Keira Knightley has criticised the pressures placed upon new mothers in an open letter to her three-year-old daughter, Edie.
Writing in the new anthology Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (And Other Lies), Knightley’s essay ‘The Weaker Sex’ (extracted in Refinery29) describes her experience of labour in refreshingly frank, honest terms, revealing the effect of birth on her body. ‘My vagina split.,’ she opens her piece, before recalling ‘the s--t, the vomit, the blood, the stitches.’
‘I remember my battleground. Your battleground and life pulsating. Surviving,’ she continues, before asking: ‘And I am the weaker sex? You are?’
Knightley also notes that she gave birth to her daughter on May 1st 2015, one day before the Duchess of Cambridge welcomed her second child, Princess Charlotte. She draws the contrast between her own experiences of labour and the polished image which Kate presented on the steps of the Lindo Wing, her hair blow-dried and wearing a Jenny Packham dress.
‘She was out of hospital seven hours later with her face made up and high heels on. The face the world wants to see,’ she writes. ‘Hide. Hide our pain, our bodies splitting, our breasts leaking, our hormones raging. 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.’
Naturally, this reference to the Duchess of Cambridge has prompted a slew of headlines telling of how Knightley has ‘slammed Kate’s post-baby perfection,’ but that seems like too simplistic an interpretation of the actress’s words: surely, she’s criticising the expectations that the Duchess has to comply with, not Kate herself. Stories pitting the two women against one another are just yet more proof that spinning female feuds out of nothing still sells – yet another reason why feminist projects like this one are so important.
Indeed, after discussing the birth of her daughter, Knightley goes on to discuss how those unfair expectations placed upon women have also shaped and informed her working life. She reveals the double standards that are still at work on film sets, writing ‘I turn up on time, word perfect, with ideas and an opinion. I am up with you [her daughter] all night if you need me. Sometimes I cry I’m so tired.’ Her male colleagues, meanwhile, ‘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.’
Alongside Knightley’s piece, Feminists Don’t Wear Pink also features essays from a number of high-profile contributors, including Gemma Arterton, Jameela Jamil, Adwoa Aboah and Saoirse Ronan.