The Angelina Jolie Phenomenon

3. As a celebrity, she’s a “safe” outlet for many women’s bisexuality.

Unlike having a crush on the woman at work or living two doors down, straight women who are secretly attracted to Angelina Jolie don’t have to fear that they will ever be in a situation which might cause them to act on that attraction. As a celebrity, Jolie lives clearly in the realm of fantasy, and thus attraction to her doesn’t really count against a woman’s heterosexuality.

4. Jolie’s aggressive personality appeals to some women’s desire to be dominated–and to dominate. writer Scott Huver put it best in his explanation of Jolie’s place in the Sexiest Star poll results. “How could you resist her?” Huver wrote. “If you tried, we have a feeling she’d kick in the door and hold you down on the floor with her boot until you submitted.”

Which is exactly what many women (straight, lesbian, and bisexual) secretly desire–even Jolie herself. “I need someone physically stronger than me,” Jolie said in a June 2000 interview with Elle Magazine. “I am always on top. It’s really unfortunate. I am begging for the man that can put me on the bottom. Or the woman. Anybody that can take me down.”

A decade earlier, Madonna generated a similar buzz, but didn’t create the same kind of phenomenon because only one of these factors really applied to her (the rebelliousness). Maybe one and a half, if you count her occasional dalliances with women. But although she flirted with bisexuality, Madonna always appeared to be doing it more as a marketing ploy to deliver maximum shock value than out of genuine interest. Her sexual friendship with Sandra Bernhard aside, Madonna is the kind of woman you could see hook up with a woman, but not actually be in a relationship with one.

On the other hand, one could quite easily see Jolie in a relationship with another woman now that she isn’t married. Not that she necessarily would look for this, since it’s not Jolie’s style to seek out one gender over the other, but at least with Jolie you believe it’s possible.

It’s the coexistence of all three of these factors at the same time within the same woman that is responsible for the universal attraction to Jolie. If she were just bisexual but not outspoken about it, or exhibited outrageous behavior but was not bisexual, or was just another beautiful married actress, Jolie would still have many fans. But she would probably not have the massive and diverse following of straight, lesbian, and bi women that she has today without the convergence of all three of these factors.

As long as the taboo on bisexuality and the pressure on women to be ladylike remain strong forces in our culture, Angelina Jolie will continue to serve as a sort-of litmus test for bisexuality in women who otherwise define themselves as heterosexual. Meanwhile, Jolie’s position as the Bisexual Poster Girl will actually weaken the very social conditions that put her there.

By contributing significantly to the national dialogue on bisexuality, she is making it less likely that she will be such a rarity in the future–circumstances in which even Angelina Jolie wouldn’t mind blending into the background.

July 2003 Update: In Jolie’s interview with Barbara Walters on the July 11, 2003 edition of 20/20 (ABC), she talked about her bisexuality and the fact that she is still open to a relationship with a woman, saying “I consider myself a very sexual person who loves who she loves, whatever sex they may be.”

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