Angelina Jolie and the Failure of “Save the Ta-Tas”


Angelina Jolie recently announced that she elected to have her fallopian tubes and ovaries surgically removed as a preventative measure against ovarian cancer. This decision was prompted by a genetic mutation that put her at an abnormally high risk of both breast and ovarian cancer – the same mutation that led her to get a famously controversial double mastectomy back in 2013.

Between an estimated 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a painful family history of death from the disease, you’d think that Jolie’s reasons for pursuing preventative surgery would be at the very least understandable. Nonetheless, people got legitimately angry about the decision, accusing her of mutilating her body and putting her sex symbol status to waste.

And this is the deep, dark message behind our modern society that cries “save the ta-tas!” in the name of breast cancer awareness – yes, protect the breasts, but damn the lives of the women who own them.

The case of Angelina Jolie is hard evidence for what happens when we fail to save the ta-tas themselves but in turn save a woman’s life instead: people get pissed.

Apparently, once you strip away the chance of protecting boobs, far fewer people care about protecting the women behind them. And while I don’t mean to suggest that the idea of “save the ta-tas” is what caused this attitude, I do think it’s symptomatic of our tendency to restrict women’s visibility in the public eye to sexualized roles.

No one’s trying to capitalize on “save the lungs” on behalf of smokers, or “I love prostates!” on behalf of men. Hell, even the 2,350 men who will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year are shut out when we uphold the sexual female breast as the focal point of the “awareness” discussion.

When we put just plain ol’ tits at the center of mainstream breast cancer discourse, we shove aside the human aspects of the disease. What about the patient’s right to choose their own treatment, the affordability of life-changing procedures, the dignity of survivors and victims alike – who’s going to save those?

Okay, but it’s just marketing, right? And sex sells.

Of course you’ll raise more money protecting second base and loving boobies, and that money supports the ever-nebulous concept of “awareness” and (ideally) research. Maybe dirty money for a good cause is ultimately forgivable – that’s a debate for another day.

But whatever the case, we apparently can only be bothered to give a shit about cancer patients if we can sexualize their bodies in the process. And regardless of what you believe the ends may justify, I think we can all agree that there is something severely wrong with our means.

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