I used to think that people who wrote for newspapers must be doing so as they were in some way better informed than the rest of us but one of the ‘up sides’ of menopause is that I see things much more clearly now.
My recent meeting and subsequent open letter to Liz Jones of the Daily Mail and Janice Turner’s piece in The Times this week prove that just because you have the huge privilege of a voice in a national newspaper doesn’t mean that you understand the issues.
As The Times wants you to sign in I have pasted the article below for anyone that wants to read it in full.
I, for one, shall be banging on until our GP’s are better educated, our employers offer understanding and support and all men and women receive age appropriate menopause education.
Welcome to the Constipation Café. We’re here to support the silent millions suffering from this invisible yet debilitating condition. Come share your stories. Buy a T-shirt, slogan: “Don’t Strain in Vain.” Take the Bowel Vow to have the “constipation conversation” three times every day. Break down the toilet taboo! And have a muffin, they’re packed with bran.
Disclaimer: I am not equating sluggish peristalsis with the menopause, whose symptoms — I know too well — can be sapping, life-wrecking, miserable. It’s just that reading about Andrea Davies, the Leicester University academic who has started a menopause café, and her belief that both men and women uttering “menopause” thrice daily will help its sufferers, I wondered: does every single thing have to be “shared”?
Don’t some taboos exist because the subjects are, well, private, unpleasant, a bit icky? I’m a pretty frank person, too old to be easily embarrassed. But I wouldn’t want male colleagues coming over to demonstrate their “awareness” by plugging in a desk fan. No more than they’d want me shouting about erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation.
Haemorrhoids are agony but is talking about what Viz terms “arse grapes” a balm? Thrush, herpes, incontinence, genital warts, vaginal discharge, catarrh, boils, flatulence . . . Just like the menopause, all these are “natural”, yet no one suggests sufferers speak up every damn day.
Menopause is the taboo women don’t really want to bust. Many books have been written, from Germaine Greer’s The Change to Christa D’Souza’s witty The Hot Topic. None has sold very well. My theory, based upon talking to countless female friends, is women require a few excellent health articles, sympathetic doctors, access to medical treatment if required; they want to discuss symptoms only with their very closest mates, preferably laughing over wine. But they don’t want to wallow in menopause or be defined by it or “come out” as menopause sufferers.
I’d bet their toes curl at employers with “menopause policies” like Nottinghamshire police, who aim to provide for older women “a private space to rest temporarily or cry” and permission to take fitness tests with female instructors because their self-esteem might be too low to run in front of a man. Every employee, male and female, should be able to approach their manager if a health problem affects their work. But devising a patronising protocol to deal with the presumed weaknesses of middle-aged women must surely damage their status and promotion chances.
Besides, older women are formidably tough and fearless: they have raised kids, buried parents, gone through divorce or cancer; been bruised and burnished by fate. In their professions they have fought up the corporate ladder, banked expertise and laurels. They don’t want a badge of oestrogen-depleted victimhood. They just want to get on with life.
I worry about the new feminist tendency to play the biology card. I cringed when the Scottish Labour MP Danielle Rowley announced she was late for a Commons debate because “I’m on my period”. The important issue she was raising, how girls in poverty often miss school because they can’t afford sanitary products, was not furthered by revealing her banal monthly event. Rowley’s speech was greeted as “brave” and “powerful”. Yet in using her period as an excuse, it played into the ancient sexist trope that feminists spent decades fighting: that we shouldn’t vote or fly planes or fight in wars because menstruation makes us less effective and reliable than men.
This confessional mode comes from identity politics, which dictates that a person may only speak about their experiences. In a debate on Northern Ireland abortion reforms, the Labour MPs Heidi Allen and Jess Phillips both spoke about their terminations. Was that necessary or even wise? Should we expect elected representatives to spill their guts? Might it not discourage reticent souls from standing? Is a speech by a woman who hasn’t had an abortion less valid? If you opine on matters outside your own life, you may be told to butt out and “stay in your lane”.
Analysis, statistics and transcendent political values have less currency than personal testimony. MPs know, as journalists do, that talking about one’s anxiety attacks or sexual assault or “battle with the bottle” will harvest more applause than a dry technical report. What’s a great brain compared to a bared soul? Confession is harder to argue against: I feel, therefore it is.
Now we are expected to wear not just our hearts on our sleeves but our ailments. Have a minor bout of depression and a celebrity is an instant mental health “ambassador”; suffer cancer and you are beholden to walk an annual charity marathon in a pink bra. The comedian Jennifer Saunders was criticised for saying she was “free of cancer”: other survivors denied that you can ever escape. I asked Saunders in an interview if she felt some people wore cancer as a badge. “For ever,” she said. “Because it is the job you don’t have to work for. You suddenly get so much attention.” Let them, but she didn’t want her life eternally defined by one disease.
Likewise, why should women be judged by their hormones? Men never are, although you might argue testosterone, with its predisposition towards risk-taking, warmongering, dangerous and violent behaviour, is a far greater liability than the storms of oestrogen depletion. Menopause is the one time women share what men are prone to all their lives: rage. So go over right now and whisper “menopause” three times to a female colleague of a certain age: offer to open a window or handle her workload because she’s probably a bit addled these days. Go on, I dare you.