Stop pretending women can’t be old and sexual
The age-old prejudices about women and the menopause are sexist and outdated
Louise Foxcroft is soooo right. There's a whole steaming pile of negative assumptions about the menopause out there. For example, when I was invited to write this piece, it was all I could do not to snap, "Oh, so you think I'm a whiskery old trout, do you?" to the poor bloke who asked. I wanted to make it crystal clear that I have not yet entered the neighbourhood of the, uh, "change", and do not expect to, thank you very much, for many more moons yet.
Which tells us a lot. The menopause - which entered the medical textbooks as late as the 18th-century, something which suggests that before that, women simply got on with it - is simply the cessation of monthly periods, mostly between the ages of 45 to 55. And yet it's not, is it? It's so much more.
And as society gets increasingly resistant to the whole sorry business of women aging - men mature like fine wine, woman merely get shockingly old: just check out the vicious treatment meted out to Madonna for snagging a 22-year-old toyboy called Jesus - it becomes a bigger deal all the time.
Men ‘mature’ like fine wine, but women are supposed to stay hot and foxy
It is this clammy reality that lies at the heart of Louise Foxcroft's fine and sympathetic study, Hot Flushes, Cold Science (Granta, £14.99), which is so much more than a book about the end of something. No: it's about how women are primarily judged by their age, and by their appearance.
Women are supposed to be hot, foxy, and look like their daughters and so on, as we know. When their monthly periods cease to act as a metronome of their nubility, however, then the passage of time is impossible to gloss over - even if a woman has HRT, Botox, a dewy skin and the upper arms of Michelle Obama.
This explains the glut of books telling women how to "survive" with the secret or silent process, as if it were a battle against some sneaky, cancerous enemy rather than a benign phase that all females will, at some time, face. A man is only old when he's on a Zimmer. Yet a woman is defined as "old" as soon as her ovaries shut up shop – even if she's as peppy as all get out. That's not fair.
Post-menopausal women are treated by the media like the witches in Macbeth
No wonder, frankly, that the loss of fertility as flagged by the menopause has come to be dreaded almost as much as death itself. Post-menopausal women are treated like the witches in Macbeth by most (male) writers, portrayed with sprouting, warty chins, fat thighs, and a criminal lack of peachiness.
Hot Flushes, Cold Science made me realise that my own kneejerk reaction to the ostensibly unsexy subject was - in its way - just as bad as that of male doctors, the medicine men who gave women to believe that as soon as they were short on oestrogen, they had outlived their usefulness as human beings.
Which just goes to prove how ingrained prejudice is. I loathe the ageist treatment meted out to women over the age of 50 who dare to be sexual, and reading Foxcroft made me realise how pernicious it is. And it's daft. One third of Western women are in menopause, and this very ordinary life event will affect one half of the entire population of the planet. It will happen to us all. So please, let's agree on one thing. Women should be allowed a meno-Porsche too. I'm certainly going to have one, when it's time for the change. ·
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