In a society where women have, traditionally, been celebrated for their feminine traits – their looks, their sexuality, and their ability to bear children – menopause can be a very disempowering time.
In fact, by these patriarchal standards, a woman’s value drops dramatically when having less oestrogen in her body causes her to lose the elasticity in her skin, lowers her libido, and therefore means she can no longer become pregnant.
What about Menopause?
Menopause is a topic that’s not spoken about much in the media, despite being an inevitable and significant event in the lives of half of the population. Because of this silence, menopausal women’s questions go unanswered. So, questions such as, if you enter womanhood at your first period, then do you exit it at your last? And if so, what are you left with when the markers of your gender are taken away?
Menopause in the Workplace
Most importantly, it’s only really in the last 50 years that women have become part of the workforce in the UK. In fact, women have always forged ahead with brilliant minds, using their time and talents to develop society – but in the 2020’s, they’re more likely to be recognized for their skills than in any other decade from the past.
Believe it or not, women have only been allowed to hold bank accounts in their own names since 1975!
This is when the Sex Discrimination Act was passed, which made it illegal to discriminate against women in employment, education and training. Furthermore, before then, women weren’t protected by the law in the same way.
This is a relatively recent change in the grand scheme of things, and the legacy of inequality in the workplace lives on. As a results, women are still paid far less than men for doing the same jobs. In 2020, the ONS estimates that the gap between men’s and women’s pay is 17.3% across all sectors.
Menopause in the workplace: what to expect
Above all, because they are often on the back foot, women still feel the need to minimize themselves in the workplace in order to be taken seriously. For example, when it comes to having a family the saying goes:
“Work like you don’t have children, and raise your children like you don’t have a job.”
That’s a lot of pressure to be perfect at both things!
Hence, a similar pressure exists in the workplace once menopause sets in and you’re trying to fight mood swings in meetings and hot flushes while you’re at your desk. You’re still expected to do your job to the same high standard, while your body is undergoing a major metamorphosis.
If you work in a male dominated environment, you might find it really difficult to be true to your bodily experience at the same time as retaining a sense of professionalism and not launching a stapler at your patronizing colleague’s head.
Menopause – Not Only a Result of Aging
Getting older isn’t the only trigger for menopause – it can also be brought on by IVF treatment, cancer treatment and in response to other major illnesses or health events, such as having Down’s Syndrome or Addison’s Disease.
But around 1 in 100 women experience the menopause before the age of 40 without experiencing any of the health issues above.
For women who are younger and aren’t expecting to get their menopause, this can be very distressing – especially if they had planned to become pregnant naturally.
Menopause can cause so many things to change, both physically and mentally. Some of these changes are listed here:
- Mood swings
- Anxiety & depression
- Loss of libido
- Weight gain
- Hair loss
- Joint pain
- Vaginal dryness (pain during sex)
- Thinner vaginal walls
- Sagging breasts
- Weakened pelvic floor muscles, which can lead to incontinence
Therefore, it can feel maddening to go through so much change at once – society’s attitude towards women’s bodies may make you feel as though you are expiring once you’ve reached menopause. Remember, though, that it’s the way that we judge women’s bodies which is flawed, and not menopausal women’s bodies themselves.
Every woman is different, of course, and will experience menopause differently. Some women talk about achieving a sense of peace now that they are no longer expected to fulfil the role of ‘woman’ – no longer having children and trying to adhere to conventional beauty standards.
Other women talk about finding a new energy for life, having extra capacity for multi-tasking and getting stuck into projects like never before.
Menopausal women awakening
Very slowly, the conversation around menopause is changing. Menopause Cafés are springing up all over the country, which provide a space for women to talk to other women about their experiences and find solidarity. These spaces really help women to move through feelings of shame and isolation.
India Knight, author of ‘In Your Prime – Older, Happier, Wiser’, said:
“There’s a whole third of life to go. That’s not an ending – it’s a thrilling new beginning. And as you approach the years ahead, you do so at the height of your powers. You know more than you’ve ever known. You are the wisest you’ve ever been.”
Do you have any positive menopause stories to share? Let us know in the comments below!
Guest post by Natracare. Natracare makes organic and natural period and personal care products. If you find yourself with a leaky bladder post-menopause, firstly, consult a physiotherapist (it’s treatable!). Check it out here!