All the talk about menopause makes me hot. Life change, as it used to be euphemistically called, went from impossible to inevitable almost overnight.
Celebrities Davina McCall and Mariella Frostrup lead their high-profile Menopause Mandate campaign.
They want HRT—hormone replacement therapy that can relieve severe menopausal symptoms—to be accessible to everyone.
More than 600 organizations, including the Public Service, Tesco and John Lewis, have already signed up for what is called the Menopause Workplace Commitment. This obliges employers to recognize that women going through menopause “may need support and speak openly and respectfully about the subject.”
Mayor of London and self-described “proud feminist” Sadiq Khan has introduced a new “menopause policy” designed to encourage managers, especially men, to get to the bottom of the issue faster. Not to be outdone, House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has vowed to make Westminster more “menopause-friendly” and wants everyone to talk about it.
Meanwhile, there is a shortage of HRT, including here in Northern Ireland. The media is full of stories of desperate, wild-eyed women who drive hundreds of miles in the hope of finding a pharmacy that stocks HRT products.
The current state of panic is palpable. Ms Frostrup stated that “the thought of giving up HRT is like suggesting you stop breathing.” She described HRT as “an elusive elixir” that millions of women “rely on for health and sanity in middle age.”
A recent newspaper headline even read, “If I don’t take HRT, I’ll die.”
Ugh. Can we stop for a moment and just, you know, take a breath?
I completely agree that menopause is absolutely terrible for some women, negatively affecting their mood, their relationships, and their ability to do their jobs. In such cases, easy and informed access to medicines can go a long way.
It is right that employers should be aware of this problem and do everything possible to make women feel comfortable at work.
But can we please not act like menopause is a disaster if you don’t regularly take the magic elixir of HRT?
Luckily, a group of senior female gynecologists and psychologists spoke out on just that.
In an article for the British Medical Journal (BMJ), doctors say that portraying menopause as a “deficit” that requires medical treatment is ageism, sexism and wrong. This is not a deficiency or a disease, but a normal, natural part of life for so many.
The message that menopause signals decay and decline, which can potentially be delayed or even reversed with hormone treatment, is “perpetuated and reinforced by the media, medical literature, and information for women, often driven by marketing interests,” doctors say. .
Marketing menopause as a disease is already a multi-billion dollar industry. Now, amid the current shortage of HRT, advertisements for expensive alternative “vegan” treatments are popping up everywhere on Facebook and elsewhere. But do they work? Are they generally safe? Who knows?
This atmosphere of panic, fear and despair does not help women. In fact, it may contribute to their difficulties. Teaching people to expect the worst is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Start with negative expectations and that’s exactly what you’ll get.
The fact is that there is no universal definition of menopause. Experiences vary greatly between countries and social groups. Hot flashes affect up to 70% of women in the UK and Ireland, but in Indonesia, for example, the figure is closer to 5%. If this is primarily a hormonal problem, how do you explain this difference?
Physicians writing in the BMJ also note that women tend to endure menopause worse in countries where their value is associated with youth and fertility, and aging is associated with decline. Well, then it will be us.
What excludes the whole narrative of doom is the benefits of change. Yes, the end of the reproductive age sometimes brings a sense of loss and perhaps unpleasant hints of mortality, but there is also a positive side. It can be a time of release and even, dare we say it, fun.
No more fiddling with the mess and hassle of hygiene products every month; no more need for contraception – hooray!
Ms Frostrup says that “for far too long we have been told to just ‘get over it’ and ‘grin and endure’. She is absolutely right – this ignorant, dismissive attitude must go. But turning menopause into a medical emergency doesn’t do women any good.