Whoopi Goldberg called it “wonderful” and “liberating”, Oprah Winfrey likened it to a reinvention, and Angelina Jolie wrote recently in a New York Times op-ed that “it is nothing to be feared”; but for millions of women around the world menopause can be an isolating experience that doesn’t just wreak havoc on their body like a tidal wave – it robs them of their identity. And yet like most experiences that uniquely affect women, these stories are rarely heard. Too often, menopause isn’t celebrated but endured. As a new report warns this week, even in 2017, it remains a silent burden.
More than half of UK women said that they felt negative about their menopause according to a new survey conducted by the British Menopause Society (BMS) to mark World Menopause Day. And for good reason: many said they had hot flushes (46 per cent), night sweats (37 per cent) and low levels of energy (37 per cent).
Physical symptoms, however, are just the tip of the iceberg. The online survey also highlights the detrimental power menopause can wield over a woman’s mental health. Fifty-one per cent of women admitted that it had affected their sex lives, with around forty per cent saying that they just didn’t feel as sexy as a result. Twenty-six per cent revealed that they felt less outgoing in social situations and 23 per cent more isolated. A further 32 per cent confessed that they no longer felt like good company.
The overall findings shows the devastating impact “the change” can have on every aspect of women’s lives, but they also reveal just how reticent we all are to talk about it holistically. Case in point: as I’ve already mentioned, today is World Menopause Day, but you wouldn’t know it browsing the broadsheets and tabloids this morning. Search the hashtag on Twitter and you’d be hard-pressed to find many discussions on the subject that aren’t generated by affiliated charities or affected individuals.
A tweet by the Lorraine show on ITV illustrates exactly why we need to talk more. Meg Matthews shared her experience with viewers this morning – and I’m sure it resonates with many others out there without a platform to push the conversation forward. “I had such anxiety, I couldn't leave the house for two months,” she admitted. Let’s just take a moment and consider the gravity of Matthews’ statement here. It begs the question: how many more women are battling agoraphobia in silence because the world isn’t really listening to – or valuing – their voice?
No menopausal woman should feel silenced or disregarded at the crossroads – a point where sexism and ageism continue to intersect
It’s been well over a decade since Germaine Greer tackled the taboos that surround a woman’s experience of menopause in her book, The Change: Women, Aging & Menopause, and yet a pervasive silence still stifles millions of women who are battling through it, grappling for help, information and advice.
We cannot ignore the 45 per cent of women who told the BMS that their symptoms were so overwhelming that they had a negative impact on their work. According to Unison, there are currently 3.5 million women workers over the age of 50 in the UK. Juxtapose this statistic with a government report that was published this year – a report that revealed countless women were either reducing their hours or leaving their jobs because of debilitating symptoms – and you begin to see how epidemic our public ignorance really is.
As Greer wrote in her menopause manifesto 14 years ago, “Women over fifty already form one of the largest groups in the population structure of the western world.” There should be power in this number. No menopausal woman should feel silenced or disregarded at the crossroads – a point where sexism and ageism continue to intersect. We need to ask why menopause is such a taboo. And we need to question what is says about us as a society that forty-seven per cent of working women (surveyed by the BMS) are hiding the real reason behind days off work.
Education is key – as is a frank, public discussion and effective workplace support.
Gloria Steinem once quipped that if men could menstruate, “menopause would be celebrated as a positive event, the symbol that men had accumulated enough years of cyclical wisdom to need no more”.
As it stands, it’s struggling to even be acknowledged, let alone revered. Isn’t it time we broke the taboo once and for all?