By Kristin Perissinotto
National Director of Online Engagement (Social Media and Campaigns)
Menopause, like so many other women’s health issues, is one that we as a society don’t like to discuss. There remains a taboo surrounding any discussion around women’s reproductive health (except when legislators are trying to control it), and menopause is no exception. Menopause is frequently depicted in the media as ‘funny’. Women are shown in movies sweating and furiously fanning themselves in the middle of a hot flush. The world is happy to laugh at the apparent hilarity of it all, but we don’t want to talk about the topic in any meaningful way.
Menopause (usually) signifies the end of a woman’s fertility, which has somehow translated to women being somewhat invisible post-menopause. In the past couple of years there has been an influx of opinion pieces on the topic of post-menopausal invisibility. Real women tell stories of being ignored at work, and dismissed in conversations with their children. There are some societal ‘rules’ for postmenopausal women. Long, flowy clothing, no makeup, and short hair is the uniform society expects from a ‘woman of a certain age’. Their opinions are often dismissed and suggestions ignored.
Mental health is a topic that we have only just started talking about as a society. More and more social media influencers are opening up about anxiety and panic disorders, and talking candidly about depression. But anxiety and depression have been labelled as being for young people only. ‘Generational anxiety’ and ‘millennial depression’ are terms we have become quite familiar with. But what about older people with the same mental health issues? Anxiety and depression are common symptoms of menopause, and have been documented as such. But when was the last time you saw that depicted on the big screen?
Our society is divided into young people and old, and the line is drawn in different places by different generations. Feminism frequently excludes women over 50. Young women can be quick to dismiss the opinions of their mother or grandmother, brushing them off to be too ‘old to understand’. But isn’t this just another way that we are making women over 50 invisible? How does this then affect their access to help when experiencing unpleasant menopausal symptoms?
Let’s get comfortable talking about menopause. When women go through menopause, it can last from one year to ten. Most women will experience hot flushes and dry skin. Some women will experience high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Some women will notice a severe drop in libido. Some women will have heavy periods lasting for two weeks, yet others will have none at all. Many women will start experiencing menopausal symptoms in their 50s, but others will as early as their 30s. Some will get every symptom in the book, yet others may not notice a thing.
Feminists are often talking about intersectionality. We try to be inclusive of individuals of different orientation, identity, race, religion, and nationality. But what about of different ages? It is rare that a young woman will use her voice to speak out for access to hormonal replacement treatments, or mental health support for menopausal women. It’s time we stopped treating menopause like a dirty word, and as a quip in movies and television. It’s time we made a space for advocacy for support for menopausal women. Intersectional feminism is about making space for those without a voice, and it’s time this included the ‘invisible’ women.