About the Stigmatization of “Menopause”. Do Women Have an Expiration Date?

About the Stigmatization of “Menopause”. Do Women Have an Expiration Date?

For Sharika Wa Laken

“Menopause” stands as a patriarchal label for the natural biological occurrence of the “cessation of menstrual cycles.” This concept perpetuates a pervasive myth that women have a shelf life, as a social and biological production machinery for the patriarchal authority.

“Menopause” becomes a symbolic death sentence in the patriarchal narrative, stripping women of their perceived importance and casting them into a realm of societal neglect.

Myths and misconceptions further entangle women’s bodies, subjecting them to the chains of masculinity and imposing relentless pressure to conform to predefined social and physical norms. A liberated, unbiased relationship between women and their bodies remains elusive.

Patriarchy asserts that women have an expiration date

Patriarchy, fixated on women’s fertility, shapes gender identity based on characteristics contributing to social reproduction. This dynamic positions women within family and society hierarchies, intricately woven into the political and economic fabric.

The system accords recognition and improved bargaining positions to women in their childbearing years, creating a paradoxical link between societal acceptance and restrictions. As women age and their likelihood of childbirth diminishes, vulnerability to neglect and new forms of restrictive labeling intensifies.

The older the woman is and the less likely she is to have children, the more vulnerable she is to neglect and new types of restrictions that label her as “aged”.

This is what happens to women when they reach menopause. The patriarchal value is revoked from them, and they are placed in a state of deferred death. They are also deprived of the semblance of life. Expressions of enjoyment, such as clothing, makeup, haircuts, and behaviors, are dismissed as attempts to cling to youth, perpetuating stereotypes of “young wannabes.”

This stage, dubbed “menopause” by patriarchy, translates into policies, behaviors, and discourses that challenge everyone reaching this age.

According to this system, women become seemingly hopeless cases, burdened with an expiration date. This is explained in light of the objectification and disqualification that surround women’s lives. It starts at a very early age, since the girl’s first period.

The first period, and the beginning of the clock ticking

From the very first period, most of us go through patriarchal rituals that announce our entry into the system of social production. It starts with hijacking our right to grow and age, without being turned into social machines or items with expiration dates.

The onset and cessation of menstruation serve as reminders of the dehumanizing treatment women endure. Aging is a frightening stage for most women, and they must marry and have children before they turn thirty or forty. When they reach fifty and beyond, women have to relinquish activities that might suggest they’re somehow enjoying life, to avoid being stigmatized as “mutton dressed as lamb”.

The older we get, the more the taboos we face. We begin to prepare ourselves for playing the role of the wise mother/aunt/grandmother tasked with raising the new generations. Then, we are supposed to give advice and instructions to younger women and girls to maintain patriarchal authority. We should also reduce our activities to women’s sessions and social events deemed “appropriate for our age”.

This mechanical treatment of women undoubtedly explains the brutality and fragility of the patriarchal system. It is not content with direct violence but also rigs our lives with a lot of psychological and social violence. It tries to legitimize its laws and powers at every age to limit our movements and rob us of our ability to practice what makes us feel fun, comfortable, and belonging.

This murderous patriarchy thus declares that women have a validity date and that they are only valued for providing reproductive and sexual services and demanding perpetual youth.

Social stigma and exploitation of women’s fears

For women, aging is accompanied by many practices that force them to live with the idea that life is just a cycle and a process that begins with marriage and childbearing and ends with waiting for death. None of these stages should be interspersed with pleasure, or entertainment that does not serve the economic, political, and class interests of the regime itself.

This patriarchy imprisons women and non-binary people in biological roles. These roles determine their social and economic status, depending on their productivity and what they offer to society and patriarchy. This logic applies to age, which is considered to be a larger indicator of social and biological productivity.

Age stigma toward women is a social reality lived in various contemporary societies, and it is difficult to read it apart from gender roles and what society expects of them.

This stigma is related to patriarchal judgments. Women’s advanced age is a sign of the end of their sexuality and personal desires. Each of them has to devote the rest of her life to other types of services that are not related to reproduction and sexuality. It is about maintaining the functioning of the system by engaging in social life. But without indicating a desire for life itself, so as not to be stigmatized as being in the stage of “menopause”, while still looking forward to life.

Validity and commodification of illusion

Many women, who take a different path away from patriarchal teachings, are stigmatized and attacked as “old muttons dressed as lambs”.

This stigma has produced great fears within women themselves. This is what the capitalist market has exploited to market anti-aging products. “Age capitalism” has flourished, and markets are teeming with products that prevent wrinkles and preserve the myth of “eternal youth.”

This rapid manufacturing aimed at women according to patriarchal criteria contributed to the accumulation of profit by selling myths. It is difficult for humans to defy aging and the changes that accompany it. But it is noticeable that these changes become a problem only for women, while men age normally and with less fear.

This push for permanent youth shows the extent to which women’s security and psychological well-being are being manipulated. They are put under a violent microscope that pushes them to risk their lives to fulfill patriarchal expectations as if they are not human.

This murderous patriarchy thus declares that women have a validity date and that they are only valued for providing reproductive and sexual services and demanding perpetual youth.

Medical examination and normalization of myth

Menopause, like many aspects of women’s health, receives scant medical attention and is surrounded by many medical myths hindering scientific research and exacerbating stress for women experiencing this natural stage.

In her book, The Menopause Manifesto: Own Your Health with Facts and Feminism, Dr. Jennifer Gunter explains that the scarcity of education about menopause easily spreads myths.

Jennifer Gunter believes that the culture of silence about menopause is unrealistic. There is “less theorizing about it, and less accurate information.”

Gunter talks about the medical sector’s handling of this case with a lack of interest.

“Some doctors examine patients for 15 minutes only. How can they fully treat menopause in such a short period? Medical talk about hot flashes alone, which are symptoms of this stage, may take 15 minutes or more.”

Jennifer Gunter continues: “Menopause is often approached as a reproductive failure, or a stage closer to ‘pre-death’. Our patriarchal societies don’t think we have value after our reproductive potential has ceased.”

Sexism and medical violence define women’s viability

Gunter tackles the patriarchal discrimination in the treatment of older age between women and men. This is done by dealing differently with the health problems that men face as they age, including sexual problems by saying:

“Why haven’t we seen anyone in our communities describe erectile dysfunction as penile death? Or an end to the life of a man as a whole?”.

This discriminatory treatment has neglected many aspects that women go through before menopause and need non-sexist medical follow-up. Too little attention to women’s health leads to their normalization of their pain and ignoring it, for fear of the social stigma associated with this age.

On the other hand, the medical neglect of women leads to widespread monetizing of their pain. Internet pages and clinics are flooded with treatments and prescriptions for women during this age. They take advantage of the absence of a health system capable of preventing the sale of illusory treatments, which may lead to disastrous results.

The medical oversight further limits the provision of information about women’s sexuality at this age. Either they accept that their sex life is over, and they must give up pleasure, or they settle for painful sex, which results from hormonal changes in their bodies during this period.

Getting older does not mean dooming women to death

It is important to challenge patriarchal myths about women’s health and bodies to stop their humiliating and stigmatizing treatment. This will also prevent instilling fear within them, exploiting them, and commodifying them.

Aging is one of the different stages of life, and every human being deserves to live it with dignity, freedom, and impartial medical and social care. Constant efforts towards normalization and acceptance of this truth are imperative to counter the exploitation and abuse of women.

Women, like all living beings, cannot remain eternally young, nor can their lives end with the cessation of childbearing. The value of our lives must break free from the shackles of biological conditions, and masculine expectations, especially those that play a role in the continuation of an oppressive and murderous system, such as patriarchy.




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