Angelina Jolie is renowned by the world for her fearless activism and certainly for her elegant, jaw-dropping beauty. She represents the classic idea of the flawless, beautiful woman, yet her brave decision to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes (as well as have a double mastectomy in 2013) reemphasizes to society what it truly means to be a woman.
Jolie’s decision has shed light on a serious health risk for women and opened up the avenue for dialogue on how women and we, collectively as a society, can effectively treat the condition.
“I did not do this solely because I carry the BRCA1 gene mutation, and I want other women to hear this.” Jolie wrote in the New York Times. “A positive BRCA test does not mean a leap to surgery. I have spoken to many doctors, surgeons and naturopaths. There are other options. Some women take birth control pills or rely on alternative medicines combined with frequent checks. There is more than one way to deal with any health issue. The most important thing is to learn about the options and choose what is right for you personally.”
Jolie’s economic privilege granted her the benefit to afford screenings and multiple surgeries, yet it is incredibly important to note that so many women are unable to afford this (what should be considered) right. Double mastectomies cost between $15,000 to $50,000 including breast reconstruction, testing for the BRCA gene can cost over $3,000 and removing parts of the uterus could go as high as $12,000. Not to mention women face higher insurance costs and fewer clinical trials.
Despite these discriminatory hurdles we need to eradicate, Jolie subtly checks her privilege in mentioning how women do have other options in preventive cancer care. Hopefully, her words resonate well enough to push insurance companies to offer these screenings and create wider accessibility for all women.
Jolie’s message for women extends further in acknowledging her choice does not make her any less of a woman.
In our patriarchal world, we too often focus on a woman’s body parts as the sole definition of womanhood. Without breasts, ovaries, a uterus or even the ability to conceive or have a period, we consider a woman to have lost what makes her essentially a woman, and this heteronormative narrative damages cis and transgender women alike. Gender is not confined to what your body looks like and what it can and cannot do. Jolie’s words regarding her decision underscore that your physical parts do not make up who you are, but instead that how you feel on the inside is what matters.