Natalie Portman has spoken about what she calls the "environment of sexual terrorism" that she experienced as a child star in Hollywood.
The Academy Award-winning actress, with the celebrities behind the Time's Up initiative, went onstage to address hundreds of thousands of protesters in Los Angeles during the Women's March on Saturday, Jan. 20. The 36-year-old said that she endured sexism and sexual harassment while growing up in the spotlight.
A Child In World Of Adults
Portman appeared in her first movie, Léon: The Professional, in 1994 at the age of 13.
"I understood very quickly, even as a 13-year-old, that if I were to express myself sexually I would feel unsafe and that men would feel entitled to discuss and objectify my body to my great discomfort," the actress told the protesters.
Born in Jerusalem and raised in New York, Portman recounted that the first fan mail she ever received was a rape fantasy from a male stranger. She said that a local radio station had a countdown to her 18th birthday when she "would be legal to sleep with." She also found it uncomfortable that movie reviewers would mention her changing bodies.
In order to feel safe as a young actress, Portman felt that she needed to cover her body and inhibit expression in her work. She rejected roles that require kissing scenes and, as a result, developed a "prudish, conservative, nerdy, serious" reputation.
"The response to my expression, from small comments about my body to more threatening deliberate statements, served to control my behavior through an environment of sexual terrorism," the actress explained.
Stars Lead The Revolution
Portman is only one of the dozens of women who took the stage to tell their own sexual harassment horror stories. Fresh Off The Boat star Constance Wu said that the first time she rejected a man's sexual advances, he called her a bitch. Scarlett Johansson said that she has been conditioned to please men because she was taught that her value as a woman is based on her desirability.
"We must make it our responsibility to teach our children to exercise their own autonomy and ego strength by leading by example," the Avengers: Infinity War star encouraged the women present at the event. "I have recently introduced a new phrase in my life that I would like to share with you: 'No more pandering. No more feeling guilty about hurting people's feelings when something doesn't feel right for me. In order to trust my instincts, I must first respect them."
Viola Davis, Marisa Tomei, Connie Britton, Olivia Wilde, Tony Goldwyn, and Rob Reiner also participated at the event.