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Sarah Vine: why do we still fear the M-word?

June 12th 2016 / Sarah Vine Google+ Sarah Vine / 6 comments


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When so many expressions of sexuality are now accepted by society, why are we made to feel embarrassed about being menopausal?

Society has never been more accepting of different expressions of sexuality. You can declare yourself a pre-op transgender non-practising gay bisexual and no one will bat an eyelid. In fact, chances are you’ll get a book deal, your own TV series and a local government grant.

Admit to being a menopausal woman, however, and you might as well admit to having rabies. Nothing is guaranteed to clear a room faster than the mere mention of the m-word.

Politicians, the media, people in general are quite happy to engage in graphic discussion about issues such as FGM and forced marriage - but mention the menopause and you might as well let off a fart in a crowded lift.

No other aspect of the human reproductive cycle is treated with such disregard. Our society teaches 10-year-olds how to have sex, but when it comes to something that affects all adult women, the very mention is verboten. You can’t move for books, websites and TV programmes about pregnancy and childbirth; the most the menopause merits is a dog-eared leaflet in your local surgery.

Even people like the broadcaster Mariella Frostrup and the writer Christa D’Souza can’t seem to make the subject fashionable - despite themselves being the opposite of the stereotypical menopausal female. Sexy, articulate, everyone hangs off their every word. Just as long as it’s not THAT one.

D’Souza’s book on the subject The Hot Topic is funny and clever and has been well-received; but it’s not the bestseller it ought to be. Meanwhile, when Frostrup suggested making a programme about it for the BBC, her pitch was met with incredulity.

‘A documentary on the menopause? Good luck with that,’ was the reaction of one commissioning editor.

As Frostrup says herself, the menopause is so enveloped in secrecy it's a miracle we know how to spell it, let alone recognise it. And if even the BBC, which will happily make programmes about the most niche of subjects, won’t touch it, then what hope is there of getting the wider world to understand it?

The reason is simple: the menopause happens to middle aged women, and no one cares about middle-aged women. We are the most overlooked group on the planet. We work the hardest - looking after both generations either side of us - make the least amount of fuss and get virtually no thanks, either from those closest to us or society.

And yet we are at best taken for granted, at worst ignored. The world can barely be bothered to acknowledge our existence; no wonder it’s not interested in our medical problems.

And yet for most people, the symptoms of the menopause would be seriously debilitating. Loss of libido, fevers and flushes, muscle and joint pain, heart palpitations, extreme tiredness, unexplained weight gain, hair loss, osteoporosis - and more. And yet middle-aged women are somehow expected to put up with all this without skipping a beat. And many do.

Not just because they don’t want to be accused of making a fuss, but also because, deep down, society makes us feel embarrassed about being menopausal. Embarrassed - and ashamed that nature has thrown us on the reproductive scrapheap.

So what can we do to turn this around? How do we make the menopause mainstream? Should we here at Get The Gloss start a campaign? Please register and leave your ideas and notes below.

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  • Krishna
  • June 22nd 2016

Count me in!

  • Sarah
  • June 14th 2016

Well, I'm torn, actually. My teachers' union tried to get people on board to insist on things like making sure that women's loos were near to their classrooms and so on. That makes me uncomfortable, I must say. Some women DO make too much of health issues, and there is an argument for just getting on with things. It makes us seem so pathetic. Having said that, there's no earthly reason why the menopause should be hush-hush in general. I'm 55, and have found that exercise is the key - the more I do, the better I can deal with mood swings and the urge to cry and then punch the wall! It's the feeling of nameless dread that can sometimes overtake me that I hate the most, but again, exercise and gardening usually do the trick.

  • Emma
  • June 13th 2016

Yes, definitely, to a campaign! It's not just the BBC that don't want to touch the subject, neither do a lot of women. I'm in peri-menopause and it's very difficult to find anyone to talk to - even friends/colleagues who are a little older than me are very reluctant and uncomfortable. My Mum had a hysterectomy in her late 40's so I have no history to tap into with her as to how my own menopause might play out. It's so strange that some behave the way they do around this topic. Thank you for raising this incredibly important subject. Emma

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