Marcy Sheiner on menopause and urge to buy a revolver
The following is excerpted from an overview by Marcy Sheiner (yes, the same
Marcy Sheiner who got the flak for her article about the men's movement) on
current books on the subject of menopause, through which she is currently
going (she says that in her case it's as if her PMS has expanded to fill the
whole month, with symptoms including dizziness, blurred vision, digestive
problems, and the urge to purchase a revolver):
I made an appointment at the women's clinic, but before I got
there Gail Sheehy's book, THE SILENT PASSAGE: MENOPAUSE [Random
House 1991] dropped into my lap. After hurriedly removing the
jacket so no one would see the embarrassing subject matter I was
brazenly perusing in the middle of an airport, I read about women
who had never experienced a minute of self-recrimination until
suddenly, in their 40s, they began to suffer bouts of "the
blues." While I couldn't exactly identify with Sheehy's
privileged upper-class dynamos as they jetted cross-country for
emergency bone-density studies, I could certainly relate to their
Hot flashes are only the most well-known on a list that includes
irritability, fatigue, depression, insomnia, cold sweats, weight
gain, menstrual flooding, urinary problems, loss of bone density
(which can lead to osteoporosis), rheumatic pains, migraines,
numbness, crawling skin, breast pain, backache, swollen ankles,
bowel disorders, heart palpitations, dizzy spells, blind spots,
nervousness, vaginal dryness, painful intercourse, decreased
libido, forgetfulness, excitability, inability to concentrate,
tearfulness, panic attacks, and "mental imbalance." Any or all
of these symptoms can go on for 10 to 15 years until the final
cessation of menstruation.
... Since no one knows exactly what's menopausal, what's age-
related, and what's circumstantial, I was advised to ask my
mother about her menopause for clues to mine. Her response was
predictably vague -- "I hardly remember. It was nothing." But I
suddenly recalled an afternoon when my mother took to her shadowy
bedroom while my father and aunt whispered ominously about her
The subject is not likely to remain hidden in shadows. "As the
pacesetters among baby boom-generation women discover menopause
on their horizon," notes Sheehy, "they will bring it out of the
closet." Still, raising the subject is a sure-fire way to empty
a room, and some reactions to my blunt questions have been no
mroe enlightened than my mother's.
... Most women describe the aftermath of this grueling process
as joyful, serene, and productive. I don't know, however, if by
taking hormones I'll ever get to the other side. At a recent
seminar a male doctor evaded my question while fidgeting with a
pen emblazoned with the name of an estrogen supplier. He was,
however, happy to oblige the woman who wanted to know which
companies manufacture hormones so she could add their stock to
... in Gail Sheehy's rosy world, women's liberation seems to
have been universally attained. Although she claims to have
interviewed women from all classes and ethnicities, she
concentrates on upper-middle-class white women who are all
wealthy and wise enough to pursue optimum health care.
Nonetheless, THE SILENT PASSAGE is a valuable beginning.
... I began devouring books on the subject between jaunts to the
clinic. Maybe the subject of menopause is inherently
infuriating, but I found myself enraged, in varying degrees, by
most of what I read, finding it inadequate, melodramatic, and
cliched. By far the most infuriating, and infuriated, was
Germaine Greer's THE CHANGE: WOMEN, AGING, AND MENOPAUSE [Alfred
A. Knopf 1992]. It's ironic that, from the perspective of this
enfant terrible of 1970s feminism, the women's movement might
never have occured. ... she rants and raves, at everyone from
the medical profession to Simone de Beauvoir, who, she says,
handled aging the same way as would any "empty-headed beauty
queen." ... Greer never once acknowledges a changing world and
the women who have changed it. She contradicts herself at every
Not everyone will grieve over the loss of fertility, the central
fact of menopause to which women's psychological difficulties
during this time have been historically attributed. I myself had
a tubal ligation ten years ago ... but I am nonetheless
exhibiting menopausal symptoms. There are millions like me ...
We still can't escape hormonal upheavals that have absolutely
nothing to do with "grief" for our barren wombs.
I had a similarly antagonistic reaction to TRANSFORMATION THROUGH
MENOPAUSE, by Marian Van Eyk McCain [Bergin & Garvey 1991], who
advises menopausal women to enter a "cocoon" during this period.
McCain provides simple kindergarten-type exercises designed to
help women attain self-knowledge, exercises that "have the power
to change your whole way of being, if you choose to surrender...."
This emphasis on self-reflection runs through most menopausal
literature, the presumption being that the reader has never
before spent a minute on self-examination. "Who am I? What do I
feel?" is a typical chapter heading. Aside from the fact that my
generation cut their teeth on a myriad of therapies, anyone old
enough to be going through menopause must surely, at some point
in her life, have pondered these kinds of questions. McCain
enthusiastically promotes cocooning, calling menopause "a
rehearsal for death." I'm sorry, but I have no intention of
crawling into a cocoon; I refuse to go gentle into that good
night -- even if it means taking hormones.
... Sexuality is a major concern for women facing menopause.
Mythology haunts us with visions of menopausal women as withered
prunes, while medical literature issues warnings about thin, dry
vaginal walls. Although we have the stereptype of the insatiable
Mrs. Robinson, no one makes a connection between her behavior and
her positive pre-menopausal "symptom", namely, enthusiasm for
sex. No one told me, and nowhere did I read, that estrogen
replacement would alleviate this "symptom" along with the more
unpleasant ones. On the contrary, estrogen is touted as a cure
for flagging desire; but in mine and some other women's
experiences it has sometimes done the opposite. It is likely
that no one told be because no one knows.
... The rescue mission has started with WOMEN OF THE 14TH MOON:
WRITINGS ON MENOPAUSE [edited by Dena Taylor and Amber Coverdale
Sumrall, Crossing Press 1991], an anthology of prose and poetry.
Though many of the essays wax poetic about self-reflection and
transformation, it is invaluable to hear the first-hand
experiences of women both well-known (Ursula Le Guin, Lucille
Clifton, Marge Piercy) and unknown; some angry, some hilarious,
"The exchange with my cousin during that hour," writes Miki Nilan
in "An Indiscreet Thing," "was one of the most meaningful I'd had
since the onset of menopause. I wasn't the only one."
I wasn't the only one -- a phrase that never fails to resonate
for women. Yes, research is desperately needed ... But we
cannot rely on the male bastions of government and mediciine.
Women must talk to one another, and not just those of us already
flushed and "mentally imbalanced." We need to talk generation to
generation, so we don't have to keep re-inventing the goddamn
... There's an old folk saying that all women from the ages of
40 to 50 are mad. If that's true, and since my contemporaries,
not known for their placid temperaments to begin with, will also
be undergoing this experience, I suggest we all fasten our seat
belts. To paraphrase a great menopausal lady in a great
menopausal movie: It's going to be a bumpy decade.