Get ready to have your fire lit, because Natalie Portman did not come to play. The Harvard grad just gave one of the best speeches in history and it wasn’t part of an Oscar-winning script. The actor, director and activist was honoured at Variety’s Power of Women event this weekend for her involvement in the Time’s Up movement and the working mom did not mince words during her acceptance speech. Like the rest of us, Portman is angry. She is just much more eloquent about it.
Joking that her son asked her why she looked like she had been wearing goggles (“Because Kavanaugh, baby!”), Portman took aim at some of Hollywood’s most notorious abusers, chastising the flawed legal system that often fails those who report abuse. “Our legal system protects the perpetrators of sexual violence, not the victims. Harvey Weinstein, the man whose name has become synonymous with serial rapist, might never face any legal consequences because of that.”
Thanks to the Times Up defence fund, Portman revealed that more than 3,500 victims of abuse across many industries have been able to successfully fight their abusers in the legal system. Citing one of the most famous cases, which involved director and producer Brett Ratner dropping a defamation case against his accuser Melanie Kohler, Portman said “He saw that she could not be bullied legally just because he has hundreds of millions of dollars and she does not.” Boom. That’s a legal mic drop.
In her rousing 15-minute speech, which ended in a standing ovation from a crowd that included fellow honourees Regina King, Gina Rodriguez, Tiffany Haddish, Lena Waithe, and ‘Amal’s husband’ George Clooney, Portman broke down the myth that women aren’t in top positions because of their desire to leave the workforce and take care of their families. That’s not real, unlike misogyny, which is alive and kicking.
Noting that women and men are often split 50/50 in grad school for business, law and film, Portman cited statistics showing that women hold only 10-20 per cent of the top positions. Previously believing it was because women left their careers to have families, Portman said she now realizes that her thinking didn’t consider all women. “There are too many that don’t choose to have children, do not yet have children, or have grown children to account for the gaping lack of women in leadership positions in almost every industry.”
Using the example of gynecology, a field dominated by women, Portman noted that many gynecologists can balance a demanding job and still have families. “In gynecology, there’s a unique demand for females. Women are asking for other women to do the job, so that affects hiring. Also, women are the primary people that doctors have to deal with, so you have to assume that harassment and assault goes way down. So, if there’s a lesson to be learned from our vagina doctors, it’s that increased demand for women and increased physical and emotional safety on the job, women will flock to that field that is emotionally and intellectually intense and also is incredibly time consuming.”
Citing the high number of female restaurant and domestic workers who hold multiple jobs, Portman asked people to stop saying that women drop out of the work force to support their family. “That’s wrong,” said Portman. “It’s much more likely for a woman to stay in a job for her children than to leave for her children.”
Portman said that the reason women aren’t in top positions isn’t because of their family, but because of inequality in the workplace. “Women are being discriminated against or retaliated against for hiring and for promotion. When they do get the jobs, they are often being harassed and assaulted and they are being paid less than their male counterparts, all of which coerce self-preserving women into finding safer options for themselves and different ways to feel valued.”
“Women need to put food on the table and in order to do so they need to be able to do their work in a safe, equitable and dignified environment,” said Portman.
The actor closed her speech by listing seven calls to action for those in attendance, including surrounding yourself with people whose experiences are different from your own. “If any group you’re in has people who only look like you, change that group,” she said. “Be embarrassed if everyone in your workplace looks like you.”
Telling people to ‘gossip well,’ Portman called on her fellow attendees to question situations when women are put down in the workplace. “Stop the rhetoric that a woman is crazy or difficult,” said Portman. “If a man says to you that a woman is crazy or difficult, ask him, ‘What bad thing did you do to her?’” Oh, hell to the yes.
Portman ended on an uplifting message, encouraging people to stop thinking that helping others comes at the cost of their own success. “Many men are behaving like we live in a zero-sum game. That if women get the respect, access and value we deserve, they will lose. But we know the message of the mammaries: The more milk you give, the more milk you make,” Portman explained. “The more love you give, the more love you have. And the same can be said of fire. When you light someone else’s torch with your own, you don’t lose your fire, you just make more light and more heat.”
“Light a woman’s torch,” said Portman. “The light will multiply, and the heat will intensify for all of us.”
We can’t ‘Yasss Kween’ this enough.