I’m a mean jackass, but I am suspicious of Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy announcement.
Or rather, I’m suspicious because of all the issues surrounding the announcement. I don’t have a problem with Jolie herself–I don’t think she’s the best actress but I don’t think she was a useless human being until today or that what she’s done is wrong. That said, I’m not sure if I want to know what’s going to come out of this.
First of all, the rhetoric surrounding breast cancer treatment is insane. Not only do women with breast cancer have to deal with being sick, they have to deal with all these weird gendered body issues as well. Now you can have these problems without even having cancer! If you have this gene, you must have your breasts cut off and have what’s left reshaped into new, better breasts. I don’t know whether it’s really necessary to take the breasts off–it’s probably better in the long run, but the point is not that you are going to live, you are going to live to get new breasts afterwards that look almost like the old ones, goddammit. And the emphasis is always on how the breasts will look good afterwards and not frighten children or the sensitive eyes of men—nobody ever talks about how you are now stuck with unfeeling breasts, because it would be gross and greedy to miss having functioning erogenous zones. And nobody ever talks about the ovaries, because they’re on the inside, with all the guts and poop and other nasty, unwomanly stuff. Never mind the realities of biological womanhood, let’s stick with what we can see and paint pink.
Also, you must be thin, because otherwise you will get cancer from your fat. And you have to be happy, because otherwise your sad vibes will give you cancer. And this and that and the other thing, and these things change all the time with advancing medical research (except, conveniently, the parts about being thin and cheery).
Jolie’s statement reinforces all this–the idea that the most important thing of all is to look good after surgery, not feel good, and to make yourself sweet for other people. All while you are under a hell of a lot of stress, because a woman can be a raving bitch while she’s well but god forbid she have the sads when she’s sick. That’s a downer!
There’s also the idea that this will boost testing in women who may not need testing. The rhetoric surrounding breast cancer spurs a similarly insane amount of marketing. This fits in very well with the American medical establishment—which pays by service done, so there’s always pressure to do more procedures to turn a profit. The more people who undergo testing, the better, which is why you can get a full-body MRI test done just like you’d get a full-body wash and wax for a car. (Jolie’s clinic, the Pink Lotus Breast Center, is opening up an online service, so you can pay for their services without ever entering a real clinic—and they’ve already got Jolie’s operation details off, so you can have your tits taken off like just like hers, if you like.) However, once the patient’s had the procedure, they’re at risk of higher insurance premiums, and the insurance might not pay for the procedure anyway, so it degenerates into a mud pit match between the medical provider, the insurer, and the patient. But the system has to keep itself going, so tests and bills it is.
On a completely different note: what’s with Jolie having her surgery for her children? Whenever I read about women having purely cosmetic surgery, they’re always “doing it for themselves.” But when they’re having surgery for non-cosmetic reasons, they’re “doing it for their children.” I’ve never had cosmetic surgery, but when, say, I put on lipstick or mascara, I’m doing it for other people, because I want to look a certain way and have other people see me that way.* I’ve also never had major surgery, but if I did, I’d do it for myself, because I’d rather be alive than dead, children or no. That doesn’t seem particularly selfish to me. I understand that seeing children grow up is important, but if you don’t have kids or if you have other priorities or even if your kids are terrible screaming demonspawn like Damien and Rosemary’s baby** and you secretly want them to die, you still deserve to live for yourself! Please, don’t fake the self-sacrifice, ladies.
* This doesn’t mean that I don’t expect respect from other people or that I want to please everyone on earth, just that I don’t exist in a vacuum. There are people out there who become their own catwalk, but sadly we can’t all be Little Edie Beale.
** Although wasn’t Damien actually rather quiet?