Why Angelina Jolie Matters

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And so we, the men of the world, are offered a window into our own futures.

Angelina Jolie has had a double mastectomy.

The news is racing around the world because Ms. Jolie is a celebrity. But not just any celebrity. The remarkably high level of public awareness of Ms. Jolie’s surgery, is linked to her particular way of living with and leveraging her and her husband’s fame. With her typical purposeful determination, Ms. Jolie has gone public in a op-ed in the New York Times titled My Medical Choice delivering a clear and unambiguous statement intended to raise consciousness about an inherited gene mutation from which she suffers.

In summary, women with this genetic defect in BRCA1 have a 65 percent risk of getting breast or ovarian cancer, on average. Jolie wants women to know that can be tested for this defect and, if they choose, avoid the higher risk of cancer it brings.

Angelina Jolie is married to Brad Pitt. They have half a dozen children. A week doesn’t go by that they aren’t on the covers of tabloids across the world as symbols of gorgeous Hollywood glamour.

She wrote New York Times:

My doctors estimated that I had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, although the risk is different in the case of each woman.

Meanwhile the rest of us have all been raising our kids and running to the store and doing what we do to live our lives. Occasionally we glance up and there she is on our televisions. “Oh, yeah, that was the movie where she played a spy. Right. What was that, 2005?” we ask ourselves, as we pick up the Legos and toss mismatched socks in the laundry bin.

Ms. Jolie goes on the write:

I am fortunate to have a partner, Brad Pitt, who is so loving and supportive. So to anyone who has a wife or girlfriend going through this, know that you are a very important part of the transition.

And so, we, the men of the world, are offered a window into our own futures. Because someday, if not already, each of us will take the hand of one of the woman in our life, (mother, daughter, wife, child) while she deals with the terrors of mortality. It is an opportunity to fully experience life even as the threat of an ending hovers, however distant.

I have a deep and abiding respect for Jolie and Pitt. They have used their celebrity capital wisely, building housing in New Orleans following Katrina, working on humanitarian issues for the UN in 30 countries worldwide, contributing time and money to dozens of causes while living life and, by all accounts, loving each other and their children.

And as the years roll by, I take comfort in the knowledge that Angelina and Brad will carry on marching the paparazzi strewn sidewalks with their kids, making movies wherein they once again sneer at the unforgiving cameras saying, in effect, “I dare you to not buy what I’m selling, baby.”

I do not pretend to understand what life must be like for them. To be adored and hounded by an obsessive celebrity culture, to spend their lives in a world that is doubtless both suffocating and exhilaratingly liberating all at the same time. Their world is so far removed from mine, it’s almost like living on Mars.

But I can tell you this. On days like this, when I look up and see the kinds of choices Ms. Jolie is making, I respect her and her partner Brad Pitt all the more.

 

 Photo: AP/Matt Sayles

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About Mark Greene

GMP Senior Editor Mark Greene writes and speaks on Men's Issues at the intersection of society, politics, relationships and parenting for the Good Men Project, the New York Times, The Shriver Report, Salon, HLN, The Huffington Post, and Mamamia. You can follow him on Twitter @megaSAHD and Google.
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Comments

  1. She is very heroic, on a personal level, and as a celebrity. Very inspiring.

  2. Such powerful and brave words from Angelina….especially about how a mastectomy does not diminish her femininity …..unfortunately, I know all too well the agonizing decision process that she must have gone through…and my thoughts, too, were really for my son….Having good health insurance is a huge blessing….and a supportive partner even huger….

  3. Quite refreshing in some ways — she’s the rare Hollywood actress with a decent, honest medical reason to get breast implants….

    There’s a bigger test of social acceptance yet to come, however. Let’s see if there’s any change in how people view her when or if she has her ovaries taken out. That’s just as recommended as a mastectomy in cases like hers. Will people think of her as less of a woman when she has that done? No one would admit to it, but I bet that’s more common than thinking she’s less of a woman for having a mastectomy. I bet other women would be the harshest or most patronizing about that.

  4. wellokaythen says:

    Appropos of nothing, I think it’s humorous that she talks about her “partner, Brad Pitt,” as if there’s someone in the universe who didn’t know they were together. Wait, what was the name of that guy she’s had some babies with? Bert or Brad something or other. What was his last name. He was in that movie where he played that guy who did that thing, you know the one I’m talking about….

    To be fair, though, maybe when they’re in private she calls him “Brad Pitt.” That’s just the name she uses. Full name, no shortening. Come to think of it, my wife may call him that in her head as well….

  5. John Schtoll says:

    What Ms Jolie did was probably the hardest decision of her life and should be commended for her bravery for sharing it with the world.

    Since this gene is detectable and the double mastectomy reduces the chance of cancer by a significant amount, I wonder , is it time that we do this test on female babies and take the appropriate action when they are young and won’t remember the pain of the operation.

    • Here’s the thing, John: The genes in question don’t actually cause cancer.

      In a 2003 study published in the esteemed academic journal Science, researchers found that among women carrying the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, cancer “risks seemed to be increasing over time.” In other words, those born before 1950 only had a 24% risk of developing breast cancer by age 50, while those born after 1950 had a 67% risk. These statistics indicate that the cancers are not at all caused by these genes; merely, these genes enable certain environmental factors to affect those who carry these genes. Moreover, these environmental triggers of cancer have become more prevalent in recent years. And though the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene carriers do individually possess a higher risk of cancer, they comprise less than 5% of breast cancer cases.

      Sadly, we’d rather take the path of least resistance, instead of addressing the reality that we are poisoning ourselves and our children.

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  1. [...] coming out with an op-ed about breast cancer, and her preemptive strike at it. The Good Men Project respected it. A woman who is undergoing cancer treatment had a very different opinion, thinking it not [...]

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