If a campaign for #Jolie2016 kicked off tomorrow, I would instantly uproot myself to D.C. to cold-call voters and eat cold pizza on campaign busses for the next 17 months on her behalf.
Angelina Jolie certainly does not lack for admirers, and last week Queen Elizabeth II made clear that she’s one of them, conferring on the 39-year-old American actress the title of honorary dame.
Besides her current roles as mother to six children, Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and the title character of Disney’s Maleficent, Jolie served as co-chair, alongside British Foreign Secretary William Hague, of last week’s Global Summit to End Sexual Violence.
The Summit aimed to end rape as a weapon of war and challenge all global citizens to take responsibility for ending impunity for sexual violence: “Peace has brought no justice,” Jolie told attendees from a stage at the ExCeL Centre in London. “And as an international community, we are responsible for that.”
I’d been mildly obsessed with this woman even before she took front stage in the international political arena to speak out about sexual violence and victim-blaming. I even tweeted about her on May 31:
And no, I was not kidding. If a campaign for #Jolie2016 kicked off tomorrow, I would instantly uproot myself to D.C. to cold-call voters and eat cold pizza on campaign busses for the next 17 months on her behalf.
The revelation that I’m a Jolie-groupie won’t surprise anyone, I’m sure. Most people’s ideas about Jolie reflect their thinking on the appropriate way for women to publicly own and express their sexuality. Given that I’m a polyamorous, sex-positive feminist, it’s hardly surprising that this thrice-married bisexual with daddy issues would be one of my biggest heroes. Jolie has, as Joan Didion once said of John Wayne, a “sexual authority so strong even a child could perceive it.”
I’m aware that the response she elicits in many other people is likely to be more reticent. With sex perceived throughout society as a social currency that women must distribute with meticulous care or else suffer the consequences, Jolie is the butt of the same slut-shaming suffered by many other women who take the reins on framing their own sexuality. As a political figure, she is simultaneously distrusted by both straight men paralyzed by fears of having their sexual desire turned against them, and other women, who often detect in her Lara Croft tomb-raiding and Mrs. Smith stunt-doing a certain penis envy, an eagerness to compete to get in with the boys that makes one question where her gender loyalties actually lie.
She likes, for instance, to feign a wide-eyed innocence about whether she has an eating disorder, despite all indications to that effect. “I don’t like that I’m that thin,” she told the press in February after a particularly emaciated appearance at the BAFTA Awards. “If I could snap my fingers tomorrow and put on 15 pounds, I’d be so happy if it went in the right places.”
But given that her cleverness has made her into a global stateswoman, she must know that the camera—the original source of her Hollywood fame—adds 10 pounds. Please don’t be coy, Angie; be kinder to yourself and eat some goddamn peanut butter.
On the other hand, it’s precisely this turbulent, sometimes destructive relationship with her own womanhood that makes me believe in her so much. Her pair of marriage ceremonies in which blood played the role of unity candle, her roller-coaster relationship with her father Jon Voigt, her history of self-harm—all this makes clear that this is a woman whose desire for male approval has repeatedly broken her, yet also inspired her to keep pushing to engage with them on their own level, to use the sexual authority she has to force them to take seriously the damage they can cause with their own privilege.
“Jolie? Didn’t she recently get both of her boobs taken off for some bizarre reason?” said my boyfriend over his cigarette when I told him my topic for this week’s column. Then he threw a mock-stricken glance over at my brother. “Such a shame, she’s a real mamacita.” And as much as I love him, I stiffened, for a quadrilli-second, with the urge to slap him. Even the most progressive men out there can sometimes be utterly clueless as to the way that the one-dimensional sexualization of female bodies in the media trivializes the complexity, the vulnerability, the arbitrariness of women’s relationship to the bodies we’re born into.
And this is something that Angelina Jolie clearly understands. “I have met survivors [of sexual violence] from Afghanistan and Somalia,” she said in her inaugural speech for the London Summit:
And they are just like us—with one crucial difference: we live in safe countries, with doctors we can go to when we’re hurt, police we can turn to when we’re wronged, and institutions to protect us. They live in refugee camps, or bombed-out streets, in areas where there is no law, no protection, and not even the hope of justice.
Patriarchy tries to convince us that the appropriate space for such discussions of sex is a circumscribed one, usually a space defined by men themselves so they don’t have to reckon with either their fear of desire or the propensity to wield sex as a tool of power. Jolie, on the other hand, has brought sex to the international political arena. The beautiful face that People magazine has relentlessly told us is the world’s sexiest is now confronting us to demand that we take collective responsibility for allowing sex to be used as a weapon.
Now that’s something I could get behind. Would she get your vote?
Samantha Eyler is a freelance American writer, editor, and translator based in Medellín, Colombia. She has written about politics, immigration, Latin America, and social justice for publications such as NACLA and the New Statesman. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.