Angelina Jolie has an extensive list of accomplishments: She’s a visiting professor at the London School of Economics, she’s been a Special Envoy and a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN, she won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and an Oscar. Her romantic relationship is far from the most interesting thing about her.
But as news of her split with Brad Pitt, with whom she has 6 children, dominates the news cycle, one incredible detail about Jolie stands out freshly to me: She has never allowed her role as a mother to define her, or erase her sexuality.
Let me take you back to 2005. The rumors about Pitt and Jolie’s dalliances on the set of “Mr. And Mrs. Smith” were still just rumors, and 29-year-old mom-of-one Angie talked to Nancy Jo Sales at Vanity Fair about how she negotiates sex as a single mom. (Did you forget that Jolie was ever a single mom?!)
Here’s how it starts:
“You know, you’re sleeping with your kid all the time and you’re like, God, I haven’t had sex in months, let alone tempted anyone,” says Angelina Jolie. She’s sitting cross-legged beside me on an overstuffed couch at a hotel bar in Beverly Hills, on a misty March day, drinking champagne. She’s slender in jeans and a silky tunic with a pattern of naked women on it, which she says she bought at a London sex shop, Coco de Mer. “It makes your ass look nice,” she says.
Take a minute to process the content of that quote. She actually mentions her kid and her sex life in the same sentence! The simple admission that moms want to have sex is still a revelation.
She goes on to talk about negotiating terms (just sexual, please) with lovers (she has 2) and where she meets them (hotel rooms).
New moms may not usually feel like sex symbols. Bodies may turn unfamiliar after childbirth, sleep deprivation may turn the bed into a blessed sanctuary for just sleeping even for 5 minutes please. Some moms may find themselves focused on their new progeny to the point of distraction.
But that doesn’t mean, for most of us, that we’re ready to give up our status as sexual beings, that at 20 or 30 or 40 or whatever age we are when we have kids, we’re ready to pack it in when it comes to the joy of human sexuality.
No, that’s something that’s done to us.
Society insists that the role of “mother” subsumes our sexuality in a way that it doesn’t demand of men. There’s a fear once you have kids that, if you are too sexual, you’re somehow being a “bad example” for your children. Look at the scores of comments reminding Kim Kardashian that she “is somebody’s mother” when she poses nude or the outrage when a grown-up Beyonce sang candidly about sex with her husband. (Of course, race complicates the issue even further.)
Moms who want to have sex, or simply be sexy, are both taboo and fetishized ― how else do we explain a country where women with kids are meant to be chaste but our top porn searches are some variation of the term “milf?”
Men aren’t defined by their children the same way that women are, their paternity doesn’t cast a long shadow over their essential humanness. When a man is sexy, no one asks what his kids will think.
Men are allowed to be people and fathers. And people have desires.
It’s a double standard that male celebrities just aren’t as beholden to ― raunchy male comedians talk about their genitals onstage without fear or reprisal, David Beckham poses in his underwear without anyone mentioning his children, and even Howard Stern has a daughter.
Right from the beginning, Jolie refused to be defined by her kids. She insisted on remaining visible as a woman, a freaky, weird, dirty, horny, sexual woman.
And throughout her famous union with Brad Pitt, as her family has grown, she’s continued to speak openly about her sexuality as a married woman with children.
She implied that she wore her horns from “Malificent” as a sexy costume for Brad. She gushed about the pleasures of pregnancy sex. In 2012, Pitt bragged to the NY Post that Jolie was “still naughty in sexual ways.” That same year, Jolie told CBS News that she was “still a bad girl,” but that that side of her is now for her husband. A mother of 6 who gets to call herself a “bad girl” is, again, a revelation.
Jolie began her career as a dark sex symbol, a sort of thinking woman’s Marilyn Monroe, and she refused to let motherhood and marriage whitewash those parts of her, even as the media sometimes reacted to the couple’s public friskiness by reminding them that their kids were old enough to read.
Because heaven forbid children should see a healthy sexual relationship between loving parents, or have a mother who refuses to be ashamed of her sexuality.
Angelina Jolie insists on embodying every authentic part of herself, even when seemingly “conflicting” identities make people uncomfortable. And I for one am excited to see her do it in the next phase of her life.