As Keira Knightley puts it, feminism “suddenly it became [a] weird dirty word” in the 90s and 00s.
Speaking to Scarlett Curtis on the Feminists Don’t Wear Pink podcast, the Bend it like Beckham star explained that the sports film (now celebrated for its portrayal of female empowerment) was pitched as “sexy football film, girls in shorts”.
However, this was not her first experience of sexism. That came earlier, when she found herself objectified and harassed by the paparazzi when she was just a teenager.
“The day after the King Arthur premiere, there were 10 men outside my door screaming at me and they didn’t leave for about the next four years,” Knightley recalled.
The actor noted that, despite the fact she had become famous in her own right, the media’s attention was focused entirely on her personal life.
“Suddenly it was all about whatever boyfriend I might have or might not have, how thin I was or how thin I wasn’t, or what my lips were like or had I had plastic surgery,” she said.
While Knightley is all too aware of how privileged she was to have become a household name, she says the media’s obsession clouded her perception of what was appropriate.
“I knew how lucky I was that the career had gone so well and also that’s what the men outside my door were telling me, ‘you’ve asked for this,’” she said. “And any time there were stalking issues a lot of the time with the police it was, ‘This is your fault, you’ve asked for this’ or ‘You are public property, what did you expect?’”
Knightley continued: “It really took me years to go, ‘Wow, this is the same language that you’d use if you were sexually abusing somebody, you know, ‘You’ve asked for it, you were wearing a short skirt’. Or, ‘You’ve asked for it’ you were walking on your own at night.’
“If you take these cameras away from these men then what they’re doing is harassing and stalking a young woman,” she added. “What’s weird is publicly we think that’s allowed with the cameras because they’re doing a job and they’re allowed to do that job.”
While some might argue that the pressure of the paparazzi is hardly relatable, Curtis highlighted the universal note of Knightley’s experience – all women, at some point, reach a state of sudden objectification.
Last year, Knightley wrote an essay about motherhood for the collection Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and Other Lies – which was curated by Curtis – and it attracted significant attention.
In the piece, titled ‘The Weaker Sex’, Knightley shared her visceral account of giving birth, which happened to fall alongside the birth of Princess Charlotte, Kate Middleton’s second child. Paralleling her own experience in graphic detail with the poised image of Middleton appearing on the steps for photographers hours after giving birth, Knightley wrote: “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.”
Media outlets accused Knightley of attacking Middleton’s experience of childbirth. Knightley, however, claimed the media were taking sections of the essay out of context, and urged people to read the whole essay and collection.
“I knew that it would shock,” Knightley told Curtis, as she reflected on the essay. “I don’t think I completely anticipated it being such a big thing but then that was probably stupid because I had mentioned Kate Middleton in it.”
Knightley went on to address the fact that she had not realised just how much she would miss her child-free life after giving birth.
“I was 100% not prepared,” she said, before addressing the layers of shame that accompanied this grief.
“Every mother thinks that people will think that it means they don’t love their child, but this has nothing to do with the child,” she said firmly.
You can listen to Keira Knightley on Scarlett Curtis’ Feminists Don’t Wear Pink podcast here.
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