September 13th 2017
Sarah Vine: why do we still fear the M-word?
June 12th 2016 / 6 comments
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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