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The Taboo of Menopause and Its Silent Sufferers

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Over the years, society has seemingly proceeded to pull every taboo out of the shadows and into public discourse. From teen pregnancy to teen abortion, from sexual addiction to sexual assault, it seems that no subject is off limits these days for the mainstream media. That is, except for one: menopause, the last great taboo.

In a study of more than 5,000 menopausal women across multiple countries, approximately one third actively hide their symptoms from others, with more than half feeling too uncomfortable to discuss the topic. Since this natural hormonal transition is something that nearly 50% of the world population is experiencing now or will eventually experience, why is it that women often endure the frustrating effects of menopause in silence?

Credit: Dreamstime

The unfortunate truth is that the taboo around menopause is firmly rooted in cultural gender norms. As evidenced by social media, movies, television shows, and magazine covers, the feminine allure is typically defined by youth. In fact, most cosmetic products targeted to women center around the premise of highlighting and amplifying youthful characteristics while concealing any signs of age. Skin blemishes? Hide them with makeup. Gray streaks? Disguise them with hair dye. Forehead wrinkles? Erase them with Botox. Even the very existence of a female "beauty product" industry reveals how society demands women to eliminate any semblance of aging in order to be considered beautiful in the public eye.

As a result, for many women, openly discussing menopause and the uncomfortable symptoms that define it can feel like an admission of age, a public acknowledgement that your youth is in the past. With the immense pressure that society places on women to match a certain standard of beauty, it is no wonder women choose to remain quiet about their menopausal discomfort. Unfortunately, this culture of silent suffering comes at a cost that is increasingly difficult to ignore, not just for those withstanding it, but also for society as a whole.

According to a recent study, global menopause-related productivity losses may amount to over $150 billion a year. In another survey released before the pandemic in May 2019, approximately 900,000 women in the United Kingdom alone said they have left their jobs because of their symptoms. This is particularly tragic because the age range during which menopausal women experience the most intense symptoms often coincides with their level of peak experience in their professional career, when they are most likely to advance to top leadership positions.

As we all strive to improve gender equality, it is essential that society begins to recognize the struggle of menopausal women and emphasize both acceptance and empathy for their experience during this hormonal transition.

Jennifer

Jennifer recently retired from her career as a Certified Manual Physical Therapist to spend more time with her family. When she isn't writing about natural medicine, she enjoys practicing yoga, rock climbing, and running marathons.

References

  1. Whiteley J, DiBonaventura Md, Wagner JS, Alvir J, Shah S. The impact of menopausal symptoms on quality of life, productivity, and economic outcomes. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2013 Nov;22(11):983-90. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2012.3719. Epub 2013 Oct 1. PMID: 24083674; PMCID: PMC3820128.
  2. Van der Heijden BIJM, Pak K, Santana M. Menopause and Sustainable Career Outcomes: A Science Mapping Approach. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Nov 29;18(23):12559. doi: 10.3390/ijerph182312559. PMID: 34886283; PMCID: PMC8656499.
  3. Verdonk P, Bendien E, Appelman Y. Menopause and work: A narrative literature review about menopause, work and health. Work. 2022;72(2):483-496. doi: 10.3233/WOR-205214. PMID: 35570508; PMCID: PMC9277682.