In Cancer Fight, Angelina Jolie Makes Case for Fluidity in Feminine Ideal

Elizabeth Sharp has conducted studies on women who go against traditional feminine expectations.

Actress and activist Angelina Jolie has made statements about nontraditional femininity while discussing the extreme measures she has taken to reduce her cancer risk. “I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity,” she wrote in a New York Times op-ed on May 14, 2013, after her double mastectomy.

“I feel feminine and grounded in the choices I am making for myself and my family,” she reiterated Tuesday, writing about the removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes.

Jolie likely reiterated her continued femininity, said Elizabeth Sharp, a human development and family studies professor at Texas Tech University, because society defines femininity in a narrow way and even in 2015 does not fully embrace women who don't conform. Sharp has conducted studies on women who choose not to get married and/or have children and the societal backlash, both large and small, against this defiance of traditional feminine expectations.

Other research includes feminist family studies research, the desire for U.S. college women to appear perfect to their peers and single women's perceptions of their environment.

Expert
Elizabeth Sharp, associate professor of human development and family studies, (806) 834-8652 or elizabeth.sharp@ttu.edu

Talking Points

  • Angelina Jolie's case illustrates a few important ideas:
    • Femininity cannot be reduced to body parts.
    • She is exposing how precarious societal categories of gender are.
    • She is showing how unimportant biological characteristics are in determining femininity and womanhood.
    • Physical attributes may or may not reflect one's sense of gender identity.
  • “I love that Angelina is speaking out and disrupting restricted ideas about femininity circulating in society.”

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