By now, you’ve probably heard about Angelina Jolie’s breasts. Or even seen them for that matter. But recently, they’re in the news for a different reason than their on-screen prevalence and glory.
Last week, the actress revealed in a New York Times op-ed piece that she underwent a double mastectomy as a preventative measure after a genetic test determined that she had a rare gene mutation that put her at high risk for breast cancer. This particular mutation made her 87% likely to develop the cancer. 87%!
The general opinion of her choice is very positive. She bravely opted to remove her breasts- which are a very strong symbol of womanhood- in order to combat this curse. She did so as a preventative measure for the sake of her children, so that they could grow up with a mother. As she states in her piece, didn’t find that this made her “any less of a woman,” and I admire her for making such strong statement about what it really means to be a woman. I’ve always admired her ability to be more than just a pretty face, despite having one of the prettiest out there. In fact, I’m writing a large portion of my Master’s thesis on her role as a post-feminist icon who is both proudly feminine and strong, intelligent, active, and courageous (traits many may call “masculine).
Ok, enough plugging my personal interest in this topic…
Angelina herself lost her mother at a young age to breast cancer. Typically, the health of a family member is the only way most women find out they may be genetically prone to cancer. But what about those of us without genetic cues to rely on? On a personal note, I’ve talked about this choice with my own mother, who was adopted and has no medical records on her biological parents.
The genetic testing Angelina requested is not cheap, nor is a preventative mastectomy. So while I want to view her choice as a brave feminist statement about controlling our bodies and not letting our bodies control us, I wonder how this translates to “the little people” who can’t afford such tests and treatments. She does mention the access problem near the end of her article, but offers little advice on how to improve it.
Without the typical indicators of genetic predisposition and the funds to find these things out, how do we determine our risk factors? Do only the monetarily blessed among us deserve to be healthy? I know this is wandering down the path of a “healthcare for all” argument, but I’m asking about something outside of basic healthcare but nonetheless important. Should these tests become part of a basic healthcare package? How far should genetic testing go?
Finally, I wonder whether Angelina plans to put her social active voice to use in the issue and promote these tests for all women. At the very least, I hope that her actions bring attention to the issue. And while I absolutely applaud her choice, it isn’t one we can all so easily make.