Angelina Jolie recently underwent a double mastectomy and blogged about it. While I have no objection to her personal medical choice, I also don’t think it makes her particularly strong, empowered, or brave. That most news commentators use these adjectives speaks to the superficiality of our society. After all, we don’t use these words to describe people who have other preventative surgeries: it’s not empowering to have your your wisdom teeth out or strong to have a non-cancerous lump removed.
Why does the media call her brave? Would anyone think twice about having arm flab or love handles removed if keeping them meant an 87% chance of getting terminal cancer? No, the cancer thing would be a bonus! Thousands are having these surgeries for no medical benefit whatsoever because it lines up with what is considered attractive in a woman. I contend that breasts, for a woman who is done having children, are just as unnecessary as extra fat. Except society doesn’t see it that way. There was an outpouring of support on Twitter for “poor Brad” who will now be deprived of Angelina’s breasts. One man asserted that Brad will certainly cheat on her now. Here’s an example of their epic shallowness: even an 87% chance of getting cancer isn’t deemed a good enough reason to have breasts removed because hey, some guy still wants to touch them!
I respect her choice, and I’m taking back what I said earlier. She is brave, strong and empowered for going public and facing the ignorant backlash from people who only value her as a sex object. But she shouldn’t have to be courageous to opt for a life-saving* surgery. It shouldn’t have to result in a war of opinions against those who think they get to define what makes a woman. Her medically appropriate course should not have drawn any more fanfare than a decision to have a few pre-cancerous moles removed. It’s unfortunate that anyone feels they have the right judge a woman’s decisions about her own body. I hope that when others are faced with similar information they won’t have to be especially brave or strong. I hope they’ll take the course that’s best for them without considering what the world might think.
* Technically, it lowered her chance of getting breast cancer from 87% to 5% but did not save her from imminent death. However, it would have been awkward to say “probability-of-cancer-getting-lowering.”