Keira Knightley says childcare is 'undervalued': 'I needed 3 people to do what 1 full-time parent did'

Keira Knightley says she felt caged in by her role in Pirates of the Caribbean. (Photo: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls)
Keira Knightley says she felt caged in by her role in Pirates of the Caribbean. (Photo: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls)

Keira Knightley opened up about the widespread grips of sexism and the importance of labor division in parenting in a recent interview with Harper's Bazaar.

"The heavy lifting of childcare has to be acknowledged. It's hard work, it's vital, it's undervalued. And it's so exhausting," she said.

Knightley shares two kids, 7-year-old Edie and 4-year-old Delilah, with her husband, James Righton and explained just 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, child-rearing is a multi-person job that doesn't get its fair credit.

"I worked out I needed three people to do what one full-time parent did. When you hear somebody say, 'I'm just staying home with the kids,' that's not a 'just.' That's a huge thing," she said.

The pair managed to find their stride amid the rise of the Omicron variant during the pandemic, with Knightley explaining her husband became a "full-time dad" while she was filming.

But this balance does not exempt her from feelings of mom guilt or questioning if there is a "right" way to balance work and life. As for the question itself, she dislikes the conversation, mostly because it's usually focused on women.

"We're constantly asking it. Because what we actually want to know is, 'How are you doing it?' 'Because I don't feel like I'm doing it,'" she said.

Similarly, she says she is still grappling 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 meant to sit, publicly, and I never felt comfortable with that. It was a big jolt. I was being judged on what I was projecting," she said, referring to the sexualization of her role as Elizabeth Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean.

"She was the object of everybody's lust. Not that she doesn't have a lot of fight in her. But it was interesting coming from being really tomboyish to getting projected as quite the opposite. I felt very constrained. I felt very stuck. So the roles afterwards were about trying to break out of that," she said.

She explains she felt "caged in" 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 very much felt like I was caged in a thing I didn't understand. I was incredibly hard on myself. I was never good enough. I was utterly single-minded. 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 yielded positive results professionally, it was detrimental to her mental health.

"I am in awe of my 22-year-old self because I'd like a bit more of her back. And it's only by not being like that any longer that I realize how extraordinary it was. But it does have a cost," she said, referring to the "burnout" she ultimately experienced.

In the years following, Knightley took a two-year hiatus after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. When she came back to work, she was able to choose projects that she felt more aligned with, one of which resulted in an Oscar nomination.

In regard to her much-needed break, Knightley says she knew she would land on her feet.

"There was never an ounce of me that wasn't going to find a way through," she said.

Beyond the confines of over-sexualization, Knightley has found the narratives surrounding women and aging to be equally mystifying.

"A lot of the conversations I'll have with my girlfriends are, 'Oh my God, I've got a line [wrinkle]. Oh God!'" she said.

She also acknowledged the inescapable dissonance found in the ways women are expected to age.

"Change is always tricky. We're taught that it's bad. We're taught that we don't want grey hair," she said. "You've got Madonna on the one hand – and we're told that's not the right thing. Then you have someone else, where we're told, 'They looked better 20 years ago'. How are we, culturally, meant to age?" she questioned.

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