Keira Knightley opened up about the pervasive grip of sexism and the importance of division of labor in parenting in a recent interview with Harper’s Bazaar.
“The heavy lifting of childcare needs to be acknowledged. It’s hard work, it’s important, it’s underrated. And it’s so exhausting,” she said.
Knightley shares two children, 7-year-old Edie and 4-year-old Delilah, with her husband, James Righton, and explained how important balanced parenting is to them.
“It has to be a partnership,” she said, noting that while she doesn’t currently have a nanny, raising children is a multi-person job that doesn’t get its due credit.
“I found that I needed three people to do what a full-time parent did. When you hear someone say, ‘I’m just staying home with the kids,’ it’s not a ‘just.’ It’s a huge thing ,” she said.
The couple managed to find their stride amid the rise of the Omicron variant during the pandemic, with Knightley explaining that her husband became a “full-time father” while she was filming.
But this balance doesn’t free her from mom guilt or questioning whether there is a “right” way to balance work and life. As for the question itself, she doesn’t like the conversation, mostly because it’s usually focused on women.
“We constantly ask that. Because what we actually want to know is: “How’s it going you do it?’ ‘Because I don’t feel like I do,’ she said.
Likewise, she says she still struggles with the boxes women are placed in, especially as it relates to being an object of desire, something she says she was never comfortable with.
“There’s a funny place where women are supposed to sit in public, and I’ve never felt comfortable with that. It was a big shock. I was judged on what I projected,” she said, referring to the sexualization of her role as Elizabeth Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean.
“She was the object of everyone’s desire. Not that she doesn’t have a lot of fight in her. But it was interesting to go from being really tomboyish to being projected as the opposite. I felt very limited. I felt very stuck. So the roles afterwards were about trying to break out of that,” she said.
She explains that she felt “trapped” by the role and subsequently pushed herself to the brink of exhaustion to escape typecasting.
“I didn’t have a sense of how to articulate it. It felt very much like I was trapped in something I didn’t understand. I was incredibly hard on myself. I was never good enough. I was completely determined I was so ambitious. I was so driven. I was always trying to get better and better and improve, which is an exhausting way to live your life,” she shared.
And while this dedication paid off professionally, it was detrimental to her mental health.
“I’m in awe of my 22-year-old self because I want a little more of her back. And it’s only by not being like that anymore that I realize how extraordinary it was. But it has a cost,” she said, referring to the “burnout” she ultimately experienced.
In the years that followed, Knightley took a two-year hiatus after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. When she returned to work, she was able to choose projects that she felt more aligned with, one of which resulted in an Academy Award nomination.
As for her much-needed break, Knightley says she knew she’d land on her feet.
“There was never an ounce of me that didn’t want to find a way through,” she said.
Beyond the limits of oversexualization, Knightley has found the narratives surrounding women and aging equally mystifying.
“A lot of the conversations I’ll have with my girlfriends are, ‘Oh my God, I have a line (wrinkle). Oh God!'” she said.
She also recognized the inevitable dissonance that exists in the ways women are expected to age.
“Change is always difficult. We’ve learned that it’s bad. We’ve learned that we don’t want gray hair,” she said. “You have Madonna on one side – and we’re told it’s not right. Then you have another where we’re told: ‘They looked better 20 years ago’. How are we culturally meant . to age?” she asked.
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