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May 3, 2011 11:52 am

The Natalie Portman “Motherhood-gate” scandal; should we laugh or cry?

avatar by Moshe Averick

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I must admit that I’m behind the curve on this one. Until I just saw Sarah Wildman’s article in theForward (4/22/11, “A Woman’s Greatest Role?”), not only was I unaware that pregnant actress Natalie Portman had kicked up a cloud of dust with her Oscar acceptance speech, I also had no idea that she had even won an Oscar, and in fact was blissfully unaware that the Oscar presentations had taken place at all! (I must confess that these days, if given the choice between sitting through the entire Oscar Awards ceremony or committing seppuku with a samurai dagger, I would have to consider my options verycarefully.)

What caused the entire ruckus? Appearing luxuriously fecund as she mounted the stage to accept her best-actress award, (“her swollen belly wrapped in luxe layers of Mulberry colored silk”), Ms. Portman publicly thanked her fiancée for giving her “the most important role in her life” (i.e., motherhood). In some feminist circles, however, this seemingly innocent remark bordered on the blasphemous. One writer queried: “But is motherhood really a greater role than being secretary of state or a justice on the supreme court?” Authoress Lizzie Skurnick twittered her own classless and vulgar comment: “Like, my garbage man can give you your greatest role in life too, lady.” (Perhaps Lizzie was simply bitter due to the fact that Natalie Portman – aglow with feminine radiance – was basking in wealth, fame, accomplishment, and beauty.)

Ms. Wildman’s article, while ostensibly an analysis of the debate that took place in the media and “the Twitter-Facebook-blog-o’sphere” regarding Portman’s thank-you to her unborn child’s father; it is, in fact, just another wearisome (albeit sincerely written) example of what has become a cliché in feminist literature: agonizing, hand-wringing, and occasional breast-beating regarding the motherhood vs. career conflict. She describes her own experience of emotional upheaval when near the end of her own pregnancy, she was told, “confidently, snidely, chauvinistically,” by her male editor that she would not be able to write until six weeks after the birth. Ms. Wildman’s response? “Perhaps, just to prove the editor wrong, I wrote stories the week I got home.”  Quite the dilemma: which is more deserving of the Mazel Tov, the birth of the baby, or for getting back to her journalistic career so quickly? On the other hand, perhaps it wasn’t that much of an accomplishment; after all, native-American women returned to scraping buffalo hides with the newly delivered baby strapped to their backs! (How do you say “I am woman watch me roar!” in Navajo?)

By all accounts it is clear that Natalie Portman is a highly talented and successful actress. While I certainly have some level of appreciation for the thespian arts, when all is said and done, what is acting anyway? It is the ability to pretend that you are someone else. The better your ability to pretend, the better the actor/actress. While some dramatic presentations may very well contain meaningful messages; films and plays essentially convey distracting and entertaining illusions. Pregnancy, motherhood, and child-rearing are not entertaining illusions. They are as real as it gets. Let’s put it another way. If God forbid an earthquake devastates a city, we become elated and exhilarated, if against all odds, a living human being is extracted from the rubble after being given up for dead. We do not risk life or limb, nor waste valuable resources in the aftermath of such devastation looking for lost film archives (even if they are Academy Award winners).

When a woman gives birth she is bringing a live human being into the world. There is nothing more precious or valuable. We should all be cheering. What spiritual bacterium has infected the soul of a Lizzie Skurnick, that she not only attacks and disparages the creation and nurturing of life by another woman, but that she feels the obscene compulsion to denigrate the sanctity of the relationship that created that child? Her garbage man could have also impregnated Natalie Portman?! Is it not profoundly meaningful when a man and a woman in a committed relationship bring life into the world together and joyfully celebrate in appreciation? Is there no difference between that and providing an anonymous male/stud donor to inject seed into an available uterus? It is hard to feel anything but sadness for someone (particularly a female) who has developed such a bleak, empty, and cynical view of life.

It is nothing short of abominable that feminist ideologues have artificially created an existential conflict within women that they must weigh “career” vs. “life.”  That a woman who is ready to be passionately and lovingly absorbed in nurturing her baby must feel a gut-wrenching sense of guilt that she is somehow betraying her “feminine mystique.”

The exquisitely painful irony, of course, is that there is nothing more “feminine” than being pregnant, giving birth and nursing a baby (never met a male yet who could it).

The fact that a woman is a successful journalist or personal-injury attorney has nothing to do with her unique womanhood. Men are quite capable in these professions also. If a race of gender-neutral Martians landed on Earth and had the ability to litigate successfully they would also be snapped up by top law firms. It is the aforementioned God-given abilities (although not exclusively those) that make a woman uniquely “female” as opposed to “male.” Do you think perhaps it is this inescapable and all-pervasive inner-reality that inspires an actress at the peak of her career to unabashedly declare her impending motherhood to be the “greatest role in her life”? Is the Chief Rabbi of Israel Jewish? It is time for women everywhere to dump this false and destructive feminist guilt trip once and for all. Choose Life!

Moshe Averick is and Orthodox rabbi and author of Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist. His website is http://rabbimaverick.com/.

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  • Uri

    The only disgusting thing (to me at least) about the whole Natalie Portman saga is that she’s having a child with a non-Jew. Now that is a shanda!

  • AliceL.

    I bet she and her fiance don’t marry. Watch.

    • Uri

      I hope that you’re right!

  • Marc

    the only possible problem here for me personally as a feminist is not whether art or motherhood is more important but these critics may be denying her right to say what is most important and meaningful to her personally. i think that a person who really and truly does care about equality would support people in general to do what is most important to them as individuals and make sure that all individuals are given opportunities to work for the good of humanity in the ways that they choose.

    “the feminine mystique” is the name of a famous second-wave feminist text by Betty Friedan. a lot of work and thought went into its creation and it changed the world. i have read it and it changed my world. if you are not interested in reading it i suggest that you do not make reference to it as it is very clear that you do not understand what it is about, and as a result it appears that you believe you can flash these terms around as a sign of your authority on these matters without having genuinely engaged with them on any meaningful level.

    saying that acting is illusory is like saying that a brush stroke on a canvas is an illusion. firstly, it has a real and tangible presence and effect in the world. and when each of us sees the world so differently from one another, and even the world’s religious texts represent reality in such different ways, who can say what is real and what is false? one reality is as real as another. sometimes an artistic statement about reality can be very meaningful and get at something true and real about the world in the same way that a great mathematical equation can. art moves people and their ideas and can make the world a better place, can make people’s minds bigger and more open and more loving, and connect them to one another. i feel sad that you are not able to appreciate the beauty and wonder that is for me in the world of art and the wide range of human experience, but i also feel annoyed that you think it’s cool to tell others that your reality is more real than theirs. you should discover some humility and try to understand that you don’t know best. you are just one human among many.

    • Marc,

      I feel a distinct and powerful emanation of sincerity from your post. It feels like it is genuinely coming from the heart. That does not mean that I agree with everything you said, but I did want to share that with you.

      When I mentioned the “feminine mystique” I was simply using it a touchstone for classical feminist ideology, however one may understand that. “Gefilte Fish” distinctly brings Jewish culture to the mind of a reader, and “feminine mystique” distinctly brings feminist ideology to the mind of the reader. I wasn’t flashing it to show authority, I was trying to create an image and message to the reader. Obviously, Betty Friedan’s book is very important and meaningful to you. My article was not intended as a comprehensive analysis of feminism, Betty Friedan, or her book. It focused on one specific point. My personal belief is that few things are as meaningful and precious as bringing life into the world. I include the entire family and marriage process in that, I don’t simply mean the biological act of giving birth. It is clear to me that a great deal of feminist ideology was devoted to attacking that idea, and has done indescribable damage to men, woman, and children in our society. My guess is that you would strongly disagree, but people disagree on a lot of things.

      If you’ll look at the article again, you will see that I never said that acting is illusory. I said that acting is “pretending” to be someone that you are not.
      I don’t even know what it would mean if someone made the statement that acting is “illusory.” Acting may very well involve creating types of illusions, but that is very different that saying it is “illusory.”
      I said very clearly that some dramatic presentations contain meaningful messages, but let’s face it, a large percentage of popular movies and broadway plays are exactly what I said they were: “entertaining and distracting illusions.” I enjoy a good dramatic performance as much as anyone else. However, I think the idolizing of actors and actresses is a reflection of how frighteningly out of proportion the significance of acting has become in our society. Marc, the only possible reason why someone would idolize an actor or actress is because they have become lost in the “illusion” that acting creates.

      It is hard for me to understand why you think I don’t appreciate art. I am a musician and write songs. At one point many years ago I had to decide whether to go on the road as a musician to achieve success in that career which could only have happened at the expense of sacrificing time with my children. Frankly, I feel that anyone who would sacrifice marriage, family, and children for art, business, career, money, etc. is not only irresponsible, but has missed out on the most precious things life has to offer. I obviously don’t mean to say that its one or the other, I am just trying to make a point. We may disagree on that also, but unless you are prepared to abandon any sense of absolute values, there will always be disagreements.
      I hope I don’t write just to feel cool about telling people my reality is better than theirs. I hope I write to prod and inspire people to think about what they believe and why, and what is it that our existence is all about.
      I’m not sure how you drew so many conclusions about who and what I am from this article. You can ask me if you’d like.
      Sincerely, Moshe Averick

  • Ben

    I think that Natalie don’t deserve the Oscar,she’s not even a good actress;Her performances on Black Swan were really bad.I’ve seen better performances from true actresses,like “Annette Bening”and also,now that she won the Oscar,she would be more bitchy than the usual.Sorry but is the true.

  • Claudia

    One time when I saw Natalie at the NY airport,she said to me when I ask her:Hey Natalie,I’m one of your biggest fans.,Can I have a picture with you?” And she said:Can You please move,and keep your distance.OK”—-Now that she won the Oscar,is a sure(Goodbye Fans…and please don’t forget to check and buy all my movies;OK..Oh,and by the way, please remember to keep you distance.LOL Thanks : )