Natalie Portman was among the many speakers at the 2018 Women’s March in Los Angeles to share their experiences in the entertainment industry, and her speech, though sometimes difficult to hear, was one of the highlights of the event. Portman recalled the filming and release of Léon: The Professional, her big break as a young actress. “At that moment in my life, I too was discovering my own womanhood, my own desire and my own voice. I was so excited at 13 when the film was released and my work and my art would have a human response,” she told the crowd. Then came the gut punch: “I excitedly opened my first fan mail to read a rape fantasy that a man had written me.”
That letter was the beginning of Portman’s awareness of an environment that she compared to “sexual terrorism,” which included a radio station counting down the days until her 18th birthday and movie critics who alluded to her “budding breasts” in their reviews. That environment changed the way she chose future roles and even how she dressed, she explained:
I built a reputation for basically being prudish, conservative, nerdy, serious, in an attempt to feel that my body was safe and that my voice would be listened to. At 13 years old, the message from our culture was clear to me. I felt the need to cover my body and to inhibit my expression and my work in order to send my own message to the world, that I’m someone worthy of safety and respect.
In sharing her story, Portman directly addressed criticism of the #MeToo movement and the current cultural shift as a whole, which some have called “puritanical.” Given the effect that Portman’s early experiences had on her later in life—the way it made her feel like she had to carefully plan her clothes, her career, and her public image so that she wouldn’t be the target of harassment or treated like a sex object—it’s certainly difficult to dispute her argument that we’re already living in a “puritanical” society, one in which some women are already afraid to express their sexuality.
You can watch the full speech below via CNN.