Keira Knightley is raising eyebrows with a new essay she wrote for a feminist publication, thanks to a graphic description of the particularly painful birth of her daughter back in 2015.
Knightley’s piece, The Weaker Sex, was written for a collection of feminist essays titled Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (and Other Lies), as reported by Refinery 29, which also includes essays from Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Jameela Jamil (“The Good Place”) and more.
Dedicated to “my girl,” the essay kicks off with a grabber of an opening line that describes her daughter’s birth.
“My vagina split,” she writes. “You came out with your eyes open. Arms up in the air. Screaming. They put you on to me, covered in blood, vernix, your head misshapen from the birth canal. Pulsating, gasping, screaming.”
Knightley follows that up by getting even more graphic. “I remember the s**t, the vomit, the blood, the stitches. I remember my battleground. Your battleground and life pulsating. Surviving. And I am the weaker sex? You are?”
Knightley also recalls feeling her water break while out for a walk in London, recalling the amniotic fluid gushing onto her favourite shoes (“brown lace-up brogues” that became “crusted and sticky”) and offers an equally grisly description of her experience in the delivery room, writing about “blood soaking through the sanitary pad wedges between [her] legs” and “exposing [herself] to the men in the room, blood running down [her] thighs, arse, cellulite.”
Knightley, however, has a larger point to make about the expectation that women are supposed to look fabulous immediately after going through hours of gruelling labour — and uses Kate Middleton as an example.
“She [Middleton] was out of hospital seven hours later with her face made up and high heels on. The face the world wants to see,” writes Knightley, continuing by detailing the societal pressure for women to look made-up and pristine at all times.
“Hide. Hide our pain, our bodies splitting, our breasts leaking, our hormones raging,” she writes. “Look beautiful. Look stylish, don’t show your battleground, Kate. 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. Stand there with your girl and be shot by a pack of male photographers.”
In addition, Knightley gets real about Hollywood’s double standard when it comes to male and female actors, especially when they’re parents. “I turn up on time, word perfect, with ideas and an opinion,” she writes. “I am up with you [her daughter] all night if you need me. Sometimes I cry I’m so tired. Up with you all night and work all day… My male colleagues can be late, can not know their lines. They can shout and scream and throw things. They can turn up drunk or not turn up at all. They don’t see their children. They’re working. They need to concentrate.”
She also calls out way she’s treated by men on set. “I work with men. I watch them and they watch me. They worry that I don’t like them. It drives them mad. They belittle me, they try not to listen to me, they don’t talk to me, they don’t want to hear my voice, my experience, my opinion,” she says, detailing what she’s typically told by men.
“Be pretty,” she adds. “Stand there. Tell me what it is to be a woman. Be nice, be supportive, be pretty but not too pretty, be thin but not too thin, be sexy but not too sexy. Be successful but not too successful. Wear these clothes, look this way, buy this stuff.”
You can read the essay in its entirety in Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (and Other Lies).