(And if it is, ur doin it rong.)

This article really pissed me off. “[M]enopause delivers a mind-blowing mid-life recalibration – one with a valuable message of growth and expansion.” Uh, what? My mind is still here, unblown. Life trundles along the way it has for years. Maybe it’s being a professor: growth and expansion come with the territory. New students, new ideas, new courses (or new ways of doing the old ones), new research.

“[F]emale bodies are powerful intuitive barometers and mine was trying to tell me something.” Probably every body is a powerful intuitive barometer, whatever its sex. I count on mine to tell me when I’m hungry, thirsty, sleepy, and so on.

“I routinely put others first which meant racing through my life over-achieving and under-prioritising me. Exhausted and running on empty, letting go of my expectations of me would be the first positive move.” Okay, now you’re finally getting to your problems. Don’t suggest that those are everyone’s problems. (And by the way: dangling modifier. That irritates me, too.) You could have set a higher priority on yourself at any point, however; there’s nothing magical about menopause. Maybe that’s what got your attention, but in someone else’s life, it might have been a parent’s death or a child’s starting school, a change of jobs or a milestone birthday. I think Franklin’s realizations are not uncommon in midlife, actually, but the menopause thing is coincidental. I know women who went through menopause very early due to medical treatments or just because it happens early in their families, and they pretty much carried on as usual until their fifties, when the reality that life is short became more than just a phrase to follow with “so eat dessert first” or “don’t drink bad wine.” Men do this too. What do you think the sports cars are about?

“In menopause our body roars. All these years it has put up and shut up and now will not tolerate abuse or disrespect any longer. This commotion is simply a demand by your newly awake self for quality not quantity, for re-evaluation and re-balancing. Perhaps (when your time comes) you plan to put your hands over your ears? Think again, there is nothing so primal and immediate as your body’s hormonal call to action.” Our body? Speak for yourself. You have yours, I have mine. I wouldn’t say that mine put up and shut up. It has made its needs clear for decades. I treat it kindly. My self is as awake (or maybe not-awake) as it has been for years. I can’t say that I’m experiencing a hormonal call to action. Hot flashes, yes, but they don’t move me to much action beyond reaching for an ice pack. I always thought I’d enjoy getting up to room temperature, that it would make a pleasant change from being freezing most of the time. The problem isn’t the hot, it’s the flash, the sensation of being suddenly dumped into a sauna. I do not experience them as power surges, just as a passing nuisance. They definitely do not roar.

“Post-menopause needs renaming and reclaiming for what it truly is, a magnificent time of curiosity, creativity and rank. It’s not surprising that some societies have been threatened by this natural female evolution to leader and mentor. In Pagan times of Goddess Worship, female tribal elders were respected and celebrated but with the introduction of Christianity came the brutal persecution of middle-aged women as witches and heretics. As feminist history explains, older women were simply channeling their menopausal force to intervene in an oppressive culture that undermined female wisdom and equality.” Gag me. Where to start? Is there seriously any historical evidence for a pagan feminist paradise before the coming of Christianity? I used to have this argument with my mother, who blamed Christianity for everything that afflicted women (in her later years; when I was little, she was as conventional as they come: we both wore white gloves to church). In the medieval and early modern periods, an appalling number of women died before they made it to menopause. I can hardly bear to tour medieval churches any longer, despite the lovely architecture, because of all the plaques and gravestones from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, memorializing women who died in their thirties after bearing nine, or eleven, children, more than half of whom preceded them to the grave. Such a waste. At least Catholicism offered the option of the nunnery, where a woman could have some sort of intellectual life, and not have to go through childbirth.

Probably I’m simply the wrong audience for this sort of essay. I never went for the Powerful Female Experience rhetoric, whether it was attached to menstruation, childbirth, menopause, or any other natural process. There are lots of bodily processes that we could bond over. Some are universal human experiences, shared with men, and even with other animals. How come we never talk about the profound experience of digestion, and how at one with the universe we feel when we are replete after a good meal, or about the pleasures of relieving a full bladder, or making one’s mark on the world by taking a dump? Oh, wait, those aren’t mystical; they have nothing to do with the process of bringing another life into the world, which is the real power of women. Of course. And that must mean that I, as a childless-by-choice woman, am not a real woman. Never mind my double-x chromosomes, my years of living in a female body with (almost) all that that implies, my experiences with sexism overt and covert. I’m not sure that I’m even allowed a powerful menopause, in this model: if I haven’t sacrificed myself to others, if I haven’t given birth and suffered sleep deprivation while looking after a newborn and exhausted myself raising children while having a career, then probably what I’m going through isn’t really the hormonal wake-up call that Ms Franklin is on about.

OK, then, fine, never mind. Nonetheless, I think it’s sad if you haven’t managed to put yourself first before your mid-fifties. I thought that was an affliction of my mother’s generation, not of my own. I have a variety of friends (women and men) who have children. A few inhabit the martyr role. Most of them think about their own needs as well as those of their children. The second set are happier. How’s that for a powerful human experience?

“Happiness exists, and it’s important; why refuse it? You don’t make other people’s unhappiness any worse by accepting it; it even helps you to fight for them.”



10 thoughts on “It’s not an epiphany

  1. Ugh. As someone current possibly undergoing early perimenopause I am also irritated by the above essay. Hot flashes, memory problems, restless sleep? All it is doing is making me feel stupid and irritable.

    Disclaimer: I did have the powerful female experience with my first childbirth. And I have had many discussions on the pleasure of relieving one’s bladder, and I have witnessed the power of poo–maybe that also comes with children.

  2. My body roared plenty whenever I had cramps and pms. (The essentialism you note is irritating, for sure.) I’ve had the most pleasant menopause imaginable, I think (no hot flashes, etc), but it hasn’t been an epiphany, just going on, happy not to have cramps or periods to worry about, but other than that, just going on.

    1. I have another friend who reports much the same experience. I expected to be like that, because the periods have been fading away quietly (except for the last one, a few months ago, which reminded me about cramps and how many days of my life I lost to them). Hot flashes were a surprise, but you win some, you lose some, and I think I prefer them to cramps. But mostly, yeah, going on. It’s true that we’re probably in one of the best professions for just going on: I don’t think there’s any pressure on professors to look younger or more glamorous, despite our regular appearances in front of audiences! It beats being in TV, politics, or fashion. We don’t have to attract clients, either.

      I am aware that one reason that essay annoyed me was the reminder of my mother, who beat that essentialist drum pretty regularly. I decided that was what happened to women who didn’t have lives of their own* but tried to live through husbands and children until they suddenly felt they’d been gypped, and tried to create a narrative about women’s power and wisdom that would allow them a happier way of thinking about their lives. I did think (hope) that that would change for women my age and younger.

      *Not necessarily a career. My mother’s oldest friend never had a career, but has had a very happy life that included five children, loads of knitting, hula lessons, and other forms of self-expression. All of these, including (maybe especially) the children, were things she really wanted. She never adopted the martyr’s posture or the rhetoric of female experience.

  3. I like your takedown of the kind of mindless “mindfulness–I am woman, hear me roar with the strength of the Goddess Within” personal essay that passes for internet journalism.

    Sorry–got carried away there. (As you said above, “Gag me.”) But the thing is that, as you point out, this not only essentializes women with a lot of Wise Woman generalizations but only allows a *certain kind of womanhood* to be at the top of the pyramid.

    In my 20s, I was skeptical about this stuff, which was big back then, but I kept my mouth shut (because sisterhood and feminism, and if you don’t think this created a huge pressure to conform, you weren’t there). Now? Not a bit.

    1. And I can be flip about the essay because it had a splash page to brush away, and I’m not doing that. See? No more . . . something . . . to give.

  4. Hah! I have to admit, those essay excerpts rub me the wrong way. But I am really digging perimenopause because what went before almost killed me. I feel as if I have my life back in terms of physical energy and freedom. Bring it on, just not the overblown rhetoric!

  5. My great-aunt the suffragette (born 1883) explained why the menopause myth was silly, and nobody in my family has had trouble with it. But my great-grandmother did. Apparently it was the fashion then, at the dawn of the 20th century and perhaps before, you had to become weak and sit down for about five years, and grow mystical after that. In the case of my great-grandmother (she was a Beecher, daughter of missionary, born in Burma, shadowed by a cobra) it was theosophy and astrology. My point: this stuff is way out of date.

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