I have two little girls, and while I really hate the "girl mom/boy mom" tropes, I fully admit that there are some key parts of raising children that differ between sexes. I believe in gender neutral toys and clothing and letting kids be kids, but when it comes to teaching them how to survive in this world, it's not all so blended together. The story of Natalie Portman "dating" Moby, for one, has left me angry, upset, and even more determined to teach my girls one big thing: you don't have to be "nice" to literally anyone.
Look, the '90s were a confusing time for many. So confusing, in fact, that it apparently made a grown adult Moby assume he was dating a teenage Natalie Portman because they... hung out a few times? Because she spoke to him and was a decent human being? Because she didn't recoil in horror when he put his arm around her for a photo? It's been the "feud" of the internet this past week, and for the most part, the world is on Portman's side. In an interview with Harper's Bazaar, Portman spoke out about Moby's claims in his memoir that the two dated when she was 20 and he was 33. Except, when you look at the timeline, Portman was definitely just 18 and straight out of high school. And she definitely didn't think they were dating.
"I was surprised to hear that he characterized the very short time that I knew him as dating because my recollection is a much older man being creepy with me when I just had graduated high school," Portman told the magazine. She explained that she felt like the inaccurate details were a deliberate way to sell his books, which is creepy enough. But Portman continued to recollect how she says that time with Moby really went, and it makes my skin crawl.
“I was a fan and went to one of his shows when I had just graduated,” she said. “When we met after the show, he said, ‘let’s be friends’. He was on tour and I was working, shooting a film, so we only hung out a handful of times before I realized that this was an older man who was interested in me in a way that felt inappropriate.”
Understandably, most of the world is fairly grossed out about an 18-year-old and a 33-year-old "dating." (Let's not give all the men shouting "BUT CONSENT" on Twitter any voice here.) But Portman says they didn't date — she says they hung out a few times because she met him and he said they should "be friends." Whether Portman had red flags up then or not, nobody knows, but she told the magazine that it only took a few times of hanging out before she realized Moby's game plan was not to "be friends" and that he was interested in her "in a way that felt inappropriate."
But apparently that's not enough. Because she was still nice to Moby. And she posed for pictures with him. And she smiled in those pictures. And obviously that means she wanted to be with him and now she's just sour about how that whole relationship played out, right?
Twitter user @dragmetoel suggested that women should be taken seriously when they label men as "creeps and liars," but they should not be given the benefit of the doubt, "even when the evidence continues to be stacked against them." It's a sentiment I've read in a million different ways on the internet this past week, and all I can think about is my 4-year-old in the front seat of the grocery buggy, mindlessly playing with the ends of her hair.
"Hi," the cashier says to her. And for whatever reason, my talkative social butterfly of a daughter ignores her. The cashier tries again. "Are you having a good day?"
My daughter looks at me. "Can I have a snack when we get home?" I nod yes. The cashier looks from me to my daughter and back at me.
"She doesn't feel like being nice today?" The cashier's words stop me in my tracks. My hand is poised over the card swiper, ready to enter my PIN, but instead I let out a nervous laugh.
"Oh, she's plenty nice. She just doesn't feel like talking to you today."
It's the reason why, at every family function, I have to say out loud to someone I know and love, "Hey, my kid doesn't want to hug you right now. Please put her down."
The cashier says nothing. I don't know if I've upset her or hurt her feelings. I don't know if I've ruined her day or made her feel less than. But I know that the look on my daughter's face as we walk to our car is one of relief. She knows she's safe with me. She knows she doesn't have to "be nice" or "say hi" to people if she doesn't want to. She knows she's not shy, that I didn't make someone feel better with an excuse like "she's just not feeling well" or "she's tired." She didn't feel like talking to the cashier, and I was fine with that.
And that kind of empowerment is what I hope I keep instilling in her — especially the more I read about Moby and Portman.
Nobody knows if Portman ever thought, "Ugh, I really don't want to see him" before hanging out with Moby. Nobody knows if he said, "Hey, let's get a picture" and she inwardly groaned, but put on a smile. Nobody knows if he invited her somewhere and she desperately didn't want to go, but went anyway.
And nobody knows if she was originally excited to have the attention of someone she admired, an artist she called herself a fan of, but then became a little less excited with each interaction.
But we know that this happens. That women feel like we owe everyone — the entire world — something at all times. It's the reason why we have to make up excuses for turning down a date ("What, do you have a boyfriend or something?") or why we have to say "I'm just not a hugging kind of person" when someone you barely know tries to wrap their arms around you. It's the reason why, at every family function, I have to say out loud to someone I know and love, "Hey, my kid doesn't want to hug you right now. Please put her down."
Maybe Portman thought Moby would get less creepy the more they hung out. Maybe she hoped that her instincts were off. Maybe she thought that he hadn't really done anything to her, so it wasn't worth making a fuss.
I'm a non-confrontational person by nature. I get nervous at conflict, and while I can call people out pretty quickly, I still feel my stomach churn at the thought of making someone, anyone, uncomfortable. But raising two daughters in this world has taught me something: it's always worth making a fuss. And your comfort and wellbeing is not less important than someone's feelings — you don't have "to be nice" to literally anyone.