It’s certainly not a coincidence that the opening bit of Angelina Jolie’s first-person Elle piece are the dictionary definitions of maleficent and malefice, because, hey, guess what, she’s got a big Maleficent sequel coming out. The idea of having her expound on the worthy “wickedness” of women is not a bad one, but it’s also a little brazen that the word “Maleficent” appears only twice: once on the cover and once in that opening format, without any other mention of this marketing connection. Maybe they felt it was so obvious, she didn’t need it, but to me it feels a little like… pulling a fast one, or at least, a moderately paced one.
The cover might as well be the pitch for a self-help book, or a TED Talk. It’s fine, but also gutless, and leaning way out from wickedness. I like this inside image so much better. It’s brimming with a cocktail of mischief and confidence. For that matter, I also love the ones in which Ang is wearing aviator shades like the lead in a Top Gun sequel that she really probably should have been.
It’s a perfect ad for sunglasses, and for Angelina Jolie, and for her mystique and, yes, any inherent wickedness behind those lenses.
I have to admit: I wasn’t enamored of the piece itself. It needed a heavier, confident editing hand, for one thing. The opening paragraphs end up feeling extremely repetitive before we get to the sixth, which repeats and restates what she sets up in much clearer terms:
“Since time immemorial, women who rebel against what is considered normal by society—even unintentionally—have been labeled as unnatural, weird, wicked, and dangerous. What is surprising is the extent to which this kind of myth and prejudice has persisted throughout the centuries and still colors the world we live in.”
For the record, and to answer a question no one asked, I would have cut “Since time immemorial” and written around that and the preposition at the end of what I quoted. But I suspect the person who landed this assignment was extremely nervous about doing much of anything to it, and that’s a pity, because it needed a polish.
Overall, Angelina’s thesis is one that’s easy to embrace — there are plenty of good lines about women rebelling against oppressive codes and abuse — but I also didn’t love some of the points she made within it. Perhaps I’m being too picky, but this felt as if it meandered between massaged pull quotes and down tangents that didn’t do it any favors. Like this one:
But it is also true that women don’t wake up every morning wanting to fight. We want to be able to be soft and nurturing and graceful and loving—not everyone is born to fight. And we don’t have magical powers. What we do have is the ability to support one another, and to work with the many great men who value and respect women as their equals.
That second sentence leaves no room for the fact that many women may want to be all of those things — fighters and nurturers. They are not mutually exclusive ideas, and she’s treating them as such here. It appears to say, “Okay, not everyone is super strong, and those people can be cuddlers instead.” It also seems to highlight the importance of women who can work with “many great men,” and yes, it’s super that we can do that, but to me it’s even more powerful that women can and do work with many SHITTY men and come out not merely alive, but ahead. We also are able to work with many great women, and and even some shitty ones, because they do exist. So I don’t FULLY understand her point here, and this is where she briefly veers into telling two anecdotes about men: one who loves his daughters and was beaten for educating them, and one who still loves his wife even after she was paralyzed by a sniper’s bullet. It brings her around to complimenting her own sons, but feels like a strange and semi-pointless digression in a piece that otherwise focuses on the power of women as disruptors, and the injustice of how often our efforts are handwaved.
And then this:
I often tell my daughters that the most important thing they can do is to develop their minds. You can always put on a pretty dress, but it doesn’t matter what you wear on the outside if your mind isn’t strong. There is nothing more attractive—you might even say enchanting—than a woman with an independent will and her own opinions.
Again, great point — your brain is your greatest treasure — but it then brings it back around to attractiveness. She doesn’t make it about cultivating a sense of self, or strength, or intellect, on their own merits; rather, she pins it to being seen as desirable by another human being or the world at large.
So in sum, it’s a great idea that I think needed more care in its execution, and could have been richer and deeper than it was. I am, as ever, very curious to hear your thoughts.