It may seem odd to have yet another world recognition day for something like the menopause. But the truth of the matter is that we don’t talk enough about menopause, so perhaps we actually need a day to afford this the recognition and attention that it deserves. World Menopause Day gives us the opportunity to raise awareness about different women’s experiences of the menopause.
“…one way or another it is happening to half the population sooner or later and it is rather remarkable that we talk so little about it”
It remains a largely taboo and hidden subject and knowledge about who is affected and how is still poor amongst the general population. Yet in the workplace most people knowingly or unknowingly will be working with someone or managing someone who is going through the menopause who may be thriving or struggling. We all have a responsibility to be informed of the issues associated with menopause that may arise at work, and generally. It has been estimated that 2 million women over 50 in the UK experience some difficulties at work because of symptoms connected to the menopause and 1 in 20 women may experience an early menopause. So one way or another it is happening to half the population sooner or later and it is rather remarkable that we talk so little about it.
When I was going through the menopause some twenty years ago I had a pretty tough time: dreadful headaches and a poor sleeping pattern and sometimes had to drag myself into work feeling slightly unhinged. I had a group of 3 mature women students in a class I was teaching and one day after a seminar, they stayed behind and asked me if I was alright and I ‘confessed’ what was going on, they were very supportive and kind but I never spoke to anyone else about it, no colleagues and certainly not my head of department. Looking back now this seems incredible as I am not shy of talking about my health or how I am feeling. I think it was the fact that it would shine a light on my gender, and probably not a favourable one, and at that time I fear I spent a lot of time just trying not to stand out at least not for being female.
“Not talking about the menopause adds to the invisibility of mid-life women – a state of affairs that should be resisted”
I hope this is not how my women colleagues feel today and that there is space to talk about it. The Athena Swan team ran a menopause café before the lockdown. Despite it being a grim, cold and rain-spattered afternoon lots of women came. We did not manage to encourage any men to attend. We shared our experiences and laughed quite a bit, it was women of all ages from across campus, some in supportive teams others the only woman in their work setting. It really revealed the importance of having opportunities to share experiences. As one woman said afterwards:
“Just dropping you a line to thank you all again for organizing the menopause café. I think it is a fantastic idea for people to be able to share experiences and talk about a subject which affects not just women but also friends, partners and work colleagues. I found the session really helpful yesterday and I hope there will be more of these events in the future as there is so much to share and learn …. I think this kind of event gives a sense of community and reassurance to all of us.”
Not talking about the menopause adds to the invisibility of mid-life women – a state of affairs that should be resisted. Indeed for some it is the beginning of a new wild period of life, with new possibilities, as Kristin Scott-Thomas’ character in Fleabag said, menopause is the “most wonderful f…g thing in the world. And yes, your entire pelvic floor crumbles and you get f…g hot and no one cares. But then – you’re free! No longer a slave, no longer a machine with parts. You’re just a person, in business.” (read the whole article here) – I certainly never mourned the passing of menstruation!
“Menopause is shrouded in stigma and lack of knowledge. It has huge impacts in life, and half the population will go through it at some point”
So feel emboldened to talk about your own experiences or start a conversation with someone, get informed. A great source of information on symptoms and ideas for managing them can be found on the Menopause matters website. There is also a menopause matters forum where people can ask questions and respond to each other. You might prefer some more alternative solutions; there is no one approach that will suit everyone, perhaps menopause yoga would help.
Let us also remember that menopause doesn’t only impact on the women experiencing it; it also affects friends, family and colleagues. So if you are a line manager make sure you are briefed on issues that may arise for your female staff. ACAS has produced guidance for employers on how to manage the menopause.
Menopause is shrouded in stigma and lack of knowledge. It has huge impacts in life, and half the population will go through it at some point. We don’t talk about it enough. On World Menopause Day let’s start the conversation!
Blog written by Professor Sarah Vickerstaff.