She's a character, she has opinions.

This is not your empowered female archetype.

with 3 comments

In the July issue of Harper’s Bazaar Naomi Wolf writes about “The Power of Angelina (Jolie),” suggesting that women want her and want to be her because she has and does it all. Jolie, she says, transgresses boundaries, rebrands single-motherhood, and even defies the social stigma of “homewrecking.” All of this is because Jolie has “created a life narrative that is not just personal [but] archetypal… [bringing] together almost every aspect of female empowerment and liberation.” Key to Wolf’s argument is how Jolie has apparently defied one of the main forms of social control instituted by the patriarchy, the Madonna-Whore dichotomy. Women can be good but not sexy, they can be sexy but then obviously they are not good, and Jolie is both good and sexy.

Wolf’s argument falls apart, in my opinion, after she declares this and explains just how Jolie changed from “an attention-seeking, slightly Goth upstart” to this archetypal symbol of female empowerment. The turning point, she says, was Jolie’s son, Maddox, and Jolie’s supposed rebranding of single mothers from “society’s pathetic cases” to goodwill ambassadors who care not only for their own children but for all the world’s. Then came her involvement with Brad Pitt, the “ideal masculine counterpoint” for young Maddox, and Jolie’s avoidance of “the scarlet letter” by providing her son with this new father-figure. Apparently all you need to live the life of an empowered female archetype is to be a mother and wife-figure.


If Jolie has indeed become an icon of female empowerment because she’s living our dream life (as Wolf suggests) then what does this say about society’s views of what women want? Jolie herself might be actively defying the Madonna-Whore dichotomy but if it took a child and an attractive live-in lover to raise her status in the eyes of the general public–or at least Naomi Wolf–then I don’t think much has changed at all.

Wolf’s glorification of motherhood is writ large in this essay. Jolie is “the ultimate in single-mom chic” and “an übermom [who mothers] on a global scale.” She’s maternally extravagant, with her well-thought-out multiethnic family and “seems, without breaking stride, to care for half a football team of children while the rest of us tread water with our own biological offspring.” Not a word is mentioned about the day-to-day hardships of parenting and how Jolie’s money and fame give her options and advantages other mothers may not have.

In a similar vein, Jolie’s relationship with Pitt is highlighted as Wolf perceives Jolie to “[have taken] for her own pleasure the male seen as the most desired of the tribe.” There’s a nod to Jolie’s supposed “disdain [for the] social constraint” of marriage (this is in reference to Pitt’s to Aniston when he and Jolie began their relationship, not Jolie and Pitt’s unmarried status) but the breakup of that marriage is secondary to Jolie’s ability to take the man who is “always ranked at the top of indexes of male beauty and virility.”

Wolf briefly sets aside this obsession with motherhood and relationships to praise Jolie for her community service, giving us a paragraph on Jolie’s “elegant bone structure” and the clothing she wears while engaging in these charitable acts. Jolie may be doing more than looking pretty but Wolf certainly doesn’t seem to care.

Wolf may think she’s praising Jolie in this essay, but she isn’t, nor is she successfully demonstrating that Jolie has broken any new ground by way of female archetypes. She’s judging Jolie by the children she has and the man she’s with, not by who she is. Sorry, Naomi Wolf, but I just don’t see empowerment and liberation in that.

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Written by tldegray

June 9, 2009 at 1:44 am

3 Responses

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  1. Really interesting post.
    I have always felt very uneasy about Jolie’s status as revered uber-mom in our collective pop-culture consciousness but had never really analysed why. I hadn’t gotten beyond making snide references in posts and conversation. Now I don’t need to, you’ve done it for me.

    Spilt Milk

    June 9, 2009 at 2:40 am

    • Just another service we here at IRY provide. 😉

      Jolie has ascended to global mother status and until I read Wolf’s essay in Harper’s I wasn’t entirely sure why. Her charitable efforts are laudable but IMO don’t set her far enough apart from other (famous, wealthy, well-known, etc) women who do the same things. Wolf’s praise of her via her child, her man, and her clothes brought home to me why some people set Jolie on such a pedestal. It’s really too bad more people aren’t praising her for the works she does and the person she is instead of these other aspects of her life.


      June 9, 2009 at 3:44 am

  2. Yes, good post. I, similarly did not like Wolf’s thesis here.

    blue milk

    June 20, 2009 at 1:14 pm

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