How Deep is the Stigma?

The second in our series of articles explores the reasons behind the stigma surrounding the menopause.

We often talk about the stigma of the menopause, and for good reason!

It’s ridiculous that a normal, natural part of every woman’s life is considered a taboo. But we often don’t reflect on how deep the problem actually is. How open is our society really? It is hard to objectively judge how deep the problem is, especially given that it varies by culture and by the individual. Some societies have little-to-no problem discussing the menopause, yet for others it’s a no-go zone. But in general, how open is our own society about the menopause?

Let’s start with pop culture. The menopause has been given some attention in film and TV, but there are only a few well-known moments that really stand out. From the amusing portrayal of the menopause on an episode of The Cosby Show (albeit, in 1990), to the famous Samantha Jones in Sex and the City, trying absolutely everything to fight her hot flushes, the menopause has lent itself to some humorous on-screen moments from some big-name shows. More recently, and with a more serious tone, the menopause has been mentioned in House of Cards, as Claire (the congressman’s wife) is going through the menopause and is caught cooling herself off by the fridge, and later discusses how she’s feeling with her husband.

…a lot of taboos are broken through their representation in films, music, and TV, it’s always encouraging to see the menopause being discussed and portrayed.

Many women were happy to see this portrayal of the menopause, as it wasn’t the punchline of a joke and it showed the difficulties of the menopause. On top of that, House of Cards is a show with a diversified audience of both men and women, and young and old making it a conversation that would reach many. Yet, Claire was brief and guarded. While this may be realistic (of course it can be awkward having those first conversations about the menopause), it didn’t really provide the House of Cards audience with much else about the menopause apart from the obvious. Since a lot of taboos are broken through their representation in films, music, and TV, it’s always encouraging to see the menopause being discussed and portrayed. But there are currently only a small handful of examples, especially of those that are specifically geared towards an older, female audience.

The medical community is still learning about the menopause and the right treatments.

While pop culture references are important, they aren’t the only way to break a stigma. In 1988, Bob Doyle (a World War II hero and leader of the United States Senate), spoke publicly about erectile dysfunction (ED) and the need to talk about it. Because of that, the stigma around (ED) began to decline, and now Viagra ads are quite common and even on full display on the front window of your local Boots. Unfortunately, this movement hasn’t happened for the menopause yet. In part, the problem is lack of knowledge. The medical community is still learning about the menopause and the right treatments. The menopause affects all areas of the body and mind, so it’s a complex subject that does deserve thorough research and understanding. But for the products that do or can work, it can be difficult to advertise them, which further deepens the menopause stigma. For example, last summer, Diane Danzebrink, founder of Menopause Support, slammed Facebook for banning an advert for their Understanding Menopause event simply because it referred to the word libido. Yet, libido is a medical term and is affected by the menopause, so why shouldn’t it be discussed?

But if issues like ED in men can be destigmatised, why can’t the menopause?

Again, it’s hard to know exactly how deep the problem is. For now, we know there are mountains to move with regards to how the menopause is discussed and seen publicly. If it’s such a normal part of life, why don’t we see it more on screens? The great news is that more and more women in the public eye are talking about the menopause, which is in turn getting more and more media attention. It can be difficult to understand if you’re not going through it and for some it might be an awkward subject to broach. But if issues like ED in men can be destigmatised, why can’t the menopause? The more we push for the conversation, the more normal it will be.

Previous Article: The Stigma of the Menopause


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