Well Being

Public Response to Angelina Jolie’s Mastectomy Proves We Still See Women As Body Parts

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Angelina Jolie and William Hague arrive at the G8 Summit

In a moving op-ed in today's New York Times, Angelina Jolie revealed her choice to have a preventative double mastectomy. The media coverage has been immediate—as has the troubling, sexist public conversation (#RIP Angelina's boobs!) about Jolie's decision.

Jolie's mother died of cancer at age 56. Jolie herself, after discovering she carries the BRCA1 gene, which increases the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer (In Jolie's case, 87% chance of developing breast cancer and a 50% risk of ovarian cancer), decided to undergo a preventative double mastectomy. She began the process of removing her breasts in February and announced her decision in an op-ed today.

Here's what some people on Twitter had to say about Angelina Jolie's decision to remove her breasts in order to lessen her risk of breast cancer and prolong her life:

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Please, join me in weeping for humanity on the basis of the above tweets. Instead of seeing the beauty and bravery in Jolie's decision, there's thousands of people making comments about her breasts themselves. Some joking, some serious, some speculating that her partner will leave her because she's somehow less of a woman without her natural breasts, some just plain offensive: sexist, misogynistic and holyfuckingwhoa chauvinistic. It's obvious that these people are in the minority, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't call attention to them and their sick, twisted views.

This discussion, this particular aspect of the public reaction to a woman's choice to take control of her own health proves that our society still sees women's worth as indelibly, undeniably, irrevocably tied to their bodies and their sexuality. Femininity and womanhood are closely tied to physicality, as the tweets from these bottomfeeding cretins show: A woman isn't a woman without her boobs. Nevermind the fact that Jolie also chose to get implants, so her physical appearance will likely be completely unchanged—noting that fact would have involved actually reading Jolie's op-ed, so perhaps that was a task too difficult for these dudes and their kind. But even sadder is that this brand of ignorant, frat-style rhetoric is nothing new in the breast cancer world, where “Save second base” and “I HEART BOOBIES” campaigns serve to sexualize a disease that threatens women's lives, not just women's secondary sex characteristics.

Of course, there's also a huge outpouring of support and respect for Jolie, as there should be. While it's true that, as an extremely privileged white woman, she had the means to undergo genetic testing, as well as the mastectomy itself and the reconstructive surgery, I still think her decision is to be commended, as is the fact that she chose to reveal it to the public.  While Angelina Jolie is not the first woman in the public eye to undergo a double mastectomy (see also Sharon Osbourne, Guiliana Rancic and even a Miss America contestant), she's the first celebrity sex symbol I can think of who has done so, as well as the first “A list” (if you will), highly-visible, ridiculously famous actress.  That's powerful.

Her op-ed is going to change people's minds about breast cancer treatment and prevention. It's going to destigmatize preventative mastectomies. It's going to help people learn to support and understand women's decisions about their own healthcare, and it's going to raise awareness. Angelina Jolie's op-ed is going to save lives. Naively, perhaps, I also hope Jolie's essay (as well as her decision) will help people realize that women are more than their breasts and more than their bodies.

Photo: WENN.com