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

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.


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    • Eileen

      Christina Applegate, I think, also had a double mastectomy. I forget if she actually had breast cancer or just the gene. She’s definitely not as famous as Angelina Jolie, but it did make me wince while re-watching Anchorman and hearing her character talk about her “magnificent breasts.”

      Also, Twitter dudes…you’ve seen pictures of Angelina Jolie from the last few months. Have you noticed a difference? Get over yourselves.

      • BassBone

        She did have a double mastectomy because she had early stage breast cancer.

    • Ian1

      “This discussion, this 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.”

      Not quite. It proves that certain arseholes within our society still see women that way. A few disgusting comments on Twitter do not represent society as a whole.

      • Carrie Murphy

        Search Twitter yourself. It’s more than “a few.”

      • John Niman

        At what point might we expect no one to joke or make asinine comments about anything at all? Ian’s point is well taken – a “few thousand” people out of hundreds of millions in just US society doesn’t prove squat about society as a whole.

      • Phillipa

        If you think we don’t live in a misogynistic, sexist society in which women’s bodies are tied to their worth in alarming ways, I suggest you revisit 2012, a shameful year in women’s health, and read over Todd Akin’s comments, Rush Limbaugh’s comments, and more. I think that if anyone is saying this kind of stuff, it’s worth calling out, like the author did. If you don’t, you don’t have to read her article, much less respond to it.

      • Joker

        Just because morons weasel their way onto mass media, doesn’t mean they represent the opinions of the masses. Shock jocks are just that, shock jocks who do what they can at anyone’s expense to drive up a few listeners and get paid a little more. I do think it’s awful that people are saying things like this, and yes, they should be called out on it. But I think it is just as sexist and chauvinistic for women to mass ALL men into the same group as these bumbling idiots. So I think that men who don’t share the same views should have just as much right to call out women who are doing the same damn thing. If its about equality… treat it all equally.

      • canaduck

        She didn’t say “all men”, you crybaby. She said SOCIETY, which is made up of both women and men. And that’s clearly where the problem lies. At this point you’d practically have to be willfully ignoring the fact that there’s a problem, unless your first and only reaction to every accusation of sexism is “HEY ALL MEN DON’T DO THAT OK”.

      • Bob Olina

        I agree that women should have a choice what to do what they want with their body but it’s scientifically ignorant to think you can prevent cancer by cutting off your breasts.

      • Sauce

        No, you can’t prevent all cancers by “cutting off” your breasts, but you know what you can prevent? Breast cancer. Most women who die of breast cancer die because it has spread elsewhere (I know this because my mother died of breast cancer that had spread to her liver and bones) but it is still cancer that originated in breast tissue. No breasts=no breast cancer that can potentially spread. If she can cut out the chance of the most likely cancer to affect her life, then I say great for her. It’s definitely something I have considered.

    • Deane Alban

      I’m heartsick to hear she felt she had to do this. Someone should have told her about epigenetics – the factors that control gene expression – and that having a gene is not a death sentence. Gene expression is largely controlled by lifestyle factors. It’s not logical that she had her breasts removed but not her ovaries, since she is also at risk for ovarian cancer, which is even more deadly.

      • Erin Reardon

        Someone did tell her about her genes–her doctors, who I’m sure were very, very good, given her wealth. You’ll also note that that in her editorial she specifically states that she “started with the breasts” as her breast cancer risk is higher than her ovarian cancer risk, and the surgery is more complicated–implying that she intends to continue with a hysterectomy. Let’s also take into consideration that a mastectomy has a lot of psychological effects, but isn’t going to wreak havoc on your body, your hormones, your emotions, and throw you into early menopause. I’m sure that since her mother died of ovarian cancer (not in this article, but elsewhere), she’s on top of that decision as well.

        I feel heartsick that she had to undergo what was probably a very painful procedure on more than one level, but I applaud her for her bravery in going through with it and then going public and subjecting herself to the idiocy of the public.

      • koreana

        she started with her breasts, which means that she in future might move to ovaries. but speaking of ovaries – may she is not finished having babies:)

      • Edwin

        Cancer risk babies.

      • e.a.a

        I’m so sick of reading this. Inherited mutations are PERMANENT. Seriously do a google search before typing this crap. Would you tell someone with cystic fibrosis to stop getting treatment in the hope that their lifestyle factors would change their inherited mutation??????????

    • Donofalltrades

      One of the person’s name was something MrdoodyHead for God’s sake. Surely we’re not taking the opinions of the likes of him for anything more than a grab at attention or a laugh from other imbeciles.

    • Gayatrii

      OH, God. I lost it with Pitts without tits! Thank you, random dude, for making me laugh!

    • Michael Vipperman

      This article is bizarre… how could you think that proves any of that? What sort of concept of proof do you have?

      Which of tweets says that a woman isn’t a woman without her boobs?

      How can you possibly be offended that people are talking about breasts in response to a story about breasts?

      Some of them are sexist, yes… no surprise, there are some sexist people in our society… but I’m much more terrified to learn that people with media influence can consider these tweets to be proof of what this says…

    • Bob Olina

      Why don’t you just accept the fact that Jolie is ignorant for thinking that cutting off her breasts will keep her from having cancer? Those tweets have nothing to do with sexism, they’re about her being a stupid bitch.

      • D. Canal

        Nothing makes us 100% immune to cancer, dude. We can only minimize risk, which is what Mrs. Jolie was doing. Why don’t you just accept the fact that this event happened, period, and that your opinion has no bearing on anything?

    • Steve Dustcircle

      I didn’t know a person is so defined by a body part or two. Wow, men. You make a fellow man sad.

    • Edwin

      Wow, funny how all similar tweets made by female comedians aren’t included in here. Plus the last one about “enough attention” seems spot on. She could have kept it private.

      • D. Canal

        Right. Because raising awareness, especially for women who are equally at-risk, is selfish and ignorant.

    • Joker

      Grouping all men in with the moronic twits making posts like these is just as bad as the moronic twits who are making posts like these.

      • Carrie Murphy

        If you read carefully, you’ll see I didn’t say it was all men doing this. I said it was “bottom-feeding cretins.” But, as I said in response to a similar comment made above, I believe it’s important to call attention to the fact that there are men (and women, too, there are women that had similar reactions) who made these kinds of comments because these kinds of comments are sick, sexist and indicative o the fact that misogyny is alive and well in our society.

      • Srividya S

        The problem is that everyone keeps telling us to ignore the idiots who post these kind of stupid statements and pretend that this kind of idiocy is not a problem with society. It IS a problem. Its like you hear a random racist comment and you want people to ignore it because hey only a douchebag makes racist comments. By doing that, you diminish the value of those who protest against such statements and make more people think its okay to talk like a douchebag.

    • werner sencion

      There’s insensitive people in the internets?!!?!?

      also, she’s better known for her looks than her oscar chops. the fans of her looks would be sure not to be happy, I think.

      • canaduck

        I know, right? Everybody knows that the internet exists in a total void that has nothing to do with the way that people act in real life! Wait, what?

    • Jenny Oh

      Bullshit! Should we collect comments on Lance Armstrong just having one Nut or count videos on youtube of athletes falling on their junk?! You may or may not like it but that’s humour: You reduce a complex topic to a single phrase, or boob. That has little to do with what feminists try to make out of it.

      • Rita Smith

        Not comparable, is it?

    • travis

      Angelina Jolie adopting one child after the other leads me to the conclusion those boobs were not working properly anyways…

      • Rita Smith

        I don’t think you understand how the female reproductive system works.

    • SistaMaryElephant

      I hope any of these men who felt their comments about a ‘missing rack’ never have a wife who finds herself in the position of having to make this decision. Juvenile at best is the only way to describe the mentality of these comments.

      • Rita Smith

        I do hope they get ball cancer.

      • Rita Smith

        I do hope they get ball cancer.

    • Ed O’Shea

      I weep for humanity for the fact that Twitter exists. There will always be stupid people with stupid comments, and twitter is a waste of server space that allows people to broadcast them.

    • Clover

      This article completely ignored the reality of the situation. Wait until a man cuts off his testicles to prevent cancer of testicles.