As I perused Facebook this morning, I was pretty surprised to read the post from the “Today Show” about Angelina Jolie’s announcement that she has had her breasts removed to obviate any chance that she will contract breast cancer. The post indicated that she had undergone genetic testing, learning that her chances of developing the disease were almost 9 in 10. The quote in the heading was something to the effect that she had prevented her children from losing her to breast cancer.
Wow. My two simultaneous thoughts were that she had succeeded in preventing her children from losing her to this awful disease, and that she was again exhibiting bravery and dancing along the cutting edge where she seems to be so comfortable, or, at least, familiar. Rapidly behind these was the wry observation that there would be a lot of sorrow among those who are boob-centric: the men.
I was sure that the good wishes and lucid, beautiful, and elaborate sentiments would have already poured forth and I thought that I would add my milquetoast well wishes and move on.
Nope. Some of the women — and at that early hour, relatively soon after the post landed — were nice, maybe a slim majority, but there were some pretty vicious ones too.
The main themes were that she is a husband stealing hussy and that her decision is only being lauded because she is a celebrity.
This is unfair. I cannot think of a more colorful sentence. I have read in many places about this and there are theorists and experts in the fields concerning women’s studies who speak to this much more eloquently than anything that will follow, but here are a few thoughts, anyway.
Her decision is laudable because it is hard to go have your boobs chopped off. It is laudable because she showed us how to face something like this and make a hard decision in hopes of a safer future. Regarding the man stealing hussy acrimony: how many men have cheated, but been otherwise great human beings? My thinking is a lot. And they do not have anyone sneeringly reminding us of their indiscretions.
Angelina Jolie goes to the far corners of the world, to the most stinky and hopeless places. She represents America for the United Nations, and she tries to feed and house and care for human beings who would otherwise die. I don’t find that I care what else she has ever done; that makes her a great woman and a great human being.
We women need to learn to close ranks and celebrate those among us like her, rather than engaging in any of this silly, gossipy crap about how she took Brad from Jennifer. To diminish her and the monumental human rights work she has done diminishes us all and makes certain the relegation of our accomplishments to someplace behind what some guy did.
When my own mother went through a mastectomy a few years ago, I read what some astute woman had observed and it resonates with me still. The crux of it was that if the breast cancer epidemic were instead a testicular cancer epidemic, the medical establishment would have come up with something to treat it more advanced, more humane, than the slash and burn of surgery and chemotherapy. This treatment has not changed in, oh, ever. The mastectomy has been “modified” so that all of the tissue along the involved side of the chest wall is no longer scraped away.
Men, who comprise the vast majority of surgeons, unhesitatingly perform this proceedure on women thousands of times in their careers. If it were something that they were expected to do to a man, they would hesitate, and then they would celebrate the man for undergoing something that tested his self-identity, his “manhood”. The man would be lauded for his generosity and his courage for refusing to let his life be ended by anything other than the irrevocable, the inexhorable, the immutable. His personal peccadillos and anything except that which is good about his character would have no place in the dialogue.
So it should be for anyone who sacrifices something significant for the good, or the potential good, of another.
Let’s celebrate women who opt to live and move on from the spectre of death, whether we like them or not. Let’s celebrate women who march out into the hard and ugly places and hold children with AIDS and feed people whose bellies are swollen from hunger. Let’s do it like the boys do it.