MALEFICENT: adj. causing or capable of producing evil or mischief; harmful or baleful (C17: from Latin maleficent-, from maleficus, wicked, prone to evil, from malum, evil). Malefice: n. (archaic), a wicked deed or enchantment.

What is it about the power of a woman free in mind and body that has been perceived as so dangerous throughout history? In the past, the Old Testament command, ‘thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’, was taken literally. Tens of thousands of people were executed for maleficia, the alleged crime of evil deeds through magic, from the witch hunts in Europe to the Salem trials in America. The vast majority of these were women.

Like the ultimate conspiracy theory, anything you couldn’t explain – from a crop failing to a child falling ill – could be put down to the influence of a supposedly wicked woman. These were often destitute widows, eking out an existence as healers on the fringes of society, or younger women whose seductive powers could easily be attributed to magic.

Angelina Jolie LouisvuittonShop UK September 2019
ALEXI LUBOMIRSKI

Women could be accused of witchcraft for having an independent sex life, for speaking their mind on politics or religion, or for dressing differently. Had I lived in earlier times, I could have been burnt at the stake many times over for simply being myself.

The accusation of witchcraft has been used to control and silence women in almost all societies and in every century. Joan of Arc was put to death by fire in 15th-century France for idolatry and heresy, including wearing men’s clothing. The initial charges against her included witchcraft, and she was accused of dancing near a fairy tree at night – textbook witchy behaviour.

It is so ludicrous that it almost seems funny, until you consider that a woman dancing or singing in public is viewed as illegal or indecent in many countries today. Iranian girls who post videos of themselves dancing are challenging what the law and religious dogma in their countries still deem unacceptable behaviour for women, six centuries later.

Anything you couldn’t explain... could be put down to the influence of a supposedly wicked woman.

Since time immemorial, women who rebel against what is considered normal by society – even unintentionally – have been labelled 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 colours the world we live in.

It is startling how often women who run for political office in democratic countries are described as witches. Bring together a group of strong women, and before too long someone will brand them a ‘coven’ – the technical term, to be clear, for a gathering of witches meeting at night to consort with the devil. Women who stand up for human rights in many countries are still labelled ‘deviant’, ‘bad mothers’, ‘difficult’ or ‘loose’.

Angelina Jolie LouisvuittonShop UK September 2019
ALEXI LUBOMIRSKI

In my work, I travel to countries where I know that, if I were a citizen there, my beliefs and actions as a woman could land me in jail or expose me to danger. Female human rights defenders across the world are incarcerated for their political views or for defending themselves or others, with courage I can hardly imagine. For all our modern advances, the independence and creative energy of women is still frequently seen as a dangerous force to be controlled, often in the name of religion, tradition or culture.

Consider the estimated 200 million women alive today who have suffered genital mutilation. Or the approximately 650 million women and girls worldwide who were made to marry before they were 18-years-old. Thousands of women and girls are murdered by family members in so-called honour killings each year, as a punishment for exercising their own free will. And when thousands of Sudanese women took to the streets of Khartoum calling for free elections in their country this summer, the order went out to ‘break the girls’, leading to scores of alleged rapes by security forces.

None of this is to dismiss or downplay for an instant the terrible abuses against men and boys – including modern allegations of witchcraft. But looking across the world, we have to ask, ‘Why is so much energy expended to keep women in a secondary position?’

Angelina Jolie LouisvuittonShop UK September 2019
ALEXI LUBOMIRSKI

Looked at in this light, ‘wicked women’ are just women who are tired of injustice and abuse. Women who refuse to follow rules and codes they don’t believe are best for themselves or their families. Women who won’t give up on their voice and rights, even at the risk of death or imprisonment or rejection by their families and communities.

If that is wickedness, then the world needs more wicked women.

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.

‘Why is so much energy expended to keep women in a secondary position?’

I think of a father who I met the first time I went to an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan, during the rule of the Taliban. He had been beaten so badly for sending his daughters to school that the whites of his eyes were yellow from the damage to his liver. I think of a Syrian husband I met whose wife became paralysed after she was shot in the spine by a sniper. They were living in a refugee camp, with no possessions and nowhere to go, but I do not think I have ever seen a more loving couple or devoted husband. And I could not be prouder of my sons for the men they are becoming, the way they respect their sisters and are respected by them. Who we are meant to be in life is something we all have to work out for ourselves. I think we can often go off-track as women, because our instinct is to nurture or to adjust ourselves to society’s expectations. It can be hard to take the time to ask ourselves who we truly want to be – not what we think other people will approve of or accept, but who we really are. But when you listen to yourself, you can make the choice to step forward and learn and change.

Angelina Jolie LouisvuittonShop UK September 2019
ALEXI LUBOMIRSKI

I remember when that moment first came for me. I was in my twenties, meeting refugees in Sierra Leone during the closing stages of a brutal civil war. I understood for the first time the level of violence that exists in the world, and the reality of life for the millions of people affected by conflict and displacement. I discovered my life’s work and purpose.

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.

With love to all the wicked women, and the men who understand them.

Yours, Angelina

Angelina covers the September issue of LouisvuittonShop UK, on sale 8th August 2019.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is in cinemas from 18th October 2019.