Why Angelina Jolie’s Breasts Slightly Irritate Me

Angelina Jolie at 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild AwardsThe title of this post might seem a bit melodramatic. But, I am okay with that being that my natural state is melodrama and I am pregnant. So, whatever. But, as someone who watched my mother toil with breast cancer for many years and who is now considered high risk herself, this narrative of Angelina Jolie somehow being a hero for publicizing her decision to have a preventative double mastectomy bothers me for several reasons.

First, Angelina Jolie is a mega-millionaire. The test to see if a woman possesses the BRCA-1/BRCA-2 genes is currently patented. This means that normal people, like me or my mother, would have to shell out at least $3000 to get the same testing Jolie had. This is highly unrealistic given the fact that this country is still embroiled in a debate over semi-universal healthcare. If we can’t figure out how to ensure the poorest and neediest, how could we possibly figure out how to make these types of preventative measures affordable to women nationwide?

Second, the medical research company, Myriad Genetics, who holds the patent on this gene is currently in litigation at the United States Supreme Court level over whether or not research companies should be able to hold patents on these types of genetic advances at all.

Third, “healthcare” companies have made it crystal clear that the “care” part of their name means absolutely nothing to them. If they cared, we wouldn’t see cases where mothers, fathers, and children are denied life-saving health services due to lack of coverage. And, we definitely would not see people dying on hospital room floors if these companies cared about the recipients of their services.

Overall, I am grateful that Jolie shared her story with the larger nation because those at risk, especially in the Black community, could really benefit from increased knowledge and awareness about a disease which claims so many lives each year. But, this disease is already one which strikes fear into the hearts of many. Some have criticized that Jolie’s extreme decision is not a common one. And while Jolie’s story seemed to be well-intentioned, it could have the counter-effect of sending women with much lower risk of breast cancer into a frenzy when faced with this type of decision.

But, Jolie could and should do more within her power to advocate for these types of preventative health services on a nationwide scale. She could start a nonprofit funding these types of tests. She could lobby Congress to expand healthcare to women in need.

In many ways, this reminds me of Hollywood’s efforts to thwart gun violence. The “Demand a Plan” video, though riveting, did little to sway congressional Republicans from slapping down any efforts to tighten gun security in the country. And now, I truly believe Angelina Jolie’s story will face much the same fate. Folks will appreciate it. But, with no follow-through, with no gusto, with no courage to actually do something, it just won’t mean much of anything.

Beyoncé once claimed herself to be a southern girl from humble beginnings, and now she is marketing sugary beverages to her “bey-phytes” or “bey-hives” or whatever they are called. Mary J. Blige remixes her songs to sell Whoppers. I mean really people. Stop selling out and fight for something.

I don’t mean to be negative. Maybe it is the pregnancy talking and adding the snark to this take. But, in all honesty, when are we going to demand more of the political and pop culture figures who feed us information yet have no audacity to make any changes? At some point, we have got to go back to being a nation of doers not talkers. And that goes for all of us.

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Jenn M. Jackson

Jenn M. Jackson, PhD is a co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Water Cooler Convos. She is a native of Oakland, CA. Jenn is a radical Black feminist scholar who believes none of us are free until all of us are free.

4 Responses

  1. Guyanesesista says:

    I like your take on this. It will be swept under the rug if people don’t actually act. It’s a shame Myriad Genetics would hold on to something so life saving as a patent to that breast cancer gene test. Holding on to the monopoly is waaayyyyyyyy better than saving lives aye?

  2. Alexis Dickerson says:

    Angelina’s Op-Ed was infuriating to me because it represents regressive, rather than progressive understanding of cancer. Based on epigenetics, we know that the breast cancer gene is heritable, but non-genetic factors are equally important, if not more important, in whether that gene will “turn on” or continue to be suppressed. ( 10 Minute Primer on Epigenetics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kp1bZEUgqVI )

    Cancer is not a local issue. It doesn’t just “happen”, it is the cumulative effect of a host of factors, some genetic, some environmental, some dietary/lifestyle. Your body deals with all sort of toxins and genetic malfunctions everyday, but it can reach a threshold. When it can’t process the toxins efficiently anymore, you may get a local cancer. This is where you see some of the genetic connection play in. Your body may be wired to “send it to the breast”, and your mom may have been too. In addition, you and your mother likely shared:
    1.) food habits (mom teaches you how to cook, what to cook, what and where to buy and eat),
    2.) environmental exposures (living together, using the same products, drinking the same muni water),
    3.) lifestyle (active or sendentary, drugs/alcohol) etc.

    So, in light of that, you can chop off your breasts, (the genetic factor), or you can change your diet (organic, essential vitamins and minerals, light on carbs, no processed shit) and environmental factors (drinking water, chemicals in your household, work environment, body care products, etc) and stress management (exercise, yoga, meditation, playing with pets, low stress job, etc). However, saying you have an 87% chance of getting the cancer may be “technically true”, but it completely conflates the fact that 87% is a cumulative result of ENVIRONMENT+DIET+GENES+STRESS. I don’t know how much each plays in, but what if genes were only responsible for half? Would you still chop off your breasts if your chance of getting cancer was 43%? That’s a coin toss. What if it was 27%? You’ve just moved from “brave and logical” to “crazy”.

    Next, and equally important, I mentioned before that cancer is NOT A LOCAL ISSUE. It is a manifestation of imbalance in your body (system). In no other system would you just remove the site of the problem and expect the system to continue to perform optimally. If you have crime in a neighborhood, arresting the criminals does not improve the neighborhood. You have to address the cause of the criminality, or you will just get new criminals. If your body reaches it’s toxic threshold, and you removed the breasts, your body CAN and WILL send it elsewhere (Hello Ovaries), because you haven’t fixed the problem. We have a medical system that encourages us to attack symptoms, not causes. If you have a headache, you will be told to take Advil. Advil will reduce inflammation, and make your head feel better, but do nothing to actually correct what caused the headache (maybe dehydration). In the meantime, you are still dehydrated…

    Preventative medicine is NOT cutting off healthy tissue, and replacing it with artificial breasts. (I can only imagine the that body has a stress/foreign body reaction to implants, but that’s an aside). It is NOT having elective surgery every 10 years (you have to get your boobs redone every 10 years, for safety reasons), risking your life and health each time. Our bodies can and DO fight cancer, as well as everything else we throw at it. No one can mitigate risk 100%, even the healthiest people will get sick of something or other, but this false choice between a “ticking time bomb in your chest” and double mastectomies is really, really tragic.

  3. Alexis Dickerson says:

    In case you thought I was pulling that out of thin air, read for yourself what the National Cancer Institute says about BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations…

    “It is important to note, however, that most research related to BRCA1 and BRCA2 has been done on large families with many individuals affected by cancer. Estimates of breast and ovarian cancer risk associated with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations have been calculated from studies of these families. Because family members share a proportion of their genes and, often, their environment, it is possible that the large number of cancer cases seen in these families may be due in part to other genetic or environmental factors. Therefore, risk estimates that are based on families with many affected members may not accurately reflect the levels of risk for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers in the general population. In addition, no data are available from long-term studies of the general population comparing cancer risk in women who have harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations with women who do not have such mutations. Therefore, the percentages given above are estimates that may change as more data become available.”


  4. Daren Jackson says:

    The issue here is not what Angelina did, but what Angelina didn’t do. She has this huge platform to be able to reach so many people and educate them on an issue that is so important (and has personally effected her life), but she only takes it as an opportunity to talk about herself. She could have provided real information or help for people, but she didn’t. And for some reason, everyone is hailing her as a “hero”. Good for her.

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