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Natalie Portman has been getting flack for her Academy Awards acceptance speech for her role in "Black Swan."
Not because of anything she said about the uber-psych-thriller role that won her the award or because of any Oscar night faux pas like forgetting to acknowledge her fellow Best Actress nominees. She's coming under fire for a speech that acknowledged her nascent motherhood as "the most important role" of her life, referring to her ever-growing pregnancy, which I must say was beautifully draped in a luscious plum-colored Rodarte gown that I wouldn't mind owning.
Some women are shaking their heads over the reference to her soon-to-be-born baby by saying, "Really?" Of all the things you've done in your life -- receiving the Best Actress award at the Oscars, earning a degree from Harvard, and building an impressive filmography -- you're really going to say that getting knocked up and pushing out a baby is the highlight of your life?
Salon writer Mary Elizabeth Williams asks:
"When you're pregnant, especially for the first time, there are a lot of amazed and awed moments in between the heartburn and insomnia. But is motherhood really a greater role than being secretary of state or a justice on the Supreme Court? Is reproduction automatically the greatest thing Natalie Portman will do with her life?"
The thought that somehow Portman has betrayed the "sisterhood" by embracing her soon-to-be mom status is a discussion we shouldn't even be having in the 21st century. Critics such as Williams are missing the point of Portman's comments.
Portman's sentiments about motherhood aren't about the physical acts involved. Politics Daily's Lizzie Skurnick tweeted during the awards show, "Like my garbageman could give you the greatest role in life, too, lady." But taking on the role of mother isn't about a night of hot sex or a really cute belly bump or forsaking your life for the little person you've produced who gets to call you Mommy. It's about being honest with yourself and getting to a place where it's OK to be the collection of all your life experiences, including becoming a mother, and being empowered by them all. I can say that as a longtime career woman and card-carrying feminist who didn't think motherhood would ever be in the cards.
As ambitious as I am and with all the things I've accomplished, on some level being a mother is the greatest role of my life -- not superior to others, just the greatest in terms of challenges and rewards. Because in the end, careers come and go, jobs end without notice, those whose support you thought you could count on turn on you, and sometimes even family lets you down. But there is something about being a parent that no one can ever take away from you that makes the experience the "greatest." I am proud and happy about the many accomplishments I've achieved in my life, but nothing can ever replace or replicate the quiet moments or the crazy times I've had with my daughter -- even when I wonder if I'll survive the really trying times of her tween and teen years.
There was a time when I never thought I would write words like these. I've got degrees and accomplishments and many other things in my life that I am more than happy about. But in the end, many chapters we look to for self-definition are transitory. My experiences as a mother -- the good, the bad and the in-between -- will be with me forever.
The larger issue when it comes to those who want to smack down Portman for her reference to the impending birth of her first child is the serious lack of appreciation in our society for what being a mother means and assuming that once you give birth or adopt a child, you somehow lose the brains and the drive that helped you achieve those earlier accomplishments in the first place.
If you step off the career ladder for a moment to be a mom, you're blasted by the feminists you thought were your allies, as well as younger generations who castigate you for not being true to your original feminist values. And once you accept the moniker of "mom" into your life, those who took you and your profession seriously are suddenly willing to toss you onto a mommy track that suggests that your parental role means you're no longer dedicated to other goals.
I am one of the most ardent feminists around. Just ask some of the women who know me, including those on the political right. They'll more than vouch for my credentials on that front. I admit that there was a time when I would have been echoing those who are slapping their foreheads and rolling their eyes about Portman's mommy comment. But becoming a mother leads to change in many things, including the way we think about our priorities, our accomplishments, and how we view the world. I say it's time for others to recognize that the experience of motherhood adds, not subtracts, from the full picture of being an accomplished woman.
We're still the same people we were before we had kids, even for those who don't choose to see that. But that's OK -- because we know our motherhood experiences enhance, rather than diminish, us, even if skeptics don't.
You can follow Joanne Bamberger on Twitter and Facebook.
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