faced in her profession.
“She was out of hospital seven hours later with her face made up and high heels on. The face the world wants to see,” Knightley writes in “The Weaker Sex,” an essay that appears in the new collection Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and Other Lies. She’s referring to how Kate Middleton, who gave birth to daughter Charlotte a day after she gave birth to her own daughter, was camera-ready shortly after her delivery. In prose that reads more sympathetic than critical of the duchess, she continues, “Hide. Hide our pain, our bodies splitting, our breasts leaking, our hormones raging. Look beautiful. Look stylish, don’t show your battleground, Kate. Seven hours after your fight with life and death, seven hours after your body breaks open, and bloody, screaming life comes out. Don’t show. Don’t tell. Stand there with your girl and be shot by a pack of male photographers.”
Knightley refers to her own body as a battleground earlier in the essay when describing in unapologetic detail her 2015 childbirth experience. “My vagina split. You came out with your eyes open. Arms up in the air. Screaming. They put you on to me, covered in blood, vernix, your head misshapen from the birth canal. Pulsating, gasping, screaming,” she writes to daughter Edie. “I remember the shit, the vomit, the blood, the stitches. I remember my battleground. Your battleground and life pulsating. Surviving. And I am the weaker sex? You are?”
As frank as her recollections of childbirth are, Knightley is arguably even more open about how she has been treated by men as a woman and mother in her industry. “They belittle me, they try not to listen to me, they don’t talk to me, they don’t want to hear my voice, my experience, my opinion,” she writes. “Be pretty. Stand there. Tell me what it is to be a woman. Be nice, be supportive, be pretty but not too pretty, be thin but not too thin, be sexy but not too sexy. Be successful but not too successful. Wear these clothes, look this way, buy this stuff.”
Some of the men she works with, she says, are held to a far lower standard. “I turn up on time, word perfect, with ideas and an opinion,” Knightley writes, saying that she’s sometimes up all night with her daughter and driven to tears by exhaustion. “My male colleagues can be late, can not know their lines. They can shout and scream and throw things. They can turn up drunk or not turn up at all. They don’t see their children. They’re working. They need to concentrate.”
And sometimes, it seems, she has to remind these men that while she may be a mother, she’s not their mother. “I work with men and they worry that I don’t like them. It makes them mad, it makes them sad, it makes them shout and scream,” she writes. “I like them. But I don’t want to flirt and mother them… I don’t want to flirt with you because I don’t want to fuck you, and I don’t want to mother you because I am not your mother.”
Knightley’s essay is one of several by famous women in Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and Other Lies, including Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, and Adwoa Aboah. The book is now available in hardcover, paperback, and digital formats.
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