In the wake of the sexual scandal around Harvey Weinstein, Oscar-winning actor Natalie Portman describes the moment when she realised that - like so many women - she had become used to threatening behaviour in Hollywood.
One of the most worrying aspects about sexual harassment is that, because it’s so widespread and insidious, many people can become habituated to it.
This is collectively recognised in social media campaigns such as Everyday Sexism and the #metoo hashtag, which give men and women a place to share the daily stories of harassment that would usually go untold.
In the wake of a sexual assault scandal that has seen a stream of allegations surface against Harvey Weinstein and other men in positions of power, Natalie Portman has described her disturbing realisation of just how accustomed she has become to everyday harassment.
During a discussion at the Vulture Festival in Los Angeles last week, the Oscar-winning actor commented on how she’s felt watching the allegations mount against Weinstein. At last count, the Hollywood producer has been accused by 57 women for crimes such as sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape (the latter two claims he denies).
According to Vulture, Portman explained that initially she thought she was one of the “lucky” ones, having never experienced what she would deem as threatening sexual behaviour since starting her acting career.
“When I heard everything coming out, I was like, wow, I’m so lucky that I haven’t had this,” Portman began.
“And then, on reflection, I was like, okay, definitely never been assaulted, definitely not, but I’ve had discrimination or harassment on almost everything I’ve ever worked on in some way,” she said.
“I went from thinking I don’t have a story to thinking, oh wait, I have 100 stories. And I think a lot of people are having these reckonings with themselves, of things that we just took for granted as like, this is part of the process.”
The Black Swan star then recalled an experience that, at the time, she didn’t register the gravity of.
It happened when she accepted a lift from a producer on his private jet. “I showed up and it was just the two of us, and one bed was made on the plane,” Portman said. “Nothing happened, I was not assaulted. I said, ‘This doesn’t make me feel comfortable,’ and that was respected.”
“But that was super not okay, you know? That was really unacceptable and manipulative and could have been — I was scared, you know?
“But just the fact of any woman, if you’re walking down the street alone at night, you feel scared, and I’m not sure guys know what that [feels like].”
Portman said that the structure of the film industry seems to make it even easier for women to be targeted: “usually, you walk into a movie as the only woman, and you’re often the only woman on set.
“It’s very rare to have female crew members apart from hair, makeup, and wardrobe — the very stereotypical departments for women to be in — and I think women experience this in a lot of industries. If you do get the opportunity to work, you’re often the only woman in the room. I hear this from friends of mine who are lawyers, business people, writers on shows.”
“The surprising thing is, it almost feels strategic to keep you away from other women, because you don’t have the opportunity to share stories,” Portman added.
“All these accusations are like, ‘Oh yeah, everyone was isolated from each other.’ People didn’t share. They didn’t realize that there were hundreds of people with similar stories…It prevents mentorship of women by other women because you’re just not exposed to it. You have to work hard to find and actually connect to people doing the same thing, because we’re often that one seat at the table.”
Portman’s comments are a reminder that whether you’re being catcalled as you walk to your nine to five, or being harassed on-set as an A-list actor, we can all be victims of sexual behaviour that feels uncomfortable and threatening. We need to continue to remind ourselves that every distressing situation counts and never should be regarded as just ‘one of those things’.