Because a great deal of it, quite frankly, is pretty terrible.
Last week I published a ranty-piece on early menopause that, among other things, critiqued the bestselling book The Wisdom of Menopause. In that article, I claim that, “The real wisdom of menopause is that Menopause Sucks. And I think we should all just admit that. I don’t want to pretend that it’s some beautiful transition, and I don’t want anyone else to pretend that either.”
QUICK HISTORY LESSON:
In The Beginning, women were cursed. Because of the apple, we were destined to bleed, to be dominated by men, and to suffer in childbirth.*
*Menopause is not explicitly addressed in the Bible. This is because it is too horrifying even for THE BIBLE. Plagues of locusts and global floods have got nothing on a sleep-deprived, hot-flashing, middle-aged woman who can’t get her jeans zipped.
For the next few thousand years, women suffered mostly in silence.
And then came the 1960s and 70s. In a completely well-intentioned campaign to claim feminine empowerment and reclaim our bodies, there emerged a backlash against the medicalization of women’s health.
Our feminist mothers and grandmothers (Godess bless them, but damn them DAMN THEM for this), launched a campaign to de-medicalize women’s health issues.
And from that point forward, the messages have urged us to, rather than wish away our periods or dread the side effects of menopause, focus on the wonders of our bodies, our cycles, our unique feminine capacities. We are to honor and appreciate the ways we sync up with the moon and generate our own heat. This, supposedly, is a way of reclaiming our bodies from patriarchal medicine (or, more broadly, from Men in general), which in turn is supposed to be productive and empowering.
Ladies: We’ve been duped (by ourselves, but that’s beyond the point; we may have had PMS when we engineered this brilliant campaign).
Because you know what medicalization leads to?
These are the things we’re talking about: stomach cramps, bleeding, bloating, sore breasts, headaches, mood-swings, hot flashes, vaginal atrophy, weight gain, thinning hair, and memory-loss. [I’m sure I forgot a few.]
These are inherently BAD things. They are painful, uncomfortable, inconvenient, and yes — — LIMITING. It’s harder to compete with men for positions if we have to keep leaving the boardroom to change our tampons. It’s impossible to “never let ’em see you sweat” if you’re constantly sweating.
So hell yes, let’s medicalize women’s health issues. Let’s medicalize the bejeezus out of them so that we can justify the funding to find cures — real cures whose side effects aren’t worse than the afflictions themselves.
Period-suppression pills are a move in the right direction, but regardless of the fact that there’s no medical evidence against them, women are still too-often made to feel as though they’re “cheating” or doing something “unnatural.” Many doctors don’t even offer women the option.
[Side note: For reasons I don’t understand, many of my still-menstruating peers sing the praises of the “DivaCup,” which is billed as “a better period experience!” Everything’s relative, I suppose, but let’s think about what we’re actually championing here; it’s just a plastic cup. Like, literally a plastic cup that women stick up their vaginas. It’s not exactly space-age technology. This ought to demonstrate how low the bar is set for managing women’s health issues.]
And for menopause symptoms, we don’t even have anything as promising as the DivaCup (again, just a plastic cup). Every menopausal woman I know has tried multiple treatments and lifestyle changes and we’re all still miserable. And even if you get some measure of relief from hormone replacement therapy, there’s always the (research-supported) threat that it will ultimately give you cancer.
So thank you, Foremothers, for fighting for us. Ideologically, I agree with your body-positive message and your efforts to empower women. It’s just that right now I’m so pissed off at the lack of options that I’m having a difficult time with gratitude.
And perhaps now we’ve come far enough in other ways (again, kudos to the foremothers) that we can both love our bodies AND welcome a little medical science to make them more user-friendly.
There’s a fine line between “acceptance of what’s natural” and “continually permitting chaos,” and it’s got nothing to do with love. I love my dog, but I still trained her. I don’t need to let her pee in the house or kill my neighbors’ cats in order to appreciate her biological dogness.
So I say we RE-medicalize women’s health — there are more female than male doctors now) — and allow those doctors to apply their natural brains toward finding medical cures for our natural bodies.