Menopause In The Media
Menopause, to many, is the faceless boogeyman that awaits us at the end of adulthood and the beginning of old age, signifying the beginning of the end. As this end of menstruation coincides with growing older, it is no surprise it has been completely ignored by mainstream media.
Recently I’ve been watching a lot of The Golden Girls, a mid-eighties sit-com about four women living together in their twilight years. This show has become a comfort for me, watching it when I'm feeling particularly low because of how funny it is in a classic kind of way. The characters are so different from one another that they neutralize each other perfectly. The most important aspect of this show, a factor I have not seen been done with as much skill and attention (perhaps outside of the Netflix show Grace and Frankie) in mainstream entertainment, is the fact that they are telling the stories of a group of people deemed useless in our society–older women and femmes. There are multiple instances of the characters subverting this narrative as they try to navigate a world that perpetually tells them to be quiet and disappear.
In the episode “End of the Curse” Blanche, the resident seductress of the group, is flung into a panic and later a deep depression when she realizes she has begun menopause. This bodily process brings up all of her worst fears. She is terrified she will not be able to compete for the attention of men and become valueless as a result. The stories her mother told her in her girlhood have convinced her that menopause changes your personality as well, turning you into an irrational person completely at the will of changing emotions. When speaking to a therapist about this Blanche says, “Sometimes I look in the mirror and I see my mother's face lookin’ back at me. Not all the time just every now and then when the light’s too bright or when its too early in the morning or late at night. Or I look real fast. There it is, my mother’s face–it scares me to death. I just get so depressed I don’t want to get out of bed in the mornin’ I don't want to get out of bed ever again.” What Blanche says in this scene really got me thinking about the stories I have been told about menopause.
All I had ever been told about the process was also from my mother who insinuated that I should not judge my grandmother’s rash behaviour as she was going through changes. We do not talk to our children about menopause in a positive light, and I had not heard of it this way until this episode of the Golden Girls.
In the next scene Sophia, the eldest of the group, comments on Blanche's mental state. “This is all because you’re going through the change?” Sophia says.
Balance resents this term as she associates it with changing from a young attractive woman to an undesirable one. Dorothy then goes on to say, “What is the big deal, Blanche it’s nothing!”
Dorothy explains all the benefits menopause brings: No more period pain, mood swings or cravings. Then Sophia interjects bringing up the fact that, “You just grow a beard.”
This show was quite progressive for the era and I think this is why the show’s humour still stands the test of time. They faced menopause head on. I realized that I had not encountered many other positive media depictions of menopause. When menopause is mentioned it is almost always fleeting–a subject one remembers then forgets almost immediately as it has no real place in the larger story. Even progressive, feminist media has succumbed to this and is aware of it.
One of my favourite shows of the last decade is Broad City. This show pushed so many boundaries and was one of the first times I saw a truly accurate representation of the lives of modern twenty-somethings, alongside gut-bustlingly funny, and sometimes surreal, scenes in comedy. In the episode “Jews on a Plane” Abbi and Ilana hunt down a tampon for Abbi after she is forced to check her bag, and consequently all her tampons. The two are shown combing the isles on the plane asking every woman they can for a tampon or pad or anything!
The first woman Abbi approaches is flattered they asked her. She doesn’t have a tampon, ”Even though many women [her] age experience spotting.”
“I totally forgot about menopause” Abbi chuckles as she replies.
The woman continues, “Menopause isn’t represented in mainstream media–like none wants to talk about it!” As the woman looks up to address Abbi again she realizes Abbi has left her alone, continuing her search for someone who will be able to give her a tampon. This insinuates the woman's point exactly. Nobody seems to care about older women.
A better reference to menopause in feminist media is in the second season of Fleabag. Fleabag was a show I didn’t know I needed until after I had binge-watched both seasons. The protagonist Fleabag, as her name suggests, is unreliable and very hard to root for. But this is why the show is so important. In season two episode three, after a stressful event full of hijinks and sexual tension, as Fleabag is famous for, Fleabag gets a drink with the winner of the Best Woman in Business Award. The woman deems the award “Infantilizing bollocks.” The two strike up a conversation about aging. The woman goes on to explain, “We have pain on a cycle for years and years, and then, just when you feel you are making peace with it all, what happens? The menopause comes, the fucking menopause comes. And it is…” Fleabag looks concerned at the woman’s apprehension in this moment. In reality, because of the lack of conversations had around the subject many of us have no idea what menopause will feel like when it happens. The woman continues to say, similarly to Dorothy in the Golden Girls, “It is the most wonderful fucking thing in the world!” Of course, menopause is an uncomfortable process, the woman notes, “You get hot and none cares. But then… you’re free.” This is one thing I wish was represented more in mainstream media: the freedom that comes with the end of menstruation. The woman continues, “[You’re] no longer a machine with parts. You’re just a person.”
I have no doubts that most people are not in any hurry to talk about menopause. For me too, it seems like a far off concept that I will not need to confront for years. However, that day will come eventually. It is imperative that stories about people of diverse ages be told. Without them, we are left completely in the dark and become easily swayed by the damaging ideas that caused so much pain and disillusionment for Blanche in the show.