A study published in The Nursing Times in 1999, told how women in Asia viewed the menopause positively because they would be allowed more freedom. In Japan women would take on family and social responsibilities. In a more recent study of Western cultures it was revealed that in Scandinavia women gained a different status and the menopause was looked upon in a positive light, a rite of passage and a time to enjoy life. Here the symptoms seemed to not be as severe as in cultures where the medical model was viewed as the only solution. I find this incredibly interesting: attitudes change our experience of life. This phenomenon is well documented, though can it change the symptoms of the menopause?
I began looking at recent research and found a book published this year, 2019, called The Slow Moon Climbs: The Science, History, and Meaning of Menopause written by Susan P. Mattern. Here I found a study from Bolivia that, although not fatal, had similarities to the Japanese aphids: The Grandmother Hypothesis.
This hypothesis states that as women enter the menopause, their role in society changes: they become the forager, the one caring for children or the sick, the mediator. You could look upon this as an Elder or the Wise Woman. The one who is there for others, the one with calm and reasoning. I have an admission: the last couple of years I have taken to foraging for elderberries and wild black berries and become more determined to use the fruit in our garden. I make jams and chutneys with the thought that the kids, who are now adults, all enjoy my produce. I am foraging for the sake of my family.
In the UK, we have an aversion to becoming the Elder and I am guessing that if we were grouped into a Grandmother Hypothesis, we would probably not like that much either. In a world where too many parents try to be their children’s best friend, being a grandmother seems such an old-fashioned thought.
Adapting to the inevitable
How can we adapt to living with getting older in a society where only the young and beautiful are regarded as having value? If we are over 50 years of age we are often described as not being tech savvy, or we struggle to make our life experiences count, to be accepted or even heard. An environment that is made up only of people under 40 is likely to have a flow of energy, but lack the experience, reasoning and calm needed to weather the storms, big and small. Communities need the experience and stability that only comes with a lived life. We are the ones who can provide stable environments for children to grow into adolescence and later become well-adjusted adults able to contribute to society.
Although getting older and going through the menopause are two different things, they are intricately linked in the attitudes of our culture. Women as the Wise or Elder have an important role to play in our society, though how can we expect to be taken seriously if we struggle to come to terms with the rite of passage ourselves? We have to begin to accept our own position to make the change, to get the respect we crave, to gain the worth we desire. Seeing our position of experience as important and of value will help in setting an example for all the women who will follow in our footsteps. We need to embrace the wonders of our own minds and bodies, listen to our own needs and growing intuition. Be proud of the mature women we have the ability to become, no matter our age or ageing appearance.
Acceptance doesn’t mean that all the symptoms of the menopause will magically disappear. Some of the symptoms can be eased by acting on what our body needs. This could be more sleep, less stress (reducing your stress levels works wonders on the symptoms of the menopause), eating healthily, less caffeine and alcohol, include yoga and meditation in your routine.
There are societal changes needed too, some of which are already taking place. Some organisations have now adapted a Menopause Policy and others are following suit. Policies that take into account that you might have a sleepless night or that you could need to leave the room to find somewhere cool.
If we are able to adjust to the changes of our own progress, and employers are beginning to recognise our worth, then we have the beginning of what it takes for us to contribute fully and to be effective in helping to adjust the balance society needs.