Angelina Jolie published her op-ed in the New York Times on May 14, and I read it that day. But by the time the maginitude of the news really hit, I was flying across the country, which meant I stopped in airports for plane reading and was hit by a virtual tsunami of magazine covers like this one.
Tornados in Oklahoma? Obama and drones? Pssht. But put a movie star on the cover and cover her like crazy? Suuure!
Despite my instinct that breast cancer isn't something to ignore or minimize, I thought:
1. Brave, shmave.
Since the op-ed came out, she's been called all kinds of wonderful things. Because I think one of the most positive things a celebrity can do is to take advantage of that hyper-awareness the hoi polloi have of everything he or she does is to bring attention to important issues, I agree with a lot of those adjectives. Still, I think the word "brave" is being overused.
UK foreign secretary William "Hague said: 'She gave no sign that she was undergoing such treatment and I think she's a very brave lady, not only to carry on with her work so well during such treatment, but also to write about it now and talk about it.'"
Commendable, absolutely. But I wouldn't call her brave, no. Keeping a personal matter private isn't brave. It's prerogative. Carrying on during tough times isn't brave. It's preserving your own sanity. Being honest with the public isn't brave. It's, well... being honest.
There's something noxious about celebrity-worship that's rubbing me the wrong way, even when said celebrity faces a very human issue.
This was bothering me a bit until I read a line in the novel I eventually chose for my plane reading -- one of the characters is talking about her father, who had died of a terminal illness. "My brother keeps saying how brave he is. Dad's so brave. He's battling so bravely. Bloody misery, actually."
Yeah. That brought it to a head. Let's not paint things as beautiful when there's no choice. Angelina had and made a choice, and by all means, let's support her. I will not, however, put her on a pedestal simply for doing that.
2. I know so many women who have survived breast cancer or who know someone affected by it.
None of them got to have glamorous photo shoots or be called a hero. All of them wish they had even the slightest opportunity to take preventative steps.
That's why I like the boldface statement made by H. Gilbert Welch on his CNN op-ed: "NOTE: This story is not relevant to more than 99% of American women."
Angelina's story is really one about her and her alone, genetic testing, and the personal decision it led to. That's the real story here, not Angelina's chesticles.
3. Since when did making decisions about your own survival become a mommy thing to do?
Pet peeve: I really, REALLY hate anything that even goes near valuing a woman because she's a mother or a potential mother. Enter Dr. Oz: "What I'm so proud about with Angelina Jolie's decision to go public is, she acted as a mom."
So... If Angelina was childless, her decision would have been different? Less admirable? That is just so... wrong. Any woman's life is important and should be long, healthy, and happy, regardless of whether they've bred or adopted an entourage.
4. Genetic testing for the privileged few is the stealth story here. I'm really confused by Angelina's doctors, who told her she had an 87% chance of developing breast cancer. I've no idea how those estimates come about, so I won't bother saying more. But reliance on gene testing worries me when it gets this much mainstream media play -- it's largely, well, sorry, but untested. Regular personal checks seem by far more reliable (and less like fear-mongering) than looking at a probability chart.
Time put her on the cover with a story that would spotlight the benefits of genetic testing. "[When] a woman known for her powerfully iconic beauty announced that she had undergone an elective double mastectomy to reduce her genetically high risk of breast cancer, it was a cultural and medical earthquake — a revelation so arresting it became the subject of TIME’s newest cover story," wrote Time's Jeffrey Kluger.
But there are concerns about genetic testing... and the economic concerns of the companies that benefit from it. Don't forget, too, that there are certain people for whom this genetic testing is far out of reach. And that after Angelina's announcement, the company behind the BRCA1 test saw its stock rise to a three-year high.
5. We're gonna see a worldwide trend of this procedure being called the Angelina.