I think we’ve reached peak menopause. You simply can’t switch on the radio, open a newspaper or watch telly without some fiftysomething media babe banging on about her hot flushes, sudden rages and the feeling of going mad. Davina McCall has just made a whole TV show about it (Sex, Mind and the Menopause), and her book Menopausing is out this month. McCall has likened her symptoms to those felt by people with a brain tumour. Clearly, she has never known anyone with a brain tumour, because those symptoms are a little more significant than simply forgetting where you left your keys, or feeling suddenly hot.
I’m not saying there isn’t a place in women’s magazines or in the health section of newspapers for features about ‘My menopause hell’. Every female journalist is entitled to her fair share of pieces about her biology – about pregnancy, periods, childbirth, child-rearing and the menopause: morning sickness so bad I puked on the Northern Line; I poured a bottle of Evian over my head during a hot flush at a Springsteen concert; I ate an entire box of chocolates because I was hormonal and I wanted them; and I’m a woman in charge of my own destiny.
The trouble is the sheer amount of it all – and the seriousness with which it’s taken. In my late mum’s time, two women going through menopause would exchange conspiratorial giggles as they whipped off as many clothes as they decently could, or fanned themselves, or said in unison ‘Is it me, or is it hot in here?’, which incidentally is the title of Jenni Murray’s book on the subject.
These days bookshop windows are full of the menopause. There’s a book by that medical expert – oh wait, no, Primrose Hill trendsetter – Meg Mathews, called The New Hot: Taking on the Menopause with Attitude and Style. There’s Menopocalypse: How I Learned to Thrive During the Menopause and How You Can Too by Amanda Thebe; Still Hot! 42 Brilliantly Honest Menopause Stories by Kaye Adams and Vicky Allan; Cracking the Menopause: While Keeping Yourself Together by Mariella Frostrup and Alice Smellie…
I have huge respect for Frostrup and if she told me to take smack to help with the menopause, I might just do it. However, I have to draw the line at an online event taking place next month called FlushFest. The ‘world’s only menopause festival’ is a two-day event with comedy acts, Kirsty Wark for gravitas, and, er, something called Fantoosh vulva painting. Crikey! I have no smart answers, except: can you imagine any man starting a Testicle Festival?
Sensing a lucrative theme and a vast, anxious and introspective audience, the publishing world is moving on to the perimenopause. This is the decade or so before the menopause when you can blame every ordinary incidence of stupidity or forgetfulness or weight gain on this demonic, pathological condition. Help is at hand in the form of Preparing for the Perimenopause and Menopause by Dr Louise Newson and The Perimenopause Solution by Dr Shahzadi Harper and Emma Bardwell.
The irony of these books is that for the most part the ‘solution’ they advise is hormone replacement therapy, which is these days in extremely short supply. Sajid Javid has even set up an HRT taskforce modelled on the Covid taskforce and said he’ll ‘leave no stone unturned in our national mission to boost supply of HRT’.
It’s not that menopause isn’t real or worth discussing. It can absolutely make you a moody cow, a bit fuzzy or foggy round the old noggin, or, in extreme cases, psychotic. It sucks – but then, much of life sucks. If we treat every female biological event with this level of serious, anxious attention, we’ll never talk about anything other than our own bodies. And if we present every normal biological event as a pathology, we are giving the guys exactly the ammo they need. Poor, disabled, hysterical women, no wonder they can’t think straight! This can’t be good. Corporate bosses are already reluctant to hire women they think might scoot off to give birth; now they’ll be terrified of hiring fortysomethings who might have brain fog.
Should we discuss menopause openly? Yes. Should we make out that it’s a tragedy? No. If it really is unbearable, there are 97 specialist NHS menopause clinics in the UK – not spread out fairly and not enough of them, the menosplainers say, but they are there. Or if you’ve got more dosh than black cohosh (a herbal remedy said to relieve the symptoms of menopause), go down the Gwyneth Paltrow Goop route and get a menopause coach. (What the heck do they say: one, two three, open your fan and pass the water?)
A few years ago, MP Jess Phillips tweeted about menopause: ‘Past looking pretty and giving birth, we are a burden.’ I don’t think that’s the right attitude at all. We all get old and less cute and more slack and a bit fat – both men and women. Not being fancied by passers-by isn’t the end of the world. Reproduction isn’t our only purpose.