Moby's treatment of Natalie Portman is a masterclass in nice-guy misogyny | Arwa Mahdawi

While the musician might not spout misogynistic lyrics, he’s no feminist

If someone had said the word “Moby” a week ago, chances are the first thing you’d have thought is “Dick.” That probably hasn’t changed – but now you’d likely be referring to the 90s musician rather than the 19th century whale. Over the past few days, Moby has been stress-testing the adage that “all publicity is good publicity” by repeatedly insisting that he and Natalie Portman used to be an item, even if she says they weren’t.

In his new memoir, When It Fell Apart, Moby claims that he dated Portman when he was 33 and she was 20, after they met backstage at one of his concerts. A memoir is traditionally considered a work of non-fiction, however it would seem that the 53-year-old’s book strays into fantasy: Portman has denied the pair ever had a romantic relationship.

“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,” Portman told Harper’s Bazaar on Wednesday. She added that while Moby said she was 20 at the time, “I definitely wasn’t … I had just turned 18.” Basic maths bears this out – there is no world in which Moby (born 1965) would have been 33 when Portman (born 1981) was 20.

One might think that getting called out for sleazing on a teenager while you were in your 30s would be mortifying. One might think you’d drop the matter and let the news cycle move on. Moby, however, seems desperate for the world to believe that he dated a girl just out of high school. On Wednesday he responded to Portman’s denial by digging up a photo of him, sans shirt, with an arm around her, and posting it on Instagram. Portman’s grimace-grin in the photo is instantly familiar to any woman; it’s the face you put on when you don’t want to offend a dude who is hitting on you. It’s the face you put on because you’ve been socialized to be nice and polite and you’re worried about how the guy will react if you make it too clear you have zero interest in him. It’s the face you put on because you’re worried you might end up dead.

All of that seems to have bypassed Moby, however, who reckons the photo is irrefutable proof Portman was into him. “I recently read a gossip piece wherein Natalie Portman said that we’d never dated,” he said in a caption to the picture. “This confused me, as we did, in fact, date… I can’t figure out why she would actively misrepresent the truth about our (albeit brief) involvement. The story as laid out in my book Then It Fell Apart is accurate.”

Then It Got Worse: Moby double-downed on his claims and fired off more angry Instagram posts. “sincerely, what should I do when people believe accusations and not evidence?” he posted on Thursday. In a caption he claimed that Portman was lying and that he’d been receiving “threats of violence from her fans … affecting my business and my health.” A few hours later Moby posted a picture of some trees, writing “You know what’s nice? That nature doesn’t care…attack me, slander me, lie about me, in the meantime I’ll be trying to save animals and help stop humans from destroying the only home we have. Bye.”

The fact that Moby can’t seem to see there’s anything wrong with a 33-year-old getting involved with a teenager says a lot about the extent to which the sexualization of young girls is normalized in society. Indeed, Portman has been vocal about the “sexual terrorism” she experienced as a young actor. In a speech at the Women’s March last year she noted that “A countdown was started on my local radio show to my 18th birthday – euphemistically the date that I would be legal to sleep with.” She also recollected how “movie reviewers talked about my budding breasts in reviews. I understood very quickly, even as a 13-year-old, that if I were to express myself sexually I would feel unsafe and that men would feel entitled to discuss and objectify my body to my great discomfort.”

Moby’s reaction to Portman’s refutations is also a masterclass in nice-guy misogyny. After all, Moby doesn’t present as a scary predator. He looks non-threatening; he’s a vegan; he’s politically progressive; he’s called out artists like Eminem for being misogynistic. But while Moby might not spout obviously misogynistic lyrics, he’s obviously no feminist. He dismisses Portman’s version of events, for example, as a “gossip piece.” Clearly you can’t take a woman’s recollections seriously, it’s just brainless gossip!

In his memoir Moby also frames his first interaction with Portman in a way which is designed to make her, a teenager, seem predatory. Recounting their first encounter, he writes: “I was a bald binge drinker and Natalie Portman was a beautiful movie star. But here she was in my dressing room, flirting with me. I was 33 and she was 20 but this was her world.” Poor little man-child, you’re supposed to think. He was entrapped by a young vixen. She may have been significantly younger, but she had all the power. It was Moby who taken advantage of! He was just trying to save animals and help stop humans from destroying the only home we have, and then Natalie Portman seduced him. Shame on her, you’re supposed to think. Shame on her.

You know what’s really a shame? The fact that guys like Moby put more effort into seeming woke than they do listening to women. What’s really a shame is that a guy like Moby can dedicate years of his life to promoting veganism but still treats women like they’re nothing more than a piece of meat.

  • Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist


Arwa Mahdawi

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