Sunday night at the Oscars, Natalie Portman was giving her acceptance speech for Best Actress when she thanked “my beautiful love, Benjamin Millepied who choreographed the film and has now given me the most important role of my life” – motherhood. It was a beautiful moment, but this Salon writer, Mary Elizabeth Williams, found Portman’s words “jarring.” She got the creepy-crawlies at the thought of motherhood. She doesn’t like it when people:
refer to motherhood as the most important thing a woman can possibly do … is motherhood really a greater role than being secretary of state or a justice on the Supreme Court? Is reproduction automatically the greatest thing Natalie Portman will do with her life?
Well, I happen to agree that motherhood is Portman’s most important role. But we’re not talking about a woman secretary of state or justice, we’re talking about an actress. And because she’s an actress, the term “role” is quite literal. Portman has played many parts in her young career, from Queen Amidala to Anne Boleyn to Nina Sayers in Black Swan for which she won her award for Best Actress in a Lead ROLE. So, yes, I would say Mother is far more important a role to play than any of these characters. And good for her for saying so!
But the Slate author just doesn’t get it:
Why, at the pinnacle of one’s professional career, would a person feel the need to undercut it by announcing that there’s something else even more important? Even if you feel that way, why downplay your achievement?
Wow, really? She begrudges Portman for having the humility to acknowledge that there are things in this world bigger and more important than – GASP – acting?!
Interestingly enough, the writer quotes Annette Bening as an example of – well, actually, I’m not sure WHY she quotes Bening, something about working mothers but the point isn’t clear – but Bening gets to the heart of what the writer doesn’t understand. She says of motherhood, in part:
“a lot of the time your life is not about you … There’s that selflessness you need to find …”
Seems like Portman has already found that selflessness, while the writer wishes she would simply be selfish and bask in herself and her own glory.
The author goes on to gripe:
when was the last time a male star gave an acceptance speech calling fatherhood his biggest role?
I’m not sure if any man has or hasn’t, but someone should have. Fatherhood is a very important role, especially today when 22% of children live in single mother homes. In fact, isn’t it
Hollywood and the Left that are always trying to tell us fathers aren’t
all that important?
In closing, the author writes:
Motherhood is important. So is work. And you don’t have to backhandedly downplay one to be proud of the other.
How does saying her most important role is that of a mother “backhandedly downplay” her role in Black Swan? She’s not insulting her own work, but stating the simple fact that there are more important things in life.
The visceral reaction from people like the Slate writer, upon watching Natalie Portman talk about “the most important role of [her] life,” makes complete sense when you consider that it goes against everything strident feminists believe. Any good thoughts about motherhood or the mere presence of a visibly pregnant woman gives them the heebie jeebies because, to them, motherhood is a choice and their first instinct is that a baby is a parasite to be removed.
We can’t be too complementary of motherhood lest we offend the women who chose to kill their babies. We can’t call it the most important role because that is insensitive to women who don’t have or want children. We can’t celebrate the unique role of the mother because that would mean acknowledging the differences between men and women and that these differences can be good. We can’t talk about motherhood and careers at the same time because that means that we value one over the other and both are equally good and valid – especially having a career.
Only a feminist would complain about an actress not being self-centered and narcissistic. Only a feminist would be offended at the thought of raising the next generation being one’s most important role. Only a feminist would consider being thankful to have a child with the one you love a backhanded slap at your career.
How sad that this writer chose to throw a feminissy fit over this beautiful moment for Natalie Portman and her family. I wish Portman well in the greatest role she, or any woman, will ever play.
UPDATE: KJ Dell’Antonia from Slate gets in on the act, saying Portman was just “spouting the party line” and adds:
every time a powerful woman downplays her other achievements as inferior to her maternal status, she feeds the doubt that still pursue working mothers at every end of the spectrum: Will she really take her work seriously or will she put her children first?
Again, this isn’t a zero sum game – calling motherhood your most important role does not downplay other achievements, and the choice isn’t between either “take work seriously” or “put children first.” Feminists might not believe it, but women CAN do a job well, while prioritizing their children’s lives – women are known for their great abilities to multi-task, after all.
But even if it WERE a zero sum game, so what? The role of mother is more important than any regular “job” and it should be – whoops, can’t say that! – might hurt some working moms’ feelings or make her doubt herslf! We aren’t allowed to say ANYTHING is more important than a career because apparently that is the end all and be all of being a woman, anything else is bending to the will of the powerful and oppressive patriarchy or some such b.s.