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Gender + Sexuality

Let’s Hear It for Menopause

It’s where I’m at, and let me tell you — women not giving a hot damn who they offend anymore is exactly what’s needed right now.

Dorothy Woodend 30 Sep

Dorothy Woodend is culture editor of The Tyee. Reach her here.

As a girl, I remember feeling righteous fury at the idea that women had periods.

Surely scientists should have solved this issue ages ago. What had they been working on all this time, anyway? Nuclear fission? The hole in the ozone layer? What did that matter next to humiliation in gym class?

I knew the basics of female biology from sex ed, although most of what I remember is charging out onto the playground afterwards to challenge younger kids with the question: “Do you know what a VAGINA is?” They looked frightened and ill at ease.

Later on, when my grandmother asked, “Do you have the CURSE yet?” it was my turn to look frightened. What the hell was she talking about? Was I about to turn into a hairy pumpkin under the light of the full moon? And why is everyone YELLING?

Younger women are better informed nowadays, at least about how their bodies work, but there are still some things that are largely undiscussed by older women. One of them is menopause.

Then the subject came up in a watershed Kristin Scott Thomas speech in the recent mini-series Fleabag, and it seemed to unleash a kraken of unspoken feelings and new books on the matter.

I remember hearing about menopause as a younger person from other women who described it as “the year my mother went nuts.” It sounded grim. Hot flashes, towering rages, followed by weepiness and overall impatience with the state of the world.

Today, I am that woman. I don’t feel particularly nuts, but I do feel different. Hotter to be sure, but also freer, like coming off a 40-year bender on hardcore drugs. It’s akin to the feeling of a fever breaking or surfacing from a long, strange dream. “What the hell was that all about?” is how menopause makes me feel about the last four decades of life.

Biology is a factor. During menopause, the hormones that’ve had their way with you for decades, sending you spiralling into insane crushes and crazy funks, slowly release their grip. Finally, periods are over. That horrid cranky reminder that you’re female, showing up when you wish it would simply bugger off — a beach day, your wedding, gym class.

All the fury and horror I had about periods at age 11 has borne out, by the way. I’ve known women so debilitated by menstrual cramps they had to take days off work every month and lived in a state of semi-permanent fear of the pain’s inevitable return. For these women, menopause must be like a letter from the governor saying your jail sentence has been commuted and you’re free to go.

But for others, menopause feels like losing your mind. Depression, violent mood swings and an inability to concentrate are on all on the docket. And still for others, the passage is mild, benign even. The fact that it varies so widely is itself kind of odd. No one else’s experience can prepare you for your own. One woman’s horror show is another’s liberation.

There are some upsides to the hormonal tides that ebb and flow over a woman’s life. At certain times of the month, a surging excitement fills you: every song is the greatest you’ve ever heard, every summer evening pregnant with possibility and adventure.

But in menopause all that volatile stuff is ebbing away, and for the most part I feel more reasonable, clear-eyed and calm. But also, deeply impatient. And even that doesn’t properly sum it up. Maybe a string of f-words is needed — frustrated, fed up and all out of fucks to give.

Estrogen is powerful stuff, potent and heady. A lot like drugs. And its disappearance during menopause can be discomforting and destabilizing. It’s little wonder that when women don’t have the bodily-created stuff anymore, they turn to other sources. Hormone replacement therapy has both its defenders and detractors, but while the debate rages on, women have turned to other means of coping.

When Martha Stewart graced the pages of the New York Times recently to tout her new lines of CBD gummies, she was late to the party. Older women have used cannabis to mitigate the symptoms of menopause for a while now. And older women make up a large percentage of converts to CBD.

But all of this emphasis on maintaining manageable levels of mood give me pause.

Anger, the kind that this period of life seems to unleash, can play a role, perhaps a critical one, in allowing certain truths to be spoken.

At this point in my life, I’m just done with placating, prevaricating, puffery, all the p-words. All the cutesy, nicey stuff, the stable of mitigating, moderating tips and tricks we learn as young women. All that’s left is a profound lack of patience with the general fuckery of the world. Fed up also doesn’t quite do it justice. Although justice is often at the centre of these feelings.

In light of this, it’s been interesting reading the Atlantic magazine series titled “I Moved on Her Very Heavily,” which takes its title from U.S. President Donald Trump’s infamous statement about grabbing women by the pussy. Shepherded by journalist E. Jean Carroll, who documented her alleged rape by Trump in her memoir What Do We Need Men For?, each of the narratives features stories of women who allege they were variously groped, assaulted and insulted by Trump over the years.

One thing that is common in all of these stories is the experience (as younger women) of not wanting to offend, to hurt anyone’s feelings. But another thing that unites all of these different (now older) women is the decision to tell their truths now, no matter what the consequences.

There might not be a direct causal path between being a menopausal woman and deciding to speak out about the experience of being sexually assaulted by the current U.S. president, but I can’t help but think that there is some relationship between these two things.

Jessica Leeds’ story is particularly on point. As older women, Carroll asserts in her article on Leeds, they both have nothing left to lose. “Because Jessica is an old bat. Old bats are the best. I am an old bat myself. We old bats don’t kid ourselves.”

If menopause is a pathway to say what you really feel and think, not caring that it might offend or offput some creepy old bugger, then it serves a valuable, even necessary function. Call it the revenge of the menopausal furies: they have come, like the Valkyries of old, to scream, fight and generally cause a ruckus.

I think the reason that older women are threatening is that they’re harder to scare, they don’t need much anymore from men, and generally they have run out of forbearance about the stupid stuff in the world.

But rediscovering the sense of righteous anger that you had as a girl, when the injustice of what women had to deal with just seemed so damn unfair, isn’t always an easy process. This species of anger has been systematically drained, diverted and misdirected since you strapped on your first training bra. Coming back to it is a little like coming back to your 11-year-old body.

Today, without the burden of active childrearing and the emotional labour of catering to romantic relationships, I am, in fact, kind of free. But freedom isn’t always easy at first; sometimes it takes getting used to. A lifetime of training doesn’t simply disappear overnight.

Perhaps it is the role of older women now to call out the bullshit, to embrace hagdom, the witchy stuff — and not allow this core of rage to be softened by hormone replacement therapy or Martha Stewart gummies, but wield it like a righteous weapon of immolating fire.  [Tyee]

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