When you're a young woman in Hollywood, you're made aware of your sexuality at a very early age. It's something Natalie Portman knows all too well. In Portman's speech at the Women's March in Los Angeles, she talked about getting her first fan letter when she was 13, after starring in The Professional. It ended up being Portman's first experience with sexual harassment.
As she explained the letter was a "rape" fantasy from an older man, but it didn't stop there. In reviews of The Professional, in which she teams up with a hitman to seek vengeance for her family, critics talked about her "budding breasts." A local radio station started a countdown until she would turn 18, "euphemistically the date that I would be legal to sleep with."
"I understood very quickly," Portman said, "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."
To take back control of her body, Portman decided to take roles that strayed from any sexual content, not even kissing. She wore clothes that covered up her body both onscreen and off. She explained it was a way to "send my own message to the world that I'm someone worthy of safety and respect." She built a reputation that stressed how "bookish and serious" she was, which resulted in her earning a reputation for being "prudish, conservative, nerdy, serious."
Of course, though, that didn't stop people from making "small comments about my body to more threatening deliberate statements," she said, it just "served to control my behavior through an environment of sexual terrorism."
To do this, women need to stand up in Hollywood and beyond and take back those things that men have taken from them, including control of their bodies. That's why it's not only about combatting harassment, but rethinking how we talk about sex. The hope being this will change the way we look at women's bodies at every age.
"To people of all genders who are here with us today, let's find a space where we mutually, consensually look out for each other's pleasure and allow the vast limitless range of desire to be expressed," she said. "Let's make a revolution of desire."
A revolution of safer, more enjoyable, and more enthusiastic sex is something we should all get behind.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
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