Angelina Jolie had a double mastectomy, in case you hadn’t heard. How dare she remove those ticking time bombs from her chest, amiright? Like, hasn’t she learned by now that her body is public domain and we all get to vote on what she does with it? Sheesh, how selfish can ya get.
I have to say, I really disagree with how this cartoon is positioning Angelina Jolie’s very public choice to undergo a preventative double mastectomy. First and foremost, I don’t believe the issue is about Jolie’s agency surrounding her body - the op is absolutely correct in saying that Jolie does have the right to make whatever choice she would like concerning her body. However, her choice to do this is suggestive of a greater problem. The bodies increased medicalization is making “health” more of an individual’s responsibility than ever before. The era of neoliberalism has made it so bodies with breasts have to take it upon themselves to prevent cancer, rather than a collective effort between institutions and individuals to more actively and holistically look to preventing cancer entirely. Instead of focusing on what is causing cancer in the first place, the notion that a person needs to take it upon themselves to undergo incredibly expensive, potentially dangerous and invasive surgery is being glorified in this instance as the new and ethically “correct” thing to do.
Another aspect to understand here is privilege. Angelina Jolie has the privilege of paying the exorbitant fees to the nations best doctors to run the necessary genetic testing, have the multiple surgeries she likely has undergone to ensure that she remains looking physically “normative”, pay for the necessary medications and for the necessary care to ensure a speedy recovery. In todays market, with the current prices of both medical insurance and medical fees, Jolie is in a very unique socioeconomic position. So what does this say to other people with an 87% chance of breast cancer who find themselves in a different socioeconomic position? Should they make the financial sacrifices, on top of the others that they are surely making, in order to reduce their chances of breast cancer? Furthermore, what this cartoon is suggesting is that if a person has an 80% chance of any kind of health concern, that they should be encouraged to do the “necessary” thing to avoid that. So, since we all have a 100% chance of dying, should we all commit suicide? This may sound extreme and I am certainly not trivializing suicide by any means, but this cartoon is situating Jolie’s decision in a logic that suggests otherwise.
If a person has a high chance of any kind of cancer, should they too remove that part of the body, if living is still possible after its removal? Preventative lymph node removal, preventative ovarian removal, preventative testicular removal? I think this a travesty in many ways. As I said before, why does the responsibility of ones health fall upon the shoulders of the individual when it is much more than just genetics that are contributing to our increased cancer rates? Why isn’t there a greater focus on the environment? On our corrupt food supply? On pollution? On the leading causes of stress and fatigue, all of which are contributing factors to death.
This isn’t about Angelina Jolie’s individual decision (which, however, I would argue that we do have the right to analyze as she has very publicly positioned her choice as one that is in alignment with her work as an activist) for me its about the continued discourse around health, privilege and the neoliberal notion of individual responsibility continuing to create health narratives that encourages people to internalize notions of health and quality of life, rather than do what desperately needs to done, and that is radically change the way we are currently existing on this planet, radically change the way we are approaching “solutions” and begin to recognize collective responsibilities, removing ourselves from ahistorical analyses of health statistics, looking directly at the way in which neoliberal capitalism and globalization are absolutely contributing to poor health internationally, and radically change knowledge production, particularly around health.
Furthermore, it isn’t just about what Jolie has said about her decision, but about what and how institutions of power are going to manipulate and spin this instance of a preventative medicinal choice (and choice here is illusive, there is a great deal that has not been mentioned as to the coercive forces at work leading up to Jolie’s decision) in order to favor and to shift discussions of breast cancer into a different, increasingly unequal and gendered direction.