From time to time I have some conclusions or wandering logic to draw from women’s stories. The whole process has led me places I did not expect to go, including being more interested in post-menopausal women, whom I originally viewed more as survivors than as women entering adn enjoying a new phase of life.
When people talked about “becoming the Crone” I did not have a real sense of what they envisioned other than some sort of fairy-tale illustration in my head. I use the word “I” but my hope is we are all coming to it.
As my friends age or I make new, older friends, I am enchanted and amazed…More about that later!
“Menopause The Musical” bothers me. I want to love it, I want to laugh, and why not? It’s got all the clichés, and I can understand why men who see it are able to smile and nod but they are what they are: the audience for menopause in life as they are at the theater. Plus, depending on casting, the women on stage are usually stereotypical “middle-aged ladies”—not just hot-flashing but overweight middle-class shoppers. Casting sets them up as old-fashioned norms: “mom”-types and/or bitchily competitive. The aging soap star is the only one with pretentions to beauty or elegance and the script does not depict any of them as embodying much insight into the workings of their inner selves. I know it’s supposed to be “fun,” but as Sigmund Freud pointed out, there are no jokes that don’t have a sharp edge. Billed as “empowering women” (who are consistently referred to as “girls” in the show), instead I found that watching this musical tended to wound me and drag me down.
Contrast this with the Dove commercials that became a viral sensation in 2013. Women who were on the attractive side of ordinary gained a better sense of themselves as an FBI sketch artist drew them, first as they viewed themselves and then as others saw them. They discovered that other people recognized the beauty, openness, and even the kindness in their faces. The video got over sixty-six million views on YouTube. Although I don’t use Dove myself, I felt a kind of warm gratitude towards the company.
The advertisers for Dove hit on something that really touched women and certainly some of the women in the video were menopausal or post-menopausal. I felt these were my women—not models, just ordinary, thoughtful, intelligent women who underestimate themselves in many ways, as most of us do.
Being 67 now, I find that menopause was a coming-of-age experience. Any embarrassment about hot flashes or just becoming recognizably older in a world that reveres youth is something that menopause tells us it’s time to face like the grownups we are. I was working with a great crew of people during some of those years but, when I was 58, they were all under 40. I was very self-conscious about my “old-bagginess” but also knew that my colleagues were exploring a block that I had been around more than once before. I was older and wiser and knew where the cracks in the sidewalk lay.
If puberty as a rite of passage is about becoming an adult, much of it is wrapped up things like first kisses, or losing our virginity and whatever else makes us feel very new and special and grownup. Menopause on the other hand is about ditching all that. Not that kisses aren’t sweet or sex can’t be even better than before (if you want it), but that you are not on the reproductive treadmill. The biological drive that makes you a certain kind of animal has gone extinct. Now you are at the top of the mountain and at last you can be more human. You can decide to take care of your grandkids or not. You can explore the world—teach English in Japan, volunteer at an archaeological site, become a board member of the local library, write a fabulous novel, go on a retreat…or just sit and enjoy a cup of coffee in you own, mature company.
The sense of freedom is something genuinely surprising. “Wow, so this is me—there’s more than the grocery budget, office politics, or the PTA!” It’s as if all those hot flashes were helping you shed a skin that you didn’t need or want. Did you love your job but hate your domestic chores? Did you make a huge difference intentionally in your kids’ lives or did they thrive under benign neglect? Did you choose a career despite all the pressures to have a family? Did life defeat the pastimes you loved? Now you can cast off the pieces you don’t want.
Humans go through menopause. Some whales too, which makes me think that menopause is a bit of a work in progress—one of nature’s experiments. It’s a biological, evolutionary strategy that’s about something. Nature may still be thinking about what to do with it. For thousands of years only a percentage of women survived to be menopausal, much less post-menopausal, So we’re the long-term investment in the human race. Curious. You have to start to assume that once women are less like to die in childbirth and more likely to survive all the other ills, they have something not only to offer but also to do.
There are several interesting studies about families being more successful when non-fertile grandmothers are present and theories that we are protecting our genes in ways that chimpanzees, because of their social structure, cannot. A human mom is able to advance her career or interests while she’s in her prime further if she has the help with childcare that her own mother can offer. But this model would only bring as far as age 70, a point when our usefulness would be over. The demarcation may be part of the equation but it’s not all of it because today we have the means to flourish for decades further.
What is it all about? I am hoping that this blog will turn attention towards this question and give us some real answers. Not just scientists, but us: the women who have all that potential and now can really use it. We have to think about our individual lives and discover our own answers
The human scale of all this is so vast it’s hard to fully comprehend. In personal terms it’s something about our wisdom. Something about being more purposeful and less driven. Something about making powerful and educated choices. Something about being more than an animal. Human, female, and mature.
I don’t know the evolutionary purpose of menopause but it’s definitely there. Let’s not wait for it—Let’s find it.