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We need to remove the shame and silence around menopause

by Breeda Bermingham

I have been researching menopause for over three years, together with coaching women through their menopause journey. I truly believe the time has come for a new story to be told around this stage of our lives. The old, negative story about menopause decline is keeping women disempowered and limited.

Menopause, women feeling unable to speak up, and shame have been synonymous for decades and prevented far too many women from asking for help and support. Fear, shame, denial and stigma were repeated narratives that emerged in the research I carried out in 2020. 

The social and cultural devaluation of women as we reach midlife has to be challenged.”

Midlife women are no longer silent

For too long, invisibility and degeneration are expected of women who are menopausal. This overwhelmingly negative story, handed down from generation to generation, no longer aligns with the lived experience of an increasing number of menopausal women. They are now finding the opposite is true when adequately supported and informed.

Today, the global demographic of women aged 50+ is higher than at any other time in history. These women are educated, economically independent, working and are no longer silent. Menopause in the workplace is gaining increasing traction as more women 50+ remain in employment. Fundamentally, we have to remove the taboo, silence and shame to help all women get the support they need to thrive through their menopause years. 

Women are uncovering decades of silence around menopause and it has to be removed for women to reach their full potential at midlife.”

There is no shame in being menopausal

Although perimenopause can be difficult to navigate, knowledge and support are transformative.

The cultural perceptions and derogatory language associated with menopausal woman need to be challenged. Research points to many gifts and superpowers available to women as we navigate our menopause years. Women deserve to be supported in order to access these gifts. Our best years are not behind us mindset shifts are huge here.

Perimenopause is tough and there’s no denying the symptoms. I remember the anger and the rage, fluid retention, weight gain and body odour that came after my periods stopped at 51. I realised there was more power and courage within me and it enabled me to keep going forward with the work I am doing.

I am over the bridge and postmenopause. I am holding my hand up and saying there is no goddam shame in being a menopausal woman in 2021.”

Menopause training for health care professionals

As a former midwife and public health nurse, I am perplexed that menopause was never mentioned in my training. I have discovered that the taboo is a contributing factor. It’s all too easy to blame GPs, who have no specialist training, when the issue is actually a much bigger cultural and societal problem and puzzle that is imbued in the patriarchal system. We’ve been blind to these systems… until now.

Change will come as more and more women speak out asking for information and support, which will help in prioritising women’s health needs at midlife. The British Menopause Society has introduced many training programs for healthcare professionals, which is very welcome. The availability of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is helping many with debilitating symptoms.

Change is possible. Viagra was a prescription medication for years until recently and now you can buy it over the counter in any pharmacy. We should be advocating for similar access to vaginal oestrogen.”

Rebalancing the injustice to midlife women

A lack of preparation, education, widely accessible information and support creates the crisis that many women find themselves in. Putting structures and systems in place to counteract these deficits and the menopause story can transform women’s experience. 

It is imperative that women work collaboratively to create change that will benefit all. Women need to keep talking, advocating and encouraging the government to become involved in recognizing the significance of menopause at a policy level. The introduction of menopause into the UK teaching curriculum within our young people’s personal development is welcome but more needs to be done to ensure menopause becomes normalised in society. 

Kate Muir, the journalist and documentary maker, says a great menopause scandal is being unearthed. I certainly agree with Kate. I started working in menopause land as I see a massive injustice to midlife women who reach the end of their fertile years.

As a sociology graduate, I am looking at the macrostructures in society that impact midlife women. Cultural and social norms dictate that women’s value is ascribed to fertility. There is no global template for the post-fertile woman and I believe this is adding to the crisis many women experience. 

Who are we now? What is our role in society? What is our value? These questions need to be reflected upon and further researched.”

A very interesting research paper published by an Australian academic in 2019, titled Killer Whales and Killer Women, suggests that leadership is an innate gift women have postmenopause. Looking at the accumulated life and work experience women have acquired by midlife can enable many to be leaders, whether at a local, community national or international level.

Learn more about menopause on our blog.